Saturday, July 13, 2013

On Worry

There were many terrible things in my life and most of them never happened.” ―  Montaigne

At first I was worried about normal things.  Plane crashes.  Theft.   Okay, maybe kidnapping and prostitution rings entered my mind a little, but I get carried away sometimes.  It’s not that I don’t trust the people of Thailand and Cambodia.  I don’t trust anyone around a young woman in an unfamiliar country.  And I never trust airplanes. 

I dropped her at the airport in the wee hours, and we cried a bit.  That was unexpected.  Neither one of us is the emotional type.  But we were both tired and run-down from the prep work of travel.  It was enough to break our resolve.          

“You can have a few drinks on the plane now!”
“Nope.  Drinking age is 21 in the states and 20 in Thailand.”
“Well, have a quick one before you leave Canada then.”
“Before breakfast?”

I was confident she’d be fine on her own until her first plane started boarding.  I watched her through the gates as a garbled speaker announced the departure.  All the others in the area stood and lined up.  I motioned for her to go too, but she just sat there. 

I texted her, “Get up and get in line, silly.” 

She replied, “But I couldn’t hear the announcement.” 

I started to worry then.  She’s a little Aspergers-y.  So I demanded, “Follow the other people, and ASK if you can’t hear something!”  She looked so small and scared that I calmed myself with the reality that people will want to help her. 

She got in line and made it on the first of four flights. 

I took pictures – just in case – and left for work.

In the middle of my second class of the day, with a guest speaker describing his career trajectory for an audience of restless 15-year-olds, I got a text:  “I missed my connection.” 

This could mean missing the other planes too if she couldn’t get another flight fast.  She might not meet up with her group, and we might have to change all her flights and find passage to get her to the remote village on her own.  I needed to help her maneuver this change in plans, so I shrugged an apology to the speaker and ducked into the hallway to text.

But it was already solved.  My daughter just wanted to lament the horrors of sobbing publicly enough that people let her go first in line to get on the next flight only an hour later.   And I texted back something I had said on the many times I got us all lost on family vacations: “Now it’s an adventure!  I’m not sure if it helped.

I went back to class and apologized to my guest speaker for deserting him, and I silently thanked my lucky stars that he was entertaining enough to keep the kids engrossed.

But that little glitch in my daughter’s day was enough to make my heart sink.   For the rest of the day I was besieged with a wrenching emptiness inside.  I was walking through water with labored steps, and my head was just taking in individual details of the world without piecing them together for me in any logical sequence.  I was able to make it through my classes by rote, but couldn’t answer questions or offer any clever anecdotes to add colour to my lessons. 

Moving like a zombie with no appetite on the walk home from work, I reflected on my bizarre over-reaction so unlike me.  My precious, eldest little one was safe.  She wasn’t dead, nor in dire straits.  She was merely having some minor flight issues.  Yet I was a total basket case.  She was calling in distress, like a baby animal does for its mama, and I couldn’t get to her.  I couldn’t help her.  It was out of my control.  It didn’t matter that she didn’t need me to help with the flight; she still needed me to help her get through it all, to comfort her. 

And I wonder if it would have been better for both of us not to have the ability to continue connecting?  If she didn’t have a cell-phone, or if I hadn’t finally heeded my kids’ badgering and gotten one myself, I would have been none the wiser.  And would it have been better for her if she made it without a few words of encouragement from mum?  Would she have learned to self-comfort instead of reaching out, or would she have buried her distress?  And is that the same thing?  

It took me back to the debates over family beds or Ferberizing.  Do you snuggle your babies all  night, or train them to sleep alone.  Because if you leave them long enough they will stop crying – but is it because they’ve learned to self-comfort, or because they gave up on trusting mum to help them?  Same thing?  I went for the family bed and slept through the night allowing my kids to nurse when it suited them.  Now I sometimes worry they’re too attached and were horribly ruined by me way back at three months.  Somehow this is all Freud's fault!   

As I turned on to my street on shaky legs, I more fully realized how horrible it must be to have a loved one lost somewhere out of reach – kidnapped, on drugs, mentally unstable….  Knowing they’re alive, but you can do little to help them.  Maybe it would be easier to find out they’re dead than to know they’re suffering or struggling without your arms around them lulling them to sleep.  It’s a horrible thought, but it rang true.  How do people cope in that much pain for another day after day? 

Intellectually, I understand how irrational worry is, but it doesn’t stop me from indulging in an activity without pleasure.  But maybe it’s not pleasure I’m after.  Maybe it’s a bizarre illusion that the worry will actually prevent a tragedy – a sub-conscious belief in mind-control that can keep my loved-ones safe.  Unfortunately, knowing how foolish it is doesn’t lessen the need for it – at all - so my fretting continued unabated.

I made it home as she got off her second flight and lost her luggage.  She needed to meet her group, but couldn't leave the baggage area.  Her phone wasn’t working, so she couldn’t call the group leader; she could only text me.  So I called the home office and texted my girl and relayed messages of loss and lateness and locations and a woman in a rainbow tutu waiting for her.   And she finally found her luggage and her group.  

I lapsed into unconsciousness without any dinner – dead to the world until my alarm rang in the morning, and, before my eyes opened, I registered that she was still in flight and very far away. 

I started worrying about plane crashes and theft again.  But I felt better.  It wasn’t until she got back home that I could finally breathe all the way again.  What an annoying instinct (or neurosis) to fret about children when they’re on their own!  I should have been enjoying the emptier house while she was gone, but it doesn’t work that way.  They take a piece when they leave. 

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