Wednesday, February 6, 2008

No worries--yeah, right

One of my biggest challenges as a mother is trying to maintain some awareness of current events without learning anything that might make me worry excessively. Usually I can strike this balance by avoiding daily papers and TV news, and taking a little time each day to scan headlines on the Internet.

But the other day, a troubling story caught my eye. It seems a large U.S. spy satellite has lost power and will probably fall to Earth in late February or early March.

My first instinct upon reading this was that I should track the story closely over the next few weeks. I would be prepared to gather the family and leave at a moment’s notice if the debris seemed to be headed toward Iowa. Or if necessary, we could huddle in the basement with a stockpile of supplies.

As I began pondering more specifically which room might provide the best protection from a heavy chunk of metal the size of a bus, I caught myself. This was a stupid thing to worry about, I realized. After all, my family was much more likely to be in a car accident than to be hit by a wayward satellite.

So, I stopped worrying about the satellite.

I started worrying about getting in a car accident.

Before I had children, I didn’t worry like this. I could read the newspaper without being traumatized. I could walk into a hotel room without checking for safety hazards. And I could scoff at the foolishness of a mother’s worry.

When we were first married, my husband was a high school teacher. One day his mom left a lengthy message on our answering machine advising him that “if someone at school has a bomb, just get out! Don’t feel like you have to try and save everyone else!” I rolled my eyes and wondered, is it possible that she sits around thinking up dangerous scenarios involving her children?

You bet she does, and now I now find myself doing the exact same thing. Take, for instance, the night I wasted an hour of precious sleeping time lying awake in bed, nearly hyperventilating as I tried to figure out what we would do if an avalanche buried our car. (All I could come up with was: probably die.)

This new, worrying version of myself materialized on the day I brought my firstborn home from the hospital. I could not believe I had been entrusted with another human life. Danger lurked everywhere. On the way home, the other cars were driving too fast. The fragile new life was crying in his car seat—could he be overheating? Inside the house, I took the stairs with caution and delicately sat on the couch. Our dog, who only days before had been my “baby,” jumped up to see what I had in my arms. I instantly thought, we have to get rid of the dog!

Of course, there was no way I could keep up that kind of vigilance, especially on two hours of sleep per night. The dog stayed. Over time, I began to relax. But bringing three little people into my world has changed the way I view that world. It is still full of wonder and boundless opportunity, but it is also full of dangers I never saw when I was responsible only for myself.

This new perspective is not completely worthless. I’m quite handy at pointing out potentially dangerous situations (“You can’t put the couch over there—your kids will climb over the back and fall down the stairwell”) and preparing for emergencies (every two-story house should have a fire escape ladder). So, I’m trying to avoid useless worry and focus only on problems that I might actually do something about.

Speaking of which, if you have any tips for surviving an avalanche, I’d love to hear them.


Angela said...

Again. I'm. Relating. And Laughing. Outloud. A. lot. (YES a lot is 2 words, people. Not one. Ruth the mom of course knows this already, but for those of you who don't, take notice.)
This SO reminds me of the time that I got up in the middle of the night to cut Maegan's curtains off, because I was afraid she might strangle in them in her sleep...
Or the time I left class to beg my baby sitter to watch Ryan extra close because I had a bad feeling that he might get hurt.
It's tough on the nerves being a momma, but, so soft on the heart.

Angela said...

Wednesday came...
Wednesday went...
Where is my new article?
I need my 'ruthtthemommakesmelaugh' fix.