Before I had kids, I was a corporate sales rep and rock-climber – the kind of fearless person who was first in line for the roller coaster on top of the Stratosphere tower in Las Vegas. I cold-pitched CEOs at trade shows, hitchhiked along the freeway in upstate New York, and set off across the Utah desert alone in my T-top Camaro.
After I had children, it was a different story, and I had moments where I was afraid to leave my garage. I didn’t sleep when my husband was out of town, the sound of my neighbor’s recycling bin hitting the gravel gave me panic attacks, and I was terrified to drive on the interstate through the mountains after dark.
I became a mother late in life, and I’ve joked with my childless friends – who swear they wouldn’t know how to cope with a baby – that the Universe downloads the software you need for parenting in the delivery room. But I’ve started to wonder if you also get bestowed with a new sense of terror about the potential tragedies that can strike moms who are less than vigilant.
My pregnancy was high risk, and once my twin boys were born safely and home from the hospital, I did not return to my confident, optimistic self. Instead, I obsessed about old wives’ tales, like the dangers of cats around babies. I ran to check their cribs every 40 minutes throughout the night to make sure a stray cat hadn’t clawed through a screen, burst through the window, leapt onto their mattress and either drawn all the life breath out of them, or suffocated them by sleeping on their heads.
As they got bigger, I worried about them falling out of their cribs. Then I read about crib tents, and made it to the bedding section of Babies R Us faster than I’d gotten to the stage during a 1980’s Springsteen concert. I zipped my twin boys into their cribs for nap time and bed, with fears of their 3am mishaps allayed – until I began worrying about the therapy they might need as a result of said tents.
With two babies to manage by myself, I panicked about bathtub drownings to the point where I simply joined them in the water for washings. (Although in our earliest house with its tiny tub I fretted about pulling a Panda mom and squishing one of them inadvertently while water spilled over into the basement.)
Once we moved to a bigger house, there was open space out back to worry about. (Ok, a narrow bike path that separated the houses from the condos, but coyotes had been spotted trotting along the pavement.) After witnessing a fox cruising the top of our backyard fence, I became paranoid that a coyote could spring into the boys’ enclosure at any time, seizing a child and racing off in “the dingo ate my baby!” fashion. I demanded we purchase a llama for protection but my husband didn’t think our .23 acre lot justified the expenditure.
As toddlers, both boys loved our neighborhood park so much they’d wait until the supervising adult was distracted, yank open the front door, and run for the grassy meadow and three person slide. One twin made it nearly to the top of the play structure before his grandmother noticed he was missing. I insisted my husband install elaborate hinged metal flaps at the top of every first floor door which successfully kept the children safe, but splintered the crap out of the wood.
The last straw came when the boys were six on a darkened freeway driving home after skiing while my husband was traveling. We got off for a pee stop, I couldn’t find my glasses, and it was unclear which direction would take us toward home. One twin reached forward from the back seat, patted me on the shoulder and in a frightened voice said, “Mommy? Maybe you should call Daddy and have him tell us where to go.”
I sat on the shoulder of that back mountain road, digging through the center console for spare glasses and wondered: how had I become this anxious housewife melting down forty miles from my doorstep? I realized my fears had become so unreasonable they were spilling over onto my children and making them anxious too. Maybe it was time to mellow out a little on my cat-fox-rabid coyote-park escape phobias and regain some of my former joie de vivre.
My husband was all for my new approach. He bought kid-sized climbing harnesses, and took us all out to the rocks. Once I had double and triple checked the anchors we set, I loved remembering the feel of granite under my fingers, and the sensation of freedom while being lowered to the ground. Our next adventure was to Elitch Gardens amusement park and the kiddie roller coaster. It took effort to block out my fears of mechanical breakdowns and failing safety bars, but the boys were so happy I finally relaxed.
While I can’t say I’ve banished my parenting fears all together, I have made progress. I’ve finally let my now twelve year old boys play unsupervised in the park, and I regularly make the treacherous trip to the ski resorts in bad weather. While I do worry about them walking home from school some days or the concussion risk of playing football at recess, for the most part it feels good to let go of the thoughts that caused me so much anxiety – but I do still miss those crib tents on occasion.