I used to live a carefree life. I didn’t worry about the future or wars or the economy. I drove on sketchy roads up mountains and even climbed those mountains on occasion. I spent too much money on impractical shoes. I ordered my chili extra spicy and wore white after Labor Day. I rode a bike without a helmet and drove a car without a seatbelt. I ate fast food and drank sloe gin. I held snakes, dined on sushi and rode rollercoasters with both hands in the air. And then everything changed.
I had kids. Four of them to be exact.
Oh sure, kids bring love and liveliness and spirit and stickiness to your life. They make you think and rethink everything. They also cause you to pay attention to words like safety, security, practical, pragmatic, logical and legal. They add fun and take it away all at the same time. They turn you into a grown-up.
After kids, I replaced my otherwise boisterous and rowdy behavior with responsible adulthood. I read nutrition labels, checking for sodium levels and sugar content. I carried sunscreen in my purse and a first aid kit in the car. I learned CPR. I fastened seatbelts and drank pure spring water. I developed uneasiness when confronted with rollercoasters or sketchy roads. I cut grapes in half. I fretted about someone putting an eye out.
Worrying jumped to the top of my to-do list.
I discovered there are countless ideas, entities and possibilities a person can choose to worry about.
Car seats. Crib safety. Cabinet locks. Choking hazards. Colic. Croup. Cleanliness. Cross contamination. Crossing the street. Complications. Collisions. Contusions. Capsizing. Climate concerns. Catastrophes. Clowns.
Life is about attachments, and not just the jpg or pdf varieties. When you are carefree you don’t have attachments. Kids are attachments – sometimes even in the literal sense when they grab onto your leg and won’t let go on the first day of preschool and you worry maybe you are pushing them to grow up too fast – or then again maybe you should have enrolled them a year earlier.
Worry hinges on love and loss. When you attach to someone other than yourself, your world becomes bigger with possibilities – for love but also for loss. Once you love something, the possibility exists for hurting or losing it, and that can bring about worry.
Having tiny beings dependent on you for their very existence can feel like a weighty responsibility – because it is. So most parents worry. Maybe all parents worry. I suspect so.
And here’s something they don’t tell you in Lamaze class: the worry never ends. In some ways it gets bigger. Like an expanding belly during nine months of anticipation, it grows with them – through preschool, middle school, high school and beyond. When they are young and dependent you worry you will fail them. Forget a permission slip. Show up late to the dance recital. Neglect to teach them proper manners. Give them the wrong dose of medicine. Be too strict – or too lenient.
When they are young all these worries are within your control. When they grow up and gain independence the angst is still there, but it doesn’t hinge on your actions; it hinges on theirs and that loss of control can be even more terrifying than parenthood itself.
But if you put it into perspective, it’s manageable. It has to be. Parents love their children; they’ve been doing so for eons. This love creates a vulnerability that results in worry. And joy. And excitement. And happiness. And fulfillment. And accomplishment. And contentment. And unconditionality. And hopefulness. And peace.
Talk about the good outweighing the bad.
I used to live a carefree life and then I traded it in for parenthood. I’d do it again in a heartbeat.
No, better make that four heartbeats.
Jill Pertler is an award-winning syndicated columnist, published playwright, author and member of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists. Don’t miss a slice; follow the Slices of Life page on Facebook.