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The Same But Different

with Susan Wagner

Susan Wagner is a freelance writer and editor, an avid runner and a mom of two boys. She's tentatively navigating the teen years with her oldest son, who has ADHD and an anxiety disorder (because puberty isn't hard enough already). [Insert blog name here] chronicles her efforts to balance science homework, basketball practice and panic attacks without completely losing her mind. Follow Susan on Twitter and Instagram (@workingcloset) and at her personal blog, The Working Closet

Why “Fear” is My Co-parent

Categories: children, parenting

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When I was little, I would occasionally have a nightmare. My father would come in to my room and bring me a tiny Dixie cup of water. He would tell me, very seriously, that this was Magic Water and it would take care of the bad dream, but I had to drink it all for it to work. (I’m sure that was just to stop the crying — kids can’t drink and cry.) He would sit on the side of my bed and talk to me about what we were going to do the next day or some other mundane, unscary thing. When I was done with the Magic Water, he would tuck me in and kiss me on the head and say goodnight.

And it worked, every time.

My friend Rita made monster repellant for her kids when they were small; she took a spray bottle and filled it with glitter and confetti and before bed, her preschooler would go around the upstairs of their house and spray anywhere he thought there might be monsters lurking. He was very serious about it, and like the magic water, it worked to keep the scary things at bay.

These days, my kids are big and the scary things don’t respond to magic water or glitter spray. Instead, it takes therapy and anxiety medication to get us through the day. Although maybe that’s the same thing.

I never realized what a big part of parenting fear would be for me. I like to have all my ducks in a row, all the time, but ducks are unruly and they don’t like to stay lined up; they go where they want to and won’t always cooperate. Children are the same way, even the good ones who, for the most part, don’t cause anyone any worry — there’s always some monster lurking out there that needs to be managed with glitter spray and a shot of magic water.

When Henry was a baby, he had trouble breathing, and I used to go check, multiple times a night, to be sure he was still filling his lungs with air on a regular basis. These days, it’s Charlie who will sleep so late on the weekends that I become convinced he’s dead, when really he’s just having a growth spurt and needs all the sleep, all the time. But even those fears seem small compared to the things that wake me up at 4 am. What if Henry never makes friends? What if he fails out of high school? What if he never leaves our house?

(Now that I’m thinking about it, though, I don’t have any real fears for Charlie. Probably because he’s already got a good handle on his own monsters, or at least as much as an 11-year-old can have.)

My therapist has recommended that I not worry about anything more than 90 days in the future, which is brilliant and has honestly kept me from losing my mind this past six months when Henry was struggling to get his schoolwork done and get to school and not flip out about every little thing. But there are days when I cannot avoid worrying about the future because that’s the nature of raising children; you’re always looking forward and thinking about how to get them to the next part of their life without screwing anything up right now.

This week I filled out school registration forms for next year and, as always, took fifteen minutes to look ahead assess our tuition savings. Henry will be in 8th grade next year, which means that we need to start planning, financially, for high school. And so I found myself on the high school web site looking up tuition and the cost of the support services program for kids with learning differences and that led me to the list of requirements for application to the support services program which reminded me that we need to have Henry tested again this summer which got me worrying about what we would do if the school we have so carefully chosen says they cannot help him.

And then I had to put my head between my knees because I don’t know what I’ll do if that happens but the idea terrifies me.

Like so many of my parenting fears, this one is completely irrational. I’ve talked with enough people at this particular school to know that they will welcome Henry with open arms and help him learn to navigate high school. But it is precisely these kinds of worst-case scenarios that play through my head on a regular basis specifically because they’re not just crazy nightmares but real possibilities. And while I would love to cover them in glitter and call it a day, these are the things I need to be ready to face.

Because it could happen.

I have other fears about my children — and about Henry in particular. But I’m trying to follow my therapist’s advice and not dwell on them. I can’t necessarily avoid worrying about the more-than-90-days-away life events (someone has to make the appointment for the boy to get tested this summer, for example) but I can limit myself to the things that are close and deal with those.

Just promise me you won’t ask about our plans for college, ok?

How do you manage your parenting fears? Or are you able to take each day as it comes and not worry about the future?

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