I’m Worrying about Worry

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When does a mother (or father) stop worrying about their children? It’s a trick question. The answer is never. We never stop. It’s written in the job description (in invisible ink), and something a parent doesn’t get the full effect of until holding the newborn in their arms for the first time, looking into their eyes and thinking: I am going to love you for the rest of my life. And I will worry about you. My grandmother in her nineties worried about my mother. My mother worries about me. My mother-in-law worries about Steve (and me because that’s how she is).

When my son was a baby, every four to six weeks he’d come down with these terrible fevers. For two, three, sometimes four, days, the only thing I could do to console him would be to hold him. He, in nothing but a diaper, curled up onto my chest for hours on end. Even though this made him hotter, this is how it had to be. I’ll never forget the trip to urgent care late one night when his fever shot up to 104. Steve and I panicked. We didn’t have an extra kid to experiment on—this one was it.

The doctors and nurses in urgent care also panicked, overreacting by taking a blood sample and tormenting our poor crying (screaming) baby. Luckily, a seasoned pediatrician was called in before they performed a spinal tap. He told them: No. And he counseled us, telling us to watch the behavior, not the fever. He said: Fevers are common in babies, and he told us to pay attention to the little things. Were they alert and active? Good. Lethargic and listless? Bad. Our regular pediatrician later assured us he’d grow out of his susceptibility to viruses as he grew older and his immunity kicked in. And he did.

Over the years I’ve worried about so many things. The trips where he’d go off with other people, driving in cars that I’d have no control over, flying across the country for a school trip, thousands of miles away from me. How could that happen? I had to get over my fears though—I realized I didn’t want to limit him. He needed to be able to get out and explore the world, have trips and excursions and experiences. (Just don’t bring up the prospect of out-of-state college right at the moment.)

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Looks like Andrew — Herald Lloyd in "Why Worry?" (1923)

This past week, the week before his first semester finals, my boy has had a very bad virus. He’s missed all but one day of school—Thursday—in which he dragged himself there, but was exhausted by the experience. Last night, he coughed all night. None of us slept. This morning, I fed him spoonfuls of honey and sat on the side of his bed—something I haven’t done in a very long time—rubbing his shoulder, letting him know: Mom is here. Finally, he was able to drift off to sleep. He’s going to the doctor’s today to get this thing checked out. (I still have an experience in the back of my mind when he was eight years old and the school called. He’d been coughing all day. I took him to the doctor and he had a slight case of walking pneumonia, caught early. After one dose of the antibiotic, he was back on his bike.)

Parenting is about trips to the ER, illnesses, late nights. And worry. Because that is what we do.

One day, Andrew will be worried about his own kids. And the cycle will continue.

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