Considering the fact that I’m not much of a worrier, I sure have done a lot of it over the past few years, especially when it comes to my kids. Oh sure, like every Mom I experienced my share of anxieties when they were small, but it wasn’t until they got to college that I perfected worrying to an art form worth bragging about.
Take Lauren, for instance. I’ll never forget her freshman year at college, when she called to tell me that she and two other girls from her dorm were on their way to a concert. "Don’t worry, Mom,” she said, "We’ll be back in time for class on Monday.” Don’t worry, she said. As if that was enough to keep me from spending the next seventy-two hours conjuring up images of my precious daughter in a muddy cornfield, wearing a beaded headband, sitting braless astride some bearded guy’s tattooed shoulders, playing a tambourine just before the National Guard swooped in and hauled them all off to jail.
Of course in the end, nothing even remotely like that happened, but it didn’t stop me from fearing it might. No matter what she did, my vivid imagination automatically kicked into gear. If she told me she was going on a ski trip, I visualized her group getting stuck in a snowdrift and having the misfortune of flagging down a mass-murderer to rescue them. If she said she was sitting alone in the dorm, I envisioned her future as a reclusive old woman who let her hair go to seed and fed stray cats. I kid you not – I actually used to lose sleep over stuff like that.
Then it was Jason’s turn to go off to college, and I couldn’t believe what a difference there was in how I handled things. With Lauren I obsessed about everything that could go wrong. In Jason’s case I didn’t have a chance because I never found out what he was up to until long after the fact. Probably the best way to explain what I mean is to borrow a concept from a Joni Mitchell song: "I’ve looked at worry from both sides now – from Lauren and Jason and still somehow, it’s my illusions about Lauren that I recall. I really don’t know about Jason’s stuff at all.”
Case in point: The time he scaled a forty-foot tree with a huge knife in his mouth to cut down a "bear bag” of leftovers on a fraternity campout (he told me six weeks later.) Or the time he and a buddy decided to test their gear by rappelling down the side of a building (an incriminating photo forced a confession out of him the following summer.) Or my personal favorite – the weekend he went sky-diving (he never did tell me about that one. A friend accidentally let it slip just before graduation.) And people wonder how come I just up and went gray all of a sudden!
The only thing, and I do mean the only thing, that got me through all those nail-biting, hand-wringing, floor-pacing, ulcer-inducing college years was dreaming of the day when my kids would grow up and I could finally relax. Well look at me. Do I look relaxed to you?
No. And you want to know why? Because now I am a grandmother, and that means only one thing. My worry button has just been permanently duct-taped to the "on” position. These days every time my phone rings, it’s Lauren calling to tell me that Aidan has learned to jump off the side of the pool all by himself and that Avery can climb out of her crib now. Or that Aidan has figured out how to turn on the bathtub faucet, and Avery can reach the front door knob. Now I ask you – what kind of an idiot would answer a phone call like that? Never mind. Forget I asked.
You know, for someone who isn’t by nature much of a worrier, I sure seem to be doing an awful lot of it.