A parent's burden

I worry about my kids, all the time.  I know, I know, they're grown, but I worry about them more now than I ever did when they were little.  I have no control over where they go or what they do or with whom they hang out.  Those are decisions that they make for themselves.  Decisions that I used to make for them.  I am not saying I lay awake nights thinking about things that might happen.  It doesn't consume me, this unspoken dread of accidents or crime or flat tires or mean people.  But the worry, it abides.  It sits there in a small dark place in the back of my mind and jabbers endlessly about what-ifs.   

I remember a time not so long ago when I was 23 and home on leave from the Air Force.  I had been out and about, catching up with old friends.  As I was coming home, I heard sirens, and then I saw the flashing strobes of emergency vehicles, not three blocks from my mother’s house.  As I came through the door, my mother greeted me.  She was crying uncontrollably and hugging me tighter than she had ever done before. 

“Thank god,” she said, over and over. 

“Mom, what?” I said.   

She thought the sirens had been for me.  What the hell?  I mean, seriously.  Sirens?  Accidents? Me?  I’m 23 and I’m thinking, holy cow, Mom, relax.  This whole dramatic scenario was just silly, as far as I was concerned, but I hugged Mom back anyway and told her not to worry.  I was home and safe. 

It turns out those sirens were for a high school friend of mine.  A lot of folks reading this probably know him.  Vince Simons was his name and he has an ornate stone with his picture on it standing guard over his grave out at the Catholic cemetery.  He is forever immortalized as that brash young kid that we all remember.  His mother’s heart was torn out that night.    

But for a left turn instead of a right, it could just as easily have been my mother’s soul left forever damaged and wanting.   

When my youngest was born, and when I adopted my two oldest, these thoughts never entered my head.  I had heard it from others, uncles and aunts, from grandparents--once you have kids, they will never leave you.  They will be forever welded to your psyche, bonded to your thoughts.  You will dream of them, you will cry for them, and sometimes you will bleed for them.  It doesn't stop when they grow up.  I didn't believe it.  How could I?  Upon seeing my newborn for the first time, and signing the papers that would forever bond my two beautiful older girls to me and my family, how could I imagine that this love, this all-consuming, chest bursting, super nova of emotion, could get even stronger?   

But it did, and here I am, a forever parent.  I know what my mother felt all those years ago when sirens woke her and I wasn't home.  I do not know what Vince’s mom felt or how she coped.  Where does all that love go when you reach out and nothing is there?  People deal with it all the time.  My Grandpa buried my father and to this day I don’t know how he survived the explosive heart ache that must have consumed him every time he thought of my dad. 

So, I worry.  I’m sure you do too.  But for all of that, I wouldn't change anything.  Because bath time and baby powder, burp rags and bottles, first steps and footie pajamas, couch forts and playhouses, holidays and birthdays, picnics, parades, and fireworks, and a million other memories, large and small, good and bad---because all of these things make worries of what might be insignificant in the face of what was, and the wonderful possibilities of what is yet to come. 

All those folks were right, I guess.  Parental angst will always be with me.   But is it worth it?  I remember talking to my brother-in-law over my nephew Bill's  crib one night.  He told me what crossed his mind when Bill was born.

"Darren," he said quietly, "Ill never be alone."

Yes.  It's worth it.