The Evolution of Panic

One of the things that made me feel crazy after our losses was the horrible sense of panic I felt that I would lose my living child. I am blessed to have had a living child before my losses. But, losing a baby, and then three babies, made the possibility of losing Ethan as well seem far more real than hypothetical. Most parents have the comforting distance from tragedy that makes them dread the worst as a vague horror that could happen, but generally happens to other people. Miscarriage leaves us knowing, not only that the worst can happen, but that it can happen to us. If we can lose a baby, a tiny intangible dream, then we can lose this solid, warm, full-of-life little boy, too.

Living with that is hard. Every parent has moments of panic, moments when you realize something terrible could happen. Suddenly your child isn’t where you thought he was. He climbs too high in the tree. He trips and goes under getting off the water slide. He pulls his hand from yours walking across a parking lot. His fever doesn’t come down. We all worry. But, when you know what can happen, when you know the worst can happen, and what’s worse, that you can survive…that panic can overwhelm sanity.

Eventually, it gets better. You force yourself to let your baby have a life. Let him cross the street, ride his bike a little farther, go places with friends. You don’t panic all the time, just every now and then, when the parents of the friend he’s with don’t return him on schedule, when you wake from a nightmare and you don’t know where he is. You still imagine the worst, but can usually calm yourself down by telling yourself it’s unlikely to actually happen. But the potential is still there. You still find yourself wondering what you would do. What if the stomach ache is something serious? What if that bruise is something more sinister than an explainable bump? What if some maniac runs a red light? What if, someday, somehow, you have to learn to live without this precious being you brought into the world?

My son is fourteen. He’s old enough, and tall enough, to sit in the front seat of the car. If he asks me, I might let him. I’m not offering yet. He’s safer in the back. His sister is ten. People keep asking me if they really still have to use the booster seat for her. Yep. She’s still two inches from the absolutely ideal height to safely use the seatbelt. I am not tempting fate. I know what could happen. There is so little control at this age. I cannot be with them all the time. They spend a great deal of time out in the world, a scary world, full of menacing possibilities. The least I can do is put them in the safest seat in the car.

This past weekend, my brilliant, brave, amazing son went out on his first trip on the Flagship Niagara, our local historic tall ship, as a volunteer. His father and I went with him. We are all madly in love with this new adventure. Ethan is the bravest of us, jumping at every chance to go aloft–to climb the rigging high up amongst the sails. The day before our sail, I reminded him of safety measures. Make sure you clip in with your harness. Don’t clip into anything that won’t catch you if you fall. (This is my latest waking nightmare.) I wanted to reassure myself that he was aware of the dangers ahead of time, so as not to put a damper on his experience on the actual day. Also, to plant precaution in his mind before the excitement took over. He reassured me that he knew what he was doing. And when we were out there, and he confidently climbed up the shrouds as we were underway (quite a bit different from practicing when the ship wasn’t moving!) I am pleased to say that I was more proud than afraid. We have built a courageous, confident, adventurous, and yet cautious boy. We have brought him to a place where he is unafraid to pursue his dreams, while also knowing how valuable his safety is to us, his parents, who love him beyond measure. He knows what we have lost. And, hopefully, what we have gained. I am proud of him. I am proud of us for letting him spread his wings. But the panic will probably always be there, hiding in the corners, bringing up the rear. It’s okay, really. We just won’t let it take the lead.

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