By Shelley Murphy
I am a worrier. My worry isn’t constant or paralyzing, but rather it ebbs and flows. It’s similar to a mosquito bite. Sometimes I’m immune to the mild irritation, and other times I scratch an itch until it consumes my thoughts.
A single scent can cause a mosquito to bite, and a single text from my sons can trigger my anxiety.
My younger son’s mere mention of spring break sends my mind racing faster than the lead car at the Indianapolis 500 toward thoughts of tattoos, tequila and typhoid.
It’s not surprising I worried in January when my older son, a native Southern Californian residing in the Midwest, decided to embark on a five-hour drive through an ice storm to see his favorite professional football team in a playoff game.
I suggested he skip driving in a snowstorm and cheer on his team from the safety of his couch. He assured me he’d be fine, adding the two friends he’d travel with grew up driving in freezing weather and then teased that their trio would fit perfectly into his friend’s Fiat.
My son took the trip in a sizeable truck, but not before declaring, “You’re crazy and the only parent in the world who worries about stupid stuff.”
My son’s statement doesn’t offend me at all—he’s not a parent. He’s yet to hold his newborn in his arms for the first time and look deep into the eyes staring up at him, feeling a love so strong that in the moment he promises to protect his son from everyone and everything that could cause him harm.
I’ve read countless books and tried numerous techniques to rewire my brain. I sought advice from my best friend whom I’ve known since we were two-year-olds. She has kids and cause to worry but bans anxious thoughts from her brain. Once, facing a fretful fate, I asked her secret and she replied, “There’s nothing I can do about it, so why worry?”
If logical thought worked for me, I wouldn’t be the Imelda Marcos of handbags. I’d simply tell myself, “I don’t need another purse. Therefore, I won’t buy one.” I’ve tried this, and it doesn’t work either.
On a recent morning, I walked by a television broadcasting The Today Show and stopped in my tracks when I heard these familiar words: “parents” and “worry.”
I watched Matt Lauer introduce all five television guests (four men and one woman) sitting around the table as parents with kids of various ages and then ask them, “When your kids are young, can you describe the type of worry you have about them?”
Their consensus: “Constant.” They shared fears of their little ones sticking forks in light sockets or falling into pools. I’d finally found my kindred spirits.
After commiserating Lauer asked, “When your kids are older and leave the house, does that level of anxiety go down?”
The two parents with kids grown and flown shouted simultaneously, “No!” Al Roker added that his level of worry increases as his kids grow older.
Then a hopelessly misguided Carson Daly with kids ages 2, 4 and 7 said, “I keep thinking there’s a finish line, and when they’re 13 they’ll be more self-sufficient and I won’t have as many problems.”
My new soulmate, Al Roker, shook his head and said, “It’s like my dad used to say, ‘When you have bigger kids, you have bigger problems.’”
Lauer ended by reporting a new study confirms that while the reasons may change, parents still lose sleep worrying about their grown children.
A national television report confirming I’m not the only parent who worries is comforting, yet my worries persist. The study indicated parents of grown children find their worries change throughout the years. I disagree; my core concerns remain my sons’ safety, health and happiness.
When my cell phone chimes at 1:30 a.m., my heart still skips a beat; and I don’t think that makes me crazy but, rather, a semi-sane mom who loves her kids.
Shelley Murphy has lived in San Clemente with her husband for the past 17 years, where she raised her two sons. She’s a freelance writer and has been a contributor to the San Clemente Times since 2006.