Something happens to your brain chemicals when you become a mother. That chemical change never, ever goes away. No matter how old your child is you worry.
Yesterday we put our only child on an airplane to go back to college for his final semester before graduation. I hugged him, and watched him walk away with his carry-on luggage and a small backpack.
And I swear, truly I do, that it was just yesterday he stood—wearing a red polo shirt and plaid madras shorts—waiting for the bus to take him to kindergarten. (The plaid shorts were probably a mistake, only one of many I’ve made as a parent.) That day I watched him step up onto the bus, and watched the yellow oversized vehicle wind around our street and back to the main road.
Our son has some minor special needs, and was in special education classes until second grade. For his kindergarten year, he spent half his time in special education class and the balance of the day in a standard classroom. He was the only five-year-old at the school who ate lunch in the cafeteria.
I worried every day at 11 a.m. (his lunchtime).
Would he be able to even find the cafeteria in that big building? Would he be ostracized because he was the only five-year-old in the cafeteria? Would I physically go over to the school, stand next to the hallway window, and secretly watch? (I did not.)
At his first teacher conference, he had it all figured out. He owned the place and was proud to show us the walk from his classroom to the cafeteria. Everyone seemed to know him, because as the smallest child in the cafeteria, he stood out.
Now he lives in a major urban area, and uses public transportation. During his freshman year, I worried. Would he be able to navigate the city, a place where he didn’t know anyone? Would he be able to figure out the maze of the Metro system? Would I have to go there and drive around, spying on him? (I did not.)
At parent orientation, our group leader told us that every year she sees freshmen come to campus who seem terrified and unsure of anything. A miracle happens, she said, in four short years. She will often see those same formerly frightened frosh—standing confidently in business attire at the Metro stop—heading downtown for an internship or job interview.
Most of my worry was for nothing, but all mothers know
you just cannot turn it off. Worries roll in our heads like waves upon a beach, sometimes subtle and sometimes crashing.
When a child is born, assuming he is healthy, the mother is generally relieved that the birth is over. That relief lasts for about thirty seconds until that child is placed your arms. I remember thinking, “How in the world will I know what to do? I can’t protect him anymore.”
With an infant, toddler, or young child, your worries involve safety and security. There’s a trick, however that you won’t read about in any baby book. Worries just change, they don’t disappear.
Is he ready for cereal?
Did I leave the iron on while I stepped out to answer the phone?
Is there an unprotected outlet anywhere in the house?
What if he doesn’t pass the kindergarten readiness test?
Should he play soccer or baseball, or both? Why is he sitting on the bench all the time?
Why can’t he figure out fractions?
Am I letting him watch too much TV?
Should I let him stay overnight at John’s house?
What if he can’t remember his locker combination?
Is he ready to drive alone? Can he make a good left turn?
Why isn’t he home yet?
What if he doesn’t do well on the SAT? What if he doesn’t get into college, and if he does, how will we pay for it?
What if, when, where, why?
And if you are very lucky, your worrying never ends.