After six hours of hard labor, I was told my son’s heartbeat was slowing. “Get him out,” I screamed. And they did, slitting me from top to bottom in an emergency C-section. I wasn’t at the hospital or with the doctor where I had received my pregnancy care. A torrential downpour at midnight just as I started my contractions (two weeks early by the doc but right on time by me) and they got faster and faster, precluded an hour- and- a-half drive over the mountains. We raced to the little local hospital and were cared for by a new young doctor who seemed as frightened as I was.
The boy was fine. I was a wreck.
Six years later, my four-month-old daughter developed what turned out to be whooping cough (she had had two of her three vaccines) and after two trips to her doctor and one to the emergency room where I was told she had a “cold,” I drove an hour and a half to see a specialist who diagnosed the disease correctly and treated her (and my entire family) with antibiotics. For three week my daughter slept beside me in the bed so that I could hear her troubling cough and stop her from choking to death.
During the six years between the birth of my son and the birth of my daughter I visited the emergency room four times with my boy, who had a propensity for injuries requiring stitches. (I was afraid I would be reported to social services). Later, at age 13, he was hit in the eye by a pop fly and had a broken nose and a black-and-blue face which we lovingly captured on camera. For three years he grew so quickly that his bones lite*rally ached. Growing pains, I found out, were real.
The thing is, as scary as it is being a parent, it is the kids themselves who will do the things that really terrify you.
And all those physical injuries were actually the easy part. As my kids entered the fullness of their teenage years they frightened me in ways I might should have expected but somehow didn’t. They took drugs they shouldn’t have (convinced as teens are of their own invincibility), they snuck out of the house many more times than those I found out about. They took up with crazy girlfriends and unsuitable boyfriends.
Hell, just seeing them get into a car and drive off was nearly enough to give me a heart-attack.
Seeing them get into a car with a person I did not know was enough to give me a heart attack.
I can’t even describe the fear I felt when each of them went off to days-long music festivals.
I realize, as open and honest a relationship I have with my kids, now that they are 19 and 24. I am sure I missed, even with my incredible radar, all manner of things. In fact, during spring break with both of my children, my son decided to tell me some of the things he had done that I didn’t know about. At more than one point, as curious as I was about what I had missed, I wanted to yell at him: Stop, Stop. I really do not want to know this.
But I kept listening because I had a mother who truly thought that what she didn’t know couldn’t hurt her. I had a mother to whom my sisters and I could tell nothing, a mother to whom we had to lie about mostly everything for our entire lives.
I don’t necessarily condone full disclosure, but in an odd way it helps. Before you become a parent you can think of everything your child might to do get hurt so you baby proof your houses, you cut up their food into non-chokeable sizes, you watch them like hawks on the playground, when they learn to ride a bike, every time they head out onto the sports field. You teach them not to talk to strangers, you give them the lecture about how it doesn’t matter how good a driver they are because there are crazy people driving on the road beside them. You give them the information on safe sex, drinking and driving, drugs and driving, texting and driving, talking on the phone and driving.
Because even with all this advice, they will more than likely want to talk about things that you might not even have imagine; and at the same time you dispense advice, you really do want to open up a dialogue so that your kids feel comfortable coming to you with issues, questions, problems.
The other thing that parenting a baby or a toddler doesn’t prepare you for is the pain your children will suffer at the hands of others: they may be tormented, bullied, have their hearts callously broken. And here is something perhaps even worse: their friends will die, of suicide or accident, gunshot. And you will have to help them mourn while you are thanking God that you are not the parent of that poor dead child
I know dear friends whose bright, beautiful children have self-destructed, resurrected themselves and done it all again. I hear from friends whose children have suffered from unspeakable tragedy, whose children have run away, gotten pregnant, joined the Army. I know that even when the best and brightest of kids go off to college anything can happen. Every time I hear about a college student disappearing I want to throw up. I text my daughter furiously: I love you, are you okay?
This is nothing like being a helicopter parent, and yes, my parents, the parents of boomers, were pretty, well, casual, and most of us managed to make it to adulthood mostly intact. But I also remember the memorial pages in my high school year book, black bordered pages signifying a life ended too soon. And yes, my generation did its share of crazy things, we took some extraordinary risks. Those experiences should prepare us for what our kids will throw at us, but somehow, even though we know what may be coming, the fact of it is always a blow.
The thing is, the trouble your children can get into as babies, toddlers, young children, is nothing like the trouble they can get in for the rest of their lives. And the vigilance you practiced as you kept an eye on your babies while they crawled around the living room is the same vigilance you need to practice for the rest of your life. Because your kids will do things that terrify you for the rest of their lives. Your kids will have terrible things done to them for the rest of their lives. FOREVER. You can take that advice to the bank.