Fragility And My Free-Floating Anxiety Over Parenting

Newsroom

Newsroom

In life, worrying about the world’s ending is not helpful when trying to enjoy the moment or get dinner on the table.

What, me worry?

I woke up at 3 a.m. in a cold sweat because I still hadn’t yet planned my son’s birthday party, which was looming in a mere 11 days.

I was fully aware that, in life’s grand scheme, it was trivial. But there I was, in the middle of the night, awake, online, researching venues and shopping for Star Wars gear. I fretted about the place, the prices, the favors and the plan — what the hell was I going to do with all of those children? It was ridiculously, microscopically small stuff to sweat, but somehow the pressure to get it right still woke me in the wee hours.

On a scale of Jewish worriers — where No. 1 would be the most neurotic and No. 10 the least — I’d put myself safely around a “5.” Not the most obsessive worrier, but there is always something I can find to anguish about — at least, just a little.

I remember the big questions that kept me awake at night when I was pregnant with our first child, Levi. What kind of world would he (and eventually his brother) inherit? I worried on his nascent behalf about geopolitical instability, global warming and terror attacks. To be honest, apocalypse was not on the short list, but nearly everything else was.

Once I was busy with parenting an actual baby, these anxieties moved on to new ones, also big and small: The dreaded peanut; trying — unsuccessfully — to get through Dr. Weissbluth’s tome on sleep (Thankfully, the same friend who lent me the book also gave me a verbal summary of what I needed to know.); the perfect stroller and parenting books.

I wanted — needed — to get everything just right so that it would all go according to our grand plan: happy, healthy, well-adjusted children who would grow into happy, healthy, well-adjusted adults. And, would it be so wrong if they decided to go to medical school?

My husband and I count our blessings every day for our two beautiful, healthy boys. I am not all that superstitious but let’s throw in a “kaynahora” and a “poo-poo-poo” for good measure. They are healthy. Robust. Earnest. Chortling endlessly over their shared potty humor, then fighting tooth and nail over toys and treats. They couldn’t be more boyish or more delicious.

But lately, I am all too aware of how fleeting and how fragile it can be. It doesn’t always go according to plan. We have had a spate of very serious illnesses of friends’ children recently, and each one has brought this into sharper and more painful focus: Our next-door neighbors, who are dear friends, had a baby born with a rare chromosomal abnormality that causes seizures and severe developmental disabilities. Levi’s tee-ball teammate was unexpectedly diagnosed with leukemia. Another friend’s daughter developed a serious autoimmune disorder — seemingly out of the clear blue. There is also the neighborhood friend whose 14-month-old passed away from an aggressive brain tumor. It’s been a bleak year for some of our nearest and dearest.

I can’t pretend to make sense of these things; there simply is no explanation. But they make me keenly aware of what really matters and the importance of seizing and savoring every moment of joy. Right now! Not when I’m finished responding to an email or washing the dishes in the sink.

Oddly, this consciousness of the moment coexists — though far from equal — with less meaningful worries like unsent thank you notes; my utter failure to get the boys to eat vegetables; and my terror of lice. I aspire to be one who rises above superficial concerns and day-to-day frustrations, but I’m only human — and I still need to get party favors.

In her heart-breaking and beautiful New York Times essay “Notes From a Dragon Mom,” about raising a child with Tay Sachs, author Emily Rapp writes about her experience parenting a child who likely will not reach his third birthday.

She concludes: “This is a love story, and like all great love stories, it is a story of loss. Parenting, I’ve come to understand, is about loving my child today. Now. In fact, for any parent, anywhere, that’s all there is.”

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