Yesterday was a perfect day for the beach – warm but not too humid, a gentle breeze blowing, swirls of white clouds in the otherwise blue sky. My mom friends and I had planned this day trip weeks ago, so we were lucky the weather cooperated. Whether our kids would was another story.
We were supposed to meet at 10, but I didn’t arrive until 11. LM was asleep, but the stroller ride to the beach woke him up. I was left with a cranky pants who didn’t know what he wanted – water, food, toys, none of it seemed to appease him. On top of that, I had just gotten a Fit Pregnancy assignment, so I had to do some research and emailing on my phone right away. I begged him to play on his own so I could take a few minutes. But he wouldn’t.
Eventually he started to settle down. We walked down to look at the ocean, and his initial hesitation near the water morphed into an obsession with running towards the waves with abandon. “He’s fearless,” a woman sitting on a chair nearby remarked. “I know, and it’s making me nervous,” I laughed. “He’s making me nervous, too!” she responded. When a stranger says something like that, you know it’s not just parental anxiety.
I dragged him away from the ocean, screaming (him, not me, although I wanted to), and tried to get him interested in the sand toys. Eventually, he started playing by himself near the other kids. I asked one of my mom friends to keep an eye on him while I wrote my email. Once I was done, I felt like I could finally relax. But then the other moms started packing up to leave.
So I decided to stay on my own with LM. As my mom friends loaded up and started walking away, I hoped they didn’t think I was rude. Because I had gotten there late and had been preoccupied with work, I didn’t feel like I had really been at the shore for very long. I wanted to try to enjoy it – as much as one can while trying to make sure your kid is hydrated and fed and sunscreened up and not about to run directly into the ocean.
LM played by himself for a little while longer, letting me decompress and start to calm my mind. Then he suddenly pointed toward the waves. Oh no, not this again, I thought. But when we got down to the water, he asked to be picked up. I did, and he seemed to relax in my arms. I started to slowly sway with him. Although he had napped in the car on the way down, he was so tranquil it seemed as though he might fall asleep. I started softly humming Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song,” my lullaby for the beach, as LM took long, deep breaths. He put his head on my shoulder and his arms around my neck. I leaned into him, perfectly present and blissful in the moment. He suddenly lifted his head up again, and gave me a soft, serene smile. He pointed up the beach toward our chair.
Walking away from the ocean, I knew he was going to want to nurse. I usually don’t breastfeed in public anymore, because LM doesn’t ask and because he squirms all around and changes from boob to boob. But I decided this was the right time to do it – it is World Breastfeeding Week after all. I grabbed a towel to cover me a bit and pulled my bathing suit down. LM was not squirmy – instead he seemed perfectly restful. I wondered, then, if he could feel my moods and was taking them on. So when I was anxious about being late and having work to do, he was whiny and cranky; but when I was peaceful, so was he.
I try – and fail – so hard to be present in the moment, but my natural type-A personality has a very hard time with it. Even if I’m not actually multitasking, my brain has a way of drifting and thinking about other things besides what I’m doing right then. It makes me feel like I miss parts of LM’s life because I am so concerned about all of the other things going on.
I don’t know if it’s just the calming effect that the shore has on me that allowed me to, finally, accomplish being mindful and present. But in that moment at the beach, I wasn’t concerned with other things. I wasn’t distracted. I was absolutely focused on LM, loving and treasuring him and just being, well, content.
Do you also struggle with being perfectly present in your child’s life? Have you ever had a memorable mindful moment?
When I was growing up, I could never leave the house without my mom telling me to “be careful.” I think she thought of it as a counter-jinx, like if she didn’t say it something awful would happen. I would always roll my eyes and say yes, of course I’ll be careful. But now that I’m a mom I understand. Parental worry is never-ending.
I’ve always been a worry-wart. But it’s gotten worse since I’ve had my son. Now it’s not only myself I have to worry about (well, plus my husband and family) – it’s a tiny, helpless little creature whose safety is my responsibility. The weight of it is soul-crushing, as this Scary Mommy post recently explained.
For me, the worry also comes from being a miscarriage survivor. I failed to keep safe all the babies I lost before LM. I know it wasn’t my “fault” – I had no control over it – but that doesn’t matter. It was still my responsibility, and I (or my body) couldn’t do it.
I used to look at rare, terrible events in a logical way. Chances are, those things would not happen to me. But then…they did. My infertility journey was fraught with falling into the one percent chance time and time again – and not in a good way. With these odds, I used to joke to my husband, we should play the lottery. But that would have required us to be extremely lucky. Instead, we were extremely unlucky.
First were my unlucky diagnoses. Then came the losses. Most pregnant women think that once you’re out of the first trimester you’re “safe.” And yes, something like 99 percent of pregnancies are safe past 12 weeks. So when I lost my daughter at 17 weeks, I fell into the one percent yet again. I mourned my baby, but I also mourned life as I knew it. How could I ever feel safe again?
While I was trying to get pregnant I noticed a message board called “Parenting after a loss” on a website I frequented. What could that mean, I wondered. Pregnant after a loss, OK, but what does a loss have to do with parenting?
Now I know.
The grief I felt after losing our daughter has stayed with me and clouds everything I do. I see danger everywhere, from sharp-cornered wooden toys (we spend our time putting foam on table corners but then give our kids a wooden box with a corner just as sharp?) to germs LM has picked up crawling all over the floor. And let’s not even talk about driving him in the car.
My mind skips forward and sees accidents everywhere, before they’ve even happened. Maybe if I think of them first they won’t happen. A counter-jinx.
My husband takes a different tact. He just doesn’t think about it. I’m not quite sure how he accomplishes this, but he is just fundamentally not a worrier. He’s able to shut off that part of his mind that conjures up disturbing thoughts and images. I try to take his approach. Sometimes it works, and I’ll look back at my day and say, wow I can’t believe I went here or there with LM and managed to keep him safe and avoid having a panic attack.
But other times I’m glad not to have anywhere to go, so I can just stay in my house. It seems safer (sharp-cornered toys notwithstanding). But lest I turn agoraphobic, I check myself and appeal to my sense of logic. One cannot live like that. Yes, life can be taken from us at any time. I’ve learned that firsthand. But we can’t stop living because of it. If anything, it should make us live better. Carpe diem and all that. I’m trying to look at life that way instead.
Of course it’s every parent’s worst nightmare to lose their child. But besides reasonable safety precautions, there’s really nothing we can do to ensure their survival. As Dori says to worried parent Marlin in Finding Nemo, “If you don’t let anything happen to him, then nothing will ever happen to him.” And come to think of it, Nemo gives us a great lesson about parenting after tragedy, about letting go of worry and embracing life instead. For me, it’s a work in progress.
Are you a super-worrier? How do you deal with the anxiety?