Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Wanderlust Meets Worrywart

My mom is a worrier, has been for as long as I can remember. It's kind of a joke within our family because, in fact, we're all worriers: my mom's siblings, their children and me. But the worry never held me back in life--I guess my passions were too strong to succumb to the "what if?" so I was always able to ignore that niggling fear and plow ahead on new ventures.

Until I became a mother. Since then, life has been a series of small victories. For the first years of my kids' lives, I was their world--one full of love, laughter and exploration. It was very hard to release them into "the system" when they headed off to kindergarten, but I didn't let them see my tears.

As they moved from primary school to the dreaded middle school years, I fought back my horrible childhood memories of feeling like a misfit, smoking, and hanging with a bad crowd as I sought acceptance. I put my faith in my kids and our school system and stood by to help with any issues that arose before they got out of control.

This year, my oldest is a high school junior and, as such, has been presented with some fabulous opportunities. Last week, he took advantage of one and headed off with eighteen other students to spend winter break touring Italy and Spain. It's a trip of a lifetime, and he lost sleep in the days leading up to it because he was so excited.

I lost sleep too, but not for the same reason. My worrier gene was highly inflamed.

The overnight flight landed safely in Rome on Friday, and I relaxed a little. The short flight to Barcelona landed safely on Monday and I relaxed a little more. The high-speed train to Madrid arrived safely this morning and I'm almost back to normal. They've only two flights to go until they're home again on Friday night.

We used to tease my mom about her superhuman ability to leap, in a single bound, to the worst possible scenario, conclusion or outcome. Do we live in a different world than she did as a young mom? Sure. But does that make my worry any less ridiculous or any more justified? I don't think so.

Why? Because the worry doesn't stem from overactive anxiety or terrible news headlines or even our kids' innocence and immaturity. It's born out of love--a mother's love--which is perhaps the most powerful, empowering and debilitating force in the universe. Of course, with great power comes great responsibility.

This is why I didn't let my kids see me cry when they left me to go out into the great big world for the first time. Or the second time, or every time after. I smile and hug them, wish them luck and tell them they'll do great. I wave and cheer and tell them I love them as they're pulling away. I wait until I'm alone to cry out my fears. Because they will do great, and I do love them and I'm happy to watch them go and grow, even as I fear that very act so much that it makes me weep.

But I'll continue to keep that part hidden from them, because it wouldn't serve them at all. I'll let them go find adventure and themselves, and say nothing about the worry gene. If they've inherited it, they'll learn about it soon enough when they become parents.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Strangers Among Us

Lately I've been feeling like a boarder in my own home. The beings I used to live with are morphing, and I'm not sure how much longer we'll all be able to live together peacefully.

Our dog, Bailey, is fourteen-and-a-half years old. His body's been failing him for a while. He struggles on uneven ground, stumbling often and sometimes falling when his back legs go out from under him. He doesn't do stairs anymore. He can't see well and is mostly deaf. But he'll still occasionally bring a toy and drop it into my lap, and is happy to nudge me with his nose when he wants some attention and love.

Our sixteen-year-old is eating constantly. He comes home from school and has a big salad, then eats the equivalent of two dinners and dessert, with room for a snack later. He's now taller than I am. When he speaks to me from down the hall, I often mistake him for my husband. He'll be taking his permit test on Friday.

Our thirteen-year-old is on the cusp. He's still my baby, but he's fighting that. He tussles with teen issues while maintaining a foot in his younger self's world. He's recognizing he can't be both teen and child, but sometimes the teen angst can be crushing and it's easier to revert to child mode, when things made sense. Like girls. We butt heads a lot.

