The Rockwood Files: Confessions of a fraidy-cat

By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

This time of year, some people actually like to be scared. They go to novelty shops and buy plastic tombstones, fake severed limbs, and cobwebs to decorate their homes and yards. I like Halloween as much as the next person, but I’ll pass on the scary stuff. I stay scared 365 days a year. Why? Because I’m a mother.

Without question, parenting is the scariest thing I’ve ever done. The fear affects both mothers and fathers, but I think it’s particularly hard on moms.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I am a self-admitted scaredy-cat. Genetically speaking, I didn’t have a chance. I come from a long line of scaredy-cats. My mother is a scaredy-cat, and her mother was a scaredy-cat. There’s no telling how far back my scaredy-cat lineage reaches. I’m not one of those lucky people who think, “Oh, that would never happen to me.” I’m much more likely to think, “Oh my gosh, that could totally happen to me.” That’s what makes me a scaredy-cat with particularly strong worry wart skills.

A few days after our first son was born, I went on a crying jag that lasted a couple of hours. Granted, those intense post-partum hormones were washing over me at the time, and that probably explains at least 80 percent of the tears. But the other 20 percent came from pure fear. I looked at our tiny little son swaddled in his bassinet, and it hit me like a maternal freight train: I was in charge of keeping him safe. And as soon as that realization sunk in, I began to notice all the ways in which the world is a scary place.

There are viruses, house fires, illnesses, accidents, kidnappers, car wrecks, burglars, plane crashes, toxic household chemicals, terrorist attacks, slippery floors, carbon monoxide leaks, irresponsible babysitters, lightning strikes, defective cribs, tornadoes, choking hazards, flash floods, sharp edges, broken bones, gang violence and gravity – the list goes on and on. Life can change in an instant, and the nightly news can be terrifying. If a mom spends too much time thinking about it, she might never leave the house.

But that’s only half of it – the physical half. Once the baby starts to grow up, you realize there are a whole host of other things to worry about. I’ve spent lots of days wondering “Am I doing this right?” “Have I hurt his self-esteem?” “Does he play well with other kids?” “Is he going to recall this incident decades from now in a therapist’s office?”

I don’t know a single mother who hasn’t worried, at least once, that she has unintentionally messed up her kid. Fear and worry are part of the job description.

Honestly, I’m not sure I’d be up to the challenge if I didn’t believe that God has my back. I was in church long before I had kids, but becoming a mother is the thing that has shown me how much back-up and guidance I truly need. The job is just so much bigger than me, and the fear can sometimes feel paralyzing.

Fortunately, God builds in plenty of good stuff to balance out the frightening parts. There are first smiles, baby steps, giggles, bear hugs, first words, new friends, good check-ups, sunny days, bedtime books, kind nurses, first days of school, great teachers, soccer games, dance recitals, holidays, loving relatives, trick-or-treating, and a million little sweet moments to reassure you that – despite the ways you might be messing up – you have good kids who know they are loved and who love you back. Those things make it easier to brave the world and live your life and teach your kids to do the same.

Though my scaredy-cat nature struggles with the fear and worry motherhood often brings, I’m beginning to accept that it’s part of the deal. I’ll probably always be the kind of mom who says “Be careful” way too many times in the course of a week. And when the kids get old enough to drive cars instead of tricycles, I’m going to need some serious lessons in stress management from trained professionals. But I do know this – that the good times with our kids are more than worth the scary stuff we’ve got to deal with along the way. I wouldn’t trade the thrill ride for anything.

From my family to yours, here’s wishing you a spooky and safe Halloween.

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