I sent my boys off on a trip this morning. For the next thirty-six hours, it’s just me, my girl and my baby. I’m not used to this. It’s always the other way around: me taking the whole crew for a day trip and leaving Christian behind. A few weeks ago, he took them all to a cousin’s baptism, leaving me to hold down the fort for weekend commitments we couldn’t escape. As the van pulled away I nearly dissolved into blithering mess of terror. What if something happens to them on the road? What if this is the last time I see them?
I’ve always prided myself on being a mommy who doesn’t cave to unreasonable fears. So much of child-rearing advice these days is based on fear: fear of SIDS, fear of power outlets, fear of stairs, fear of bicycle crashes, fear of abduction, fear of germs. Christian and I have always played it cool, believing in supervision and moderation over childproofing and overprotection. Our last doctor tried so hard to panic me over Nicholas’ slow growth. “Look,” I told her, “I’ve had a child with a disability who’s almost died. You are not going to get me to freak out because Nicholas refuses to eat what he’s given.”
I thought I was impervious to Mommy fear. But since Michael came along, everything’s shifted. I’ve found myself going in to make sure he’s breathing, and fighting unreasonable nerves as long as I’m not in the room. I’ve had to talk myself off a ledge when Julianna goes wandering while we’re outside, even though I know her top three favorite places to haunt. During pregnancy I had a recurring day-mare about crossing bridges. Every day when the bus pulls away, I blow kisses and wave at Julianna, and I have to squash the what if‘s.
It’s happened to Christian, too. All our babies napped on our bed at one time or another–Alex slept most of every night there for the first several months. But that news report about babies at day cares got under his skin. Has anything changed in the last couple of years? No–our children are no more likely to die sleeping on our bed now than they ever were. It’s the adults who’ve changed.
For me, the fear even reaches tentacles into the past. A while back I took the kids to visit my parents on the farm. The gravel was fresh that day, and I could feel the van tires slipping on the road. 35 mph felt a little too fast that day, and I remembered myself tearing down those roads in high school at 55 and 60. (I’m not kidding.) I got the shudders, as if somehow I was still putting myself and my kids in danger because I was an idiot when I was a teenager.
It seems odd for mommy fear to be more acute at this stage of the game. Shouldn’t an experienced mother be less freaked out, not more? Well, in some ways I am. But with more children, the stakes are higher, and I imagine they’ll probably continue to increase as the kids get older. So maybe it’s just as well I have plenty of practice learning not to let the fear rule me.