On Black Bears and Worrying About Our Children

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

When I don’t have something to worry about, I invent it. This is not an acceptable practice for any parent.  Life provides enough natural worries.

This thought came to me several weeks ago  as I was discussing the potential government shutdown with my adult son, who lives in Washington D.C. I wondered how he would go to work if the Metro shut down.  He told me that the Metro was not a federal program and that I worry too much.

I explained to him that worrying is the privilege of many mothers.

Didn’t you secretly follow the bus after sending a child to school for the first time?

I honestly wanted to, as I waved good-bye to the five-year-old with his adorable kindergartner-sized backpack. But, I did not follow.

I come from a long line of champion worriers, the “I want to thank the Academy” prize-winning worriers, women for who worrying was almost an Olympic sport.

Pregnancy is where we first learn to worry. For some of us, even getting pregnant is fraught with worries.

Once with child, we believe that everything will be okay, just as soon as our baby is delivered. But the joke is on us—that’s when the real worrying begins. The morning sickness and the delivery worries are just a prelude to the real punch line that there is a lifetime of larger worries ahead.

My husband and I felt strongly that our job as parents was to push our baby bird out of the nest, starting as early as possible. We started with overnight visits to my parents, 300 miles away.

When he was eight, our son went with a friend to  church camp for three nights. He did well, as he had been away from us with visits to grandparents . Then the Boy Scout trips began, from winter camp in January to Space Camp in summer. When he was 13, his Scout troop went on High Adventure to the Grand Tetons. Did you know there are grizzly bears in Wyoming?

The boys and their leaders rode mountain bikes, ran the rapids on the Snake River, hiked in the woods, and visited national parks. My dueling emotions for my newly-anointed teenager were worried sick and totally exhilarated for his adventure.

Our son came home with delightful stories and a suitcase full of nasty, soiled clothes.

Each time his adventures took him a little farther from home, and now he lives and works in a Big, Scary City.

He is fine, and he has learned through all of his experiences how to deal with the world, even grizzly bears.  This summer, a black bear was sighted in the area where NBC Nightly News studios are located, literally across the street from his college apartment. Now he lives two miles from there, but often visits friends near campus.

I worried about this, though the chances of our son encountering a black bear in the middle of Washington, D.C. are about as likely as me winning the Hoosier Lottery.

As I talked with my adult son over the weekend, I realized that the real worries for mothers in our country are not the occasional black bears. (Though one was recently sited in Owensboro, Kentucky, across the Ohio River from us.)

The real worries for all mothers are those we often want to ignore – the poverty and hunger in our own cities. My father lives in West Lafayette – in theory one of the most affluent areas in Indiana – yet thousands of school children bring home backpacks full of food for the weekend and return the empty backpacks on Monday. With his friends at a retirement home, my dad and dozens of others pack the bags on Thursdays and food is distributed to children on Fridays.

Many children are born with deficits and disabilities, and struggle in school, competing with typically developing classmates. My son has autism, yet fully benefited from a remarkable rehabilitation center which challenged him to his full potential. In special education until second grade, now he is a college graduate making a contribution to the working world.

I am  grateful, and will temper my worrying, and direct it to places where worrying can transform lives.

Many mothers have demons of worry we cannot see. Will my child have enough money for books?  Will he be safe walking to school with recent violence in our neighborhood?

My conversation with my son made me stop and think about the real black bears that many  children face. If you are a mother, I dare you to direct your worrying into slaying the black bears of poverty, homelessness, poor education, abuse and other societal ills that affect our children, our future.  I’m rethinking my worrying and making some changes.

Amy McVay Abbott  is a health writer by profession, and writes a bi-weekly newspaper column called “The Raven Lunatic” that runs in multiple Midwestern newspapers.  Follow her on Twitter at @ravenonhealth or visit her website at www.amyabbottwrites.com.

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