Anxiety is a slippery slope. It’s not about the thing you fear, but the anticipation of the thing. It’s the what if’s, the mights, the maybes. It’s never what is. If you let anxiety get the best of you, it can be paralyzing. But, in truth, what is, is rarely as bad as what you feared it might be. That’s why people who push through the anxiety invariably find out that they can. That they did. And, in the end, it all turned out okay.
I am an anxious mother. Or rather, a mother who is anxious. With this anxiety comes the gift of prescience. I can see all possible catastrophes before they befall my daughter. Is she about to do a forward flip on the chair and a half? I see that she’s going to brain herself on the coffee table and I quickly step in between her and its sharp edges. Is she going to reach for the tray full of onion rings I just pulled out of the oven? I swoop down and snatch the tray away with pot holders before she singes her tender fingers. Is she going to dance right into that car backing up? I yank her away from, if not certain death, two broken legs.
Is this hovering or saving my impulsive kid from a trip to the emergency room? Am I standing in the way of her learning important lessons from life or am I doing my job? Will she become a rebellious thrill-seeking risk-taker, or will she one day thank me? I’d like to think that my interventions are well thought-out choices. That I act with a plan in mind, because I have made larger decisions about how protective I want to be. But I don’t. I act on instinct.
Which isn’t to say that I never let her fail, fall down and get dirty. There has been more than one occasion where she has fallen out of her chair because she’s hanging off the edge or leaning on the back. In those moments I have stood above her and said unsympathetically, “You see, Sophie? This is what happens if you don’t sit in your seat an eat.” And though I am still tempted to brush her teeth each night when she gives them a cursory once-over, instead I warn of the risk of cavities.
I can mitigate disaster, but I know bad stuff is going to happen. It’s a little bit like belaying her down a mountain. Gradually giving her more and more rope as she slides away from me. Each time I let out the rope, I feel my anxiety rise. But as she successfully makes it another couple of feet, I begin to relax.
This post was inspired by the novel If I Fall, If I Die by Michael Christie, about a boy who's never left the house, due to his mother's agoraphobia, but ventures Outside in order to solve a mystery. Join From Left to Write on January 22nd as we discuss If I Fall, If I Die. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.