The winter the twins arrived, the ground was blanketed with 93 inches of snow. Temperatures reached below 10 degrees Fahrenheit on the day we were discharged from the hospital. One of the girls weighed in at 4 pounds, 7 ounces, with little body fat to keep her warm. The clothes that I had purchased were too big. I wrapped her oversized attire around her before pulling the car seat belt tightly over her tiny frame. Minutes after the engine roared, I couldn’t see her face and my heart skipped a beat. I asked my husband to stop the car. I was certain she wasn’t breathing. My father sat patiently in the passenger seat. Seconds later, I could feel her breath on my hand. I let out a sigh and looked out of the window, only to find that we were still in the hospital parking lot.
Anxiety and fear, two emotions that weren’t even in my vocabulary before the girls arrived suddenly became like a backpack I had to wear 24 hours a day. There was so much to worry about, so many things to keep straight that it was hard not to feel a sense of panic with each new experience. My children’s safety and welfare trumped all other emotions.
Before giving birth, my life was filled with adventure. I went to college thousands of miles from home, traveled to Europe, and lived in several different states. The idea of not knowing anyone, or in what direction I was headed, filled me with excitement and a sense of accomplishment. I hoped these experiences would be a lesson for motherhood. I dreamed of exposing my children to a world not dissimilar to the romantic one I had practiced on my own.
Gradually, I have given them each freedom. They attended overnight camp, driven daily on the highway to school and have each traveled alone by airplane. Next year, they will take a trip with friends and go away to college. Nothing comes without a price. With each and every experience, however, my heart is in my throat. I worry whether or not they will land safely. I hold my breath until I hear the car pull into the driveway. It is frustrating not to be the mom who lets things happen, or the one who manages only the most important crisis. A recent blog post surmised that having a full-time job could have alleviated the constant worry about putting out every single fire. Although this is an excellent point, I do wonder if anxiety and concern is so innate to my personality that even being an emergency room doctor would have kept me from fretting about my kids.
The truth is, kids do amazing things when given the chance to spread their wings. They build houses for Habitat for Humanity, study a language in a foreign country, work to save the environment, give medicine to a community in need and learn how to become independent by getting a summer job. Without these opportunities, we lose the chance to teach them how to be responsible adults, which is essentially the job of parenting. Letting a child fulfill their passions can be nerve-wracking and discombobulating for those like me.
A well-known therapist, author of books on girls and teenagers, called me out once regarding my concern for the twins. I need to let go, she said bluntly, and let them out in the world. Let them fail on their own. Although it stung to hear her say these things, deep down I knew she was right. I must have picked up some baggage along the way to transform into this type of person the minute my children were born. With each step they take, I am working to try to keep my fears in check.
My childhood best friend sent her daughter to Jordan for a semester this year, at the height of conflict in the Middle East. She was concerned, but she didn’t let it take over her life. Her daughter learned another language and had a life-altering experience. I am in awe of my friend and hope that someday I too can say I did this for each girl.
I don’t have the solution to how best to avoid anxiety whenever a child takes a bigger step in the world. I do hope, however, to learn from others and to heed advice from those who know best – the children. After all, fanning the flames of a child’s passion reaps great rewards, even if it means taking a lungful of air in the process. My greatest hope is that the love my children feel for their next generation comes with less anxiety. If it does, however, I know that they will not be alone.