Wednesday, February 22, 2012

What Worry Is

I came across this on the Internet a few days ago: “Worry is like a prayer for something you really don’t want.”

I am a compulsive worrier.  I hate it.  I wish I were different in this one way.

I’m not exactly sure who said “Worry is like a prayer for something you really don’t want.”  A quick Google search leads me to “Christian author” Sophy Burnham, but I’m not 100% sure of this, so I apologize if I’ve made an incorrect attribution.  At any rate, the words resonated with me.

I’ve worried about different things over the years: friendships, relationships, children, health, children’s health, money, loneliness.  I think somewhere along the way, I learned (or was taught) that worry was like a bargain I was making with God: if I just made myself miserable worrying, God would see that I was not being arrogant or careless about my good fortune and would make sure nothing really bad ever happened to me, as a reward.

Intellectually, I know this is stupid.  But the worry grooves have already been carved deep into my brain.  I can’t stop.

Monday, on my 3-mile run, I decided to use the worry thing as an affirmation.  I timed it out to coincide with the rhythm of my steps: Worry is like/a prayer for something/you really don’t want. 

I would zone out for a few blocks and then check in with myself, to see if I was still affirming.  Sometimes I was.  Sometimes I’d mucked up the words.  One time I caught myself saying: War is like/a prayer for something/you really don’t want.  Another time it was: Prayer is like/a worry.  I self-corrected.

As I was heading for the hill on Townsend, two little girls were pushing their scooters up to the top.  They looked to be about seven.  Clearly, they were celebrating Presidents’ Day.  They careened down the hill ahead of me, shrieking with happiness.  They did not wear helmets.  One of them was in a dress and barelegged.  They zoomed straight down the middle of the street, oblivious to the curve at the bottom, the possibility that a fast-moving car might suddenly appear, heading right for them.

When I got to the bottom of the hill and began my slow chug up Cliff, I checked in with myself.  My affirmation had become: Where are the/goddamn idiot/parents?

I self-corrected.

Then I thought, Assuming those little girls aren’t hit by a bus, they are going to end up being joyful and fearless, which is a pretty good way to go through life.  Maybe if I had been allowed to speed down a hill like that, I would be a different person.

Then I realized that I WAS allowed to speed down a hill like that.  (On a bike.  We didn’t have scooters.)  And no one watched me or told me about cars around the corner or made me wear a helmet.

So I don’t know what the answer is.  I’m back to thinking it’s just how I’m wired.

Worry is really tough to turn around.  But I am going to keep trying. 

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Rethinking An Empty Nest

Since I wrote my last post about being an empty-nester, I’ve been feeling a little blue, even though I received some wonderfully generous comments from other parents who get what I’m saying.  (Your support is very, very welcome.  Thank you, all.)

But then God or the Universe or whatever decided that I had had enough wallowing.  And brought me to a blog written by a young father of two (  Whereupon I remembered a night about twenty-one years ago.  A night that will never be forgotten by three of the four people who lived it. 

The night in question involved communal, familial vomiting.  It involved the Baby Who Started It All and then mercifully and uncharacteristically slept for ten hours.  It involved a five-year-old boy who moaned every twenty minutes, “Mommy, I don’t like this!” and then threw up again, sometimes in the toilet, sometimes not.  It involved a (then-) husband who raced home from his late-night job to be ill loudly and repeatedly.  It involved me standing in the kitchen guzzling orange juice, knowing full well that I was going to barf it up in the sink before I could get to the bathroom.

At around 3 am, I turned my head to look at my husband.  He, I, and the boy were lying on the guest bed to avoid waking up the baby.  My eyelashes hurt.

“I would trade a year of my life for a ginger ale,” I said.

Whereupon then-husband staggered to his feet, got in the car, and drove to Safeway (where they remembered him from the week before, when he’d shown up in the middle of the night to buy tomato juice for the dog who’d just been skunked).  And returned with a big bottle of Canada Dry.

We may be divorced, but I will never forget his gallantry that night.  (Or what he sounded like throwing up.  It was kind of terrifying.   Women don’t sound like that.)

Remembering all this, I can laugh (a little).  I think most families live through at least one night like this.  It becomes lore.  It bonds you.

But it’s really hideous, and I don’t ever want to do it again.

So thanks, Kevin Hartnett, for reminding me that a nest populated by two middle-aged birds who are meticulous about getting their flu shots has an upside. 

Monday, February 6, 2012

An Empty Nest Is for the Birds

My children are 26 and 22, but when I dream of them, they are usually about 10 and 6. 

I don’t know why this is.

I’ve read New-Age spiritualists who say that everyone on the other side is about 30, and that we will recognize our friends and family even if we never knew them at this age.  Not sure how these theorists have come to these revelations, but I sort of believe it.  Or maybe I just want to.  Thirty is a good age to be for eternity.

When I’m awake, I picture my children as they are today: young adults, my son tall and bearded, my daughter with cool boots and a chic haircut.  But asleep, I see them as they used to be.  Is it because at ages 10 and 6, they had settled comfortably into life, with friends and interests they have to this day?  Is it because I enjoyed this period of motherhood so much, happy not to be merely a live-in nursemaid but not yet having to contend with the anxiety brought on by teenager-hood?  Is it because this is when they still enjoyed hanging around with me?   Is it because they—we—were still untouched by divorce?

I don’t write very often about how I miss my kids.  (This is because I don’t like to write about things that might embarrass or upset them, but what the hell: they probably don’t even read this.)  For one thing, they are wonderful about keeping in touch with me.  I saw my daughter yesterday; I visited my son in L.A. two weeks ago.  I talk to them on the phone often.  I am lucky, lucky, lucky, and I know it and acknowledge it every day of my life.

But that doesn’t keep me from occasional melancholy and a deep longing for something that is gone, finished.

Society as a whole laughs at parents who feel sad that their kids have left home.  Either that, or we are admonished, told that we should be happy our kids are doing well and becoming productive citizens and what, we should want them to live in our basements when they’re forty? 

I resent all this.  I am thrilled that my children are on their own, living their lives, becoming yet more themselves.  I wouldn’t have it any other way.  But don’t tell me to be embarrassed about feeling sad. 

Motherhood changed me so profoundly.  In one instant, I became a completely different person.  And the thing about an empty nest is that you change again, but it’s not instantaneous and it’s not complete.  You’re still and always a mother, but now you have to be a regular person again, too.

In my dreams, my kids are usually trying to help me find something.

When I’m asleep, I don’t know what it is.  But when I wake up, I think I do.