I live in a constant, though usually buffered, state of worried paranoia. Sam and Lena are tops on my worry list, of course, which I’m sure is a normal mother thing. I take it to unhealthy levels, but its roots are firmly fixed in the fertile soil of a mother’s fears.
Things I hear or read or see provoke me. It ranges from news stories about evil people doing demented things to children (side note: I don’t care if it’s because they were drugged out or responding to childhood traumas of their own or whatever; they are the purest form of evil) to accidents to illnesses to bullies to hurt feelings; my fears run the gamut from extreme to mundane.
Normally I can keep a lid on them, keep them on a low simmer so they don’t boil over. But the most recent episode of the lid flying off came on Tuesday, after we took dinner to the Taylors, a family in our church whose four year old son, Gabriel, has bone cancer and has begun chemotherapy.
It sounds like life was going along per the norm for the Taylors. Then, just a few weeks ago, Gabriel complained that his leg hurt. They took him to the doctor and, bam, their world flipped upside down.
The evening we made dinner for them, I nervously rang the bell at their house, holding my bag of goodies, not knowing what to expect. I was greeted by Mrs. Taylor, who resembled a ghost as she led me into the kitchen.
“Thank you”, she repeated over and over again in a hushed voice as we walked, her eyes tired and heavy and red.
As I explained what we had brought and laid everything out for them, Mr. Taylor joined us in the kitchen, a taller version of his wife’s apparition. He joined her soft thank yous.
Then I noticed little Gabriel playing on the kitchen floor. Mirroring his parents’ low voices (assuming either that the chemo made Gabriel more sensitive to sound or that his little two year old sister was napping), I whispered, “Hey Gabriel. How ya doing, buddy?” No sooner did words come out of my mouth than I immediately thought, “Idiot. What a question to ask a kid who just got home from chemo last night.”
To my surprise, though, he peered up at me with a smile, his pale skin making his parents’ ghostlike faces seem tan and warm and his balding head shining in the florescence of the kitchen light, and said, “Good.”
I smiled back at him and quickly finished my job in silence. Mrs. Taylor led me back to the door, expressed her gratitude again, and that was that. Maybe five minutes, probably less.
As I climbed into the van where Rich and the kids were waiting for me, the tears started spilling out. Rich asked how it went. I said with a quivering chin, “It’s just terrible”, and started to cry some more. No sobs or anything. I didn’t want to freak Sam out, so I retained some control. But those tears fell steadily the whole ride as I thought of Mrs. Taylor’s expressionless, exhausted face and somber eyes. Of her son sitting on that floor, smiling up at me with a head full of patchy hair, going through God knows what physically and mentally. Of their daughter, who is too young to know exactly what’s going on with her big brother but who, I’m sure, senses things are majorly out of whack. Of Mr. Taylor struggling to be strong for his family, trying to maintain some semblance of normalcy.
And those tears for the Taylors eventually turned into tears of worried paranoia as I put my family into their position, as stupid to do as it is impossible not to do. I looked at my Sam and my Lena in the back smiling and talking away, and wondered and worried about the futures they will have, what pitfalls and sorrows and pains they will have to endure as they grow up, how they will ever survive an anxiety-ridden mother like me.
I reminded myself that God is with the Taylors and with us all through good times and bad. And that worrying about the what-ifs of life is a waste of time and energy. We just have to trust in God. But that statement always makes me think that, just because we trust in God doesn’t mean bad things won’t happen to us or our families, which takes away some of the comfort that the original reminder is meant to bring.
Ugh. Telling a mother not to worry about her children is like telling them not to breathe. Both are instinctual reflexes. Both are necessary for survival. Obviously, people who can’t breathe, die. But not so obvious is the realization that mothers who worry, even a little, are better caretakers of their children, because we’re on the lookout. We’ve seen the BOLO (Be On the LookOut) posters for missing kids, flu viruses, wheezes, dangerous toys, bullies, antibiotics in meat, medicines, sex offenders houses, etc., and we protect our kids from those things as well as we can.
So maybe worrying isn’t such a bad thing after all? Granted, worrying about things I can’t control, like cancer, isn’t good or healthy for me or my kids. I get it. It can consume me if I’m not careful, so I don’t allow myself to dig too deeply in that soil. But if one of my useful worries keeps my kids from getting H1N1 or choking on a hot dog or contracting pneumonia, I’m honored to be inducted into the over-protective neurotic mothers club.