Not so recently, Bailey started barking at the sixteen-year-old. We theorized it was Jacob's dark sweatshirt that threw the dog off, perhaps reminding him of a contractor or other stranger that came through the house, uninvited by Bailey. But then he started snarling and growling when Jacob would come upstairs and into the living room, so we thought perhaps Bailey couldn't see him well enough without the lights on and, since Jacob looks and sounds so much different than he did a few short months ago, Bailey thought he was an intruder. We decided to keep the lights on and Jacob would walk slowly so as not to startle the dog. But then Jacob would be sitting in the dining room looking at his phone and absently petting the dog, and the dog would be fine and then suddenly start growling at him for no reason. We decided Jacob should just keep from extending his hand to the dog at all, just in case. But then yesterday, Jacob was studying and came downstairs with me to do something, and when he came back upstairs right behind me, while I breezed past the dog, Jacob was stopped on the stairs and Bailey was crouched and snarling at him. It made me so uncomfortable that I pulled the dog by his collar into the living room, sent Jacob up to his room, scolded the dog (which did nothing), and then "banished him" to the basement while we had dinner upstairs.

There are a lot of growing pains in our house. We're all adjusting to our changing bodies and emotions as we age, and doing our best to continue to be kind to each other. But as my husband and I discussed, while we may be uncomfortable sometimes, it's not right that any of us should feel threatened or endangered living in our own home. We know Bailey can't see, hear or smell well anymore, and we know Jacob's hormones have changed almost everything about his body. But it doesn't mean Jacob should be afraid to be in the house with the dog.

I don't know what the answer is. I refuse to let things be until there is a dangerous incident, when Bailey finally decides that Jacob is a true threat and goes after him. I'd never be able to live with myself if that happened.

For now, we keep them separated. But it's not a big house, and it's winter. We can't keep Bailey in the yard, he's too old to find him a new home, and we know he's not a vicious animal. At least, he never was before. But he no longer seems to know Jacob, and little by little, I feel we no longer no Bailey. Everything is changing.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Faith Without A Label

Yesterday my son asked me what religion we are. I experienced an initial pang of guilt (I was raised Catholic, after all) that he felt we needed to belong to a particular religious group, for why else would he have asked? But then I told him I was raised Catholic and Dad was raised Jewish, but we don't practice any one religion by, say, going to church or synagogue each week. Instead, we live by the most important things each of those religions taught us: kindness, patience, love and acceptance. We acknowledge that there is something bigger out there--a spirit, god or deity--than just us here on Earth and it connects us all to each other. This made him smile.

Of course this has been an ongoing discussion in our children's lives. My husband and I talked about it before we were married. How would we raise the children? What would we teach them? What about rituals and services and milestones like Bar Mitzvahs and Communion? Neither of us had gone to services for years, though I do still enjoy the beauty of church choirs, and not just at Christmas time. We tried Unitarianism, which embraced the ideas we shared and seemed the perfect answer. But we are not ones for ritual, and once we moved, attending services each week some 20 minutes away, especially with babies in tow, quickly fell out of favor.

The news from around the world today is so fraught with fear, violence, tension and hate, often in the name of a god, that the thought of sending my children out into such a climate breaks my heart. I worry that they will be afraid to travel and learn about other cultures and lands. But at the same time, I worry that they *won't* be afraid to travel and learn about other cultures and lands and that, while doing so, they will be harmed. It's a sad and scary time to be a parent, a student, alive. It's hard not to worry all the time.

But there's one thing I don't worry about. Despite my children having no "category" in which to place themselves when asked what religion they are, I'm proud of the young men they've become. They are kind and accepting of everyone. They step in when someone is being bullied. They are willing to look at themselves and their behavior when I tell them they have wronged each other or behaved disrespectfully, discuss it with me and then apologize. Sometimes, I don't even need to step in: more and more, they communicate with each other and work out such issues themselves.

I've decided that the only way to let go as a parent is to consider how much better the world is with our children in it. We must appreciate their gifts, have faith in the lessons we've taught them and then send them out into the world, not despite the state it's in, but because of it. They are our hope for a better future, and they will brighten the world with what they've learned, religious label or not.