Whenever my children ask me, “Mom, what are you most afraid of?” I typically tell them falling. Ever since I fell out of a tree and spent my ninth birthday with casts on both of my arms, I start to have a panic attack in any circumstance that may lead to me or someone else falling and getting hurt.
But it’s a lie. At least, just the general “falling” is a lie. The fear that keeps me up at night is that something horrible could happen to one of them. I’m not afraid of falling off a literal height, but how hard I’d fall if something ever happened to them.
Like most moms, as soon as my children were born, seeing and hearing stories of something happening to a child cut a deeper. There seems to be a sense of shared consciousness between mothers: the pain of losing a child is, I am, certain, the worst thing a mother can endure- and even just hearing stories, I sometimes find that I can barely hold myself together. Mothers of small children fear many things: reaching developmental milestones, locked medicine and cleaning supply cabinets, teaching and instilling the proper habits. But, as my children have grown older, I find my fears have changed. In some ways, the fear has grown with them because I am not around to protect them.
Stranded Without a Phone
One night, around midnight, I got a call from my son who was away at college. He was stranded at a movie theater a couple miles from campus. He couldn’t reach his ride on the phone, there were no buses or taxis running, and this was before services like Uber took off. It was about 4 degrees outside, and he had no gloves and his clothing wasn’t very weather-proof, but he was going to try to walk back to his dorm. If circumstances had been different, I would have probably tried to go get him. I made him promise to call me and let me know when he was back safe. As I hung up the phone, my heart was racing, my stomach churning, and I started praying that he would make it back okay. Thankfully, about two minutes later he called to let me know some acquaintances had seen him and gave him a ride back to school. But for those two minutes, I imagined being called to some hospital in Muncie as my son lost his fingers to frostbite.
Lost in an Amusement Park
This past summer, I took most of my children to Kings Island. My family is from the Cincinnati area, and we go to the park a few times each year. Since my children have been going there since they were toddlers, they know the layout very well. When we go to the waterpark, we have a rule that I set up a “base camp” with all of our stuff, and the kids are supposed to check in with me from time to time so I can find them. As always, I kept track of where different people were going throughout the afternoon. I realized after a while that one of my sons had not checked in at all. I would ask his siblings if they had seen him, but no one had. Now, I logically knew that he knows how to handle himself, even at twelve years old, and he just isn’t the best at keeping track of time. But the emotional side of me was imagining him either being kidnapped or drowned in one of the wave pools. When all was said and done, he was missing for four hours and, as expected, he just wasn’t paying attention or thinking about checking in and he was perfectly fine. I wasn’t sure whether to kill him or hold him as tight as I could when I eventually found him. I was so angry that he had worried me so much, but my relief at finding him ok was just as strong or stronger.
I have two children with driver’s licenses. Each of them has been involved in a few minor accidents or fender benders. My daughter has, unfortunately, had a few more serious incidents. Once, she and her brother were on the way to school when another student’s car slid into theirs due to wet conditions. Thank heavens they both only suffered a few bumps and bruises because the car ended up being totaled due to frame damage. Earlier this year, she was on her way back to school from a weekend visit, and her car spun out on the highway. By some miracle, she didn’t hit anything, and was able to get to the side of the road and her grandparents were able to go get her. But a couple of months ago, we got a call on a Sunday afternoon as she was heading to our house that she had had a major single car accident. She could barely speak to us. A police officer took her to a gas station to meet my husband, and he brought her home. When he went to see the car at the salvage yard a week later, he said he almost broke down as the car’s front end was so crushed, he knows she wouldn’t have survived had it not been for her seatbelt and airbags. As it was, she walked away with only minor injuries that lasted a few days. When he described the scene to me though, I started to cry and kept crying throughout the day. I could have lost my child so quickly that day, and there’s nothing I could have done to prevent it.
As my children are growing up, I know I have to let them explore the world on their own more and more. The risks to them grow as they do, whether it be an increased risk of suicide, car accidents, drinking, even just meeting to people trying to expand their social circle. I know that the best I can really do is teach them to be responsible and to weigh their risks, to try to keep them emotionally and physically healthy, and to pray. And I do these things with the nervous conviction of a mother, whose worst fears never seem that far out of reach.
So I tell my children that I’m most afraid of falling, because I can’t let them know how hard I would fall if anything ever happened to them.