Saturday, October 21, 2006

Worry Is a Mom's Middle Name

On the day that I write this, a U.S. Marine helicopter was shot down by insurgents in Iraq, killing 31 Marines from the First Marine Division, the same division to which my oldest son, Blake, is attached. Blessedly, Blake is not back in the sandbox at the moment, but rather training for Special Forces in California. Nevertheless, my heart still sunk at the news and while grateful that my son is safe, I felt deeply saddened for the mothers of those Marines who were not so safe.

And I worry. I worry about Blake being sent back there – his former unit will be re-deployed next month – and I worry about the dangers inherent in his new line of work in defending/serving our country and our military. My friends worry for me and my acquaintances worry, too; even strangers worry that may have heard of Blake but have never met him or me. Although the concern comes from both sexes, it is my fellow moms that seem to worry the most. (Fathers: Please note the use of the word “seem.”)

Worrying is what moms do, and oh, we do it well and with vigor. Whether it is something as frightening as a child in war or as common as a child swinging too high on a swing, we worry. “What if’s” form in bold capital letters in our head and across our hearts from the moment our children are born. “What if he won’t breast-feed?” “What if she cries too much?” “What if he’s too cold in that onesie?” and “What if she’s too warm?” Those What Ifs grow in size and strength as do our children.

How many times do we hear our children cry, “Don’t worry so much, Mom!” That’s how it works – moms worry, kids get to whine about it and hopefully everything turns out okay, or if it doesn’t then lessons are learned, sometimes on both sides.

Jack played football for the first time last fall. Although he wore a lot of padding and a solid helmet I worried about him getting hit too hard. Of course getting hit was exactly what his father looked forward to. “It’s fine, Jul,” Jon assured me. “If Jack knows you’re worried he may not want to hit and then he will get tackled hard. Getting knocked around a little never hurt anybody…” Oh sure, I thought, and I braced myself with every play. But Jon was right and my worrying, although not completely unfounded, was still not needed.

Often it is best not to wallow in the worry and just as often it is difficult not to; turning situations over to a higher power, so to speak. I have had to attempt that and continue doing so with Blake. When Kenny was going through his adolescent hell I was worried constantly and with very good reason, but eventually I began to adjust my worry level with him. With Janet I worry about middle school and its social and educational stresses and with Jack I worry about his frustration level and its impact on school and his buddies. My friends worry about their children off at boarding school or college, of the son who just got his driver’s license, of the daughter struggling with eighth grade science, the twins getting into a private school. The outcome of most of these worries are truly out of our control. The trick is differentiating which stuff is worth sweating over and which isn’t.

I worry about terrorism, botulism, racism, alcoholism, pessimism. Should I be worried that my daughter will be kidnapped when walking from Saxe to MacKenzies? How worried should I be about Jack testing the frozen-ibility of our shallow backyard pond? Will Kenny get a job after he graduates from college in May? Should I obsess about a Marine in dress blues ringing my doorbell one evening? The answers are both yes and no. If I didn’t love my children so much, I wouldn’t worry, and therein lies the rub.

Oddly enough, I have a saying posted on the bulletin board in my home office which reads: “Worrying does not empty tomorrow of its troubles; it empties today of its strength.” There are days when I can look at that and say, “Yeah! How true! I can do that!” and other days when I want to shred that saying to pieces. Yet I always hear my children – actually primarily Blake – crying like a mantra in my head: “You worry too much Mom. Everything’s going to be okay. Calm down.”

“Hakuna Matata,” said Timon and Pumba in the movie the Lion King. It means no worries for the rest of your days. I think it’s worth humming that song whenever the worry kicks in. Try it. If nothing else, it will make you giggle and forget your worries for a moment.

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