My mum starts every phone call to my mobile with, “You’re not driving are you?” before she will tell me what she’s calling for. Before mobiles, when my sister and I walked to a friend’s house, we would have to use their telephone to give her three rings to let her know we were there safely. If she heard an ambulance go by, you could see her do a quick physical and mental headcount to reassure herself it wasn’t for us (we’re both in our forties now and she still does this.)
As my sister and I rolled our eyes at another of her ‘worries’ she would always say the same thing to us “You wait until you’re a mother! You’ll understand!”
And she was right.
It began the minute we left the hospital and drove home as if we were balancing three dozen eggs on the car bonnet. Then I put our new baby in a crib beside my bed and spent half the night getting out of bed to check that he was still breathing.
At the clinic when he was weighed, I held my breath to see if he had stayed ‘on his line’ on the graph in the red book. I filled a notebook with details of feed time/duration and nap time/duration in the vain hope it would give me some kind of important knowledge about this tiny creature for whom we were totally responsible.
I kidded myself that it would be easier when he could do more but weaning brought a whole new raft of worries. I nearly divorced my husband when he put a rusk in William’s hand at 5 months old. I then hovered over him for the next 30 minutes fully prepared to perform the Heimlich Manoeuvre. (On William, not my unrepentant husband.)
Apparently, this never ends. I’ve heard frequently the mantra, “Small children, small worries; bigger children, bigger worries.” and, whilst I don’t think it’s wholly true, I do know that the worrying doesn’t stop. As my mum says, “You still worry about your baby when she’s all grown up and having her own babies.”
At least I understand now when my mum wants me to reassure her that we’ve reached our holiday destination safely, that I’ve been to the doctors to check out some minor ailment or that I am ‘being careful’ when I go out for a drink with my (also in their forties) friends. When I feel my eyes begin to roll at her, I remember the gut wrenching feeling I had when William rolled off the sofa at a friend’s house. She was absolutely right; now that I’m a mother, I do understand. I also understand now that the worry springs from a deep, deep well of maternal love for which I am very, very grateful.
So, here I am, resigned to existing on a sliding scale from mild concern to utter panic for the rest of my life. Fortunately I have a very pragmatic husband who talks me down from red alert when needed. Hopefully his calm and balanced nature will help me during the teenage years when they are out in the world alone and I have to worry from a distance.
Is that an ambulance I can hear?