What We Fear

Photo credit: LWPrencipe, via Flickr

I’m beginning to think I take the easy way out in blogging. It’s more comfortable to share about experiences past and conflicts resolved, but the truth is, there is much in my life, as in yours, that is deeply broken and flawed and causes pain. But it’s raw to touch those subjects, to lay them bare before a public audience. Not because I think I have to look like I have it all put together, but because when you’re working things out, the thought process is incomplete. It hasn’t matured to a point where I can say: yes, this, here is the whole story, as fairly as I can present it. And when you lay something you’re still wrestling with before the multitudes, it invites judgment and confusion, because people have to weigh in without the full story.

I have been debating all week what to share for a motherhood moment. One of Mama Kat’s writing prompts today touches a subject I have wanted to address ever since my series on anxiety…although I keep putting it off. There’s so much cuter and cuddlier a moment, something I could present with the warmth and humor that I love about the Thursday reflections. Except that considering how I’m feeling this morning, it would be also be fake and plastic.

My biggest mama fail hasn’t happened yet. And pray God, never will.

It began while we were driving across a bridge. We cross a fair number of bridges around here. Basically there’s a big river on the way to almost anywhere. Why on this particular day the image came to mind, I will never know. I saw myself, alone in the van with the kids, careening into the river. Being a mother, I immediately began problem-solving how to get everyone to safety. I realized instantly that I couldn’t. If that happens, at least one or two of my children are going to die. If not all of them.

I tried to tell myself that thousands of cars cross these bridges every day, and a bridge fail is nearly unthinkable. I tried to tell myself it was unlikely I could even swim myself to shore in a current that strong and deep, much less hauling any of my children, so if the bridge does ever fail, there’s nothing I can do about it anyway; why worry?

But the image was so real. Maybe because I spend much energy trying to conjure dramatic scenarios in such vivid detail that I can carry others along through words. But I flashed back to times in my life when I have seen improbable images in my imagination, only to find that suddenly one day, I’m seeing them in truth. Okay, so I can only think of one right now, but it was a biggie.

For three nights, that waking nightmare kept me up. No amount of letting go or praying made any impression on it. My search for a solution started involving the installation of flotation devices in my van. It was patently obvious I was headed for another irrational, prolonged freak-out.

Perhaps the prayers did have an effect, because reason has had a better grip on reality in the last few months. But I realize that there are some fears you simply can’t lay to rest.

It got me to thinking about safety, the desire to protect our children. The oft-repeated mantra is prevent what you can: thus, car seats, childproof latches and covers, etc.

But we can prevent an awful lot by refusing our children the freedom to grow—by hovering, not giving them the space to fail on their own. At what point do we begin to protect them from one set of danger while condemning them to another? At what point do they begin to absorb our fears and approach life with timidity and terror instead of reasonable caution? To carry around their parents’ baggage, simply because we’re too frail to carry it ourselves?

I can’t help thinking that many, perhaps most, of our fears for our children—even things like how we will support our families—have more to do with us and our own insecurities than they do with reality. We regard fear for our children as something beyond our control, and by extension (ironically), something over which we try to exert absolute control. But how many of our fears do we go courting? Are they actually grounded in fact? And if they’re not, then beyond a reasonable education in caution, don’t we owe it to our children to keep those fears to ourselves?

The fear of going over a bridge and having to choose which of my children to try to save—however irrational a fear it is—is one that I may well carry the rest of my days. My fear of Julianna wandering off might only last until she finally learns to talk and tell people who her parents are, but the fear of her being taken advantage of when she reaches maturity I know I will bear as long as she (or I) lives. But I’m not going to keep her under my roof, treating her like a child in a misguided attempt to protect her from it. She deserves the same freedom to grow, fall down, and learn that my parents gave me. I will not burden my children with my emotional baggage. They’ll pick up enough on their own.

Mama's Losin' It