After the kids were in bed tonight, I hopped in the shower. As I was shaving my legs I heard the door open.
“Hey Mommy, it’s me, I needa pee,” Brady said as he lifted the toilet seat.
“Hey Baby,” I replied.
“Hey Mommy?” he asked, “Why is there nothing to worry about, but I’m worried?”
My breath caught in my throat and I hesitated, “Oh honey,” I said. “It’s just the end of school and the beginning of summer.”
It’s probably the truth. Most likely, he’s just recognizing in himself that ambient nervousness and excitement that comes with the end of day after day in the classroom and the beginning of beach trips and pool swims and days at the park. But, to me, those words were a blade of ice to the heart. Something that I wish my children could be free from. Anxiety.
I’ve been worried for about as long as I can remember. When I was little I worried about–school, friends, getting sick, hangnails, growing up, my cat running away, the sun going supernova–basically everything. When I went to college my worrying morphed into an obsession about what the future would hold and a major depressive episode which led, thankfully, to treatment. These days, after years of medication and therapy, it’s the level of worry that I care about. It’s always there, it’s just whether or not it’s disrupting my life. Those life-disrupting episodes have gotten fewer and fewer, though their intensity can still be devastating.
I desperately don’t want my children to go through that. Brady is, in many ways, like me as a child. He is focused on his school work and has an insatiable thirst for knowledge. He has a hot temper. He gets obsessive about the things he likes. And he worries. Lately, he has been worried about natural disasters and often comes out of bed to ask us if an earthquake/volcano/tornado can come to New York City. I recognized signs of anxiety in him when he was very young and I’ve taught him relaxation techniques to cope when he can’t sleep or gets worked up.
But I have to wonder if I am projecting my fears onto him. Maybe I see the anxious behaviors because I am primed to see them. I try to remind myself of the ways in which he is different from me as a child. He is rarely shy and is amazingly friendly. He doesn’t have a need to please everyone around him. His interests change quickly and his attention span can be short.
So when he told me that he felt worried when there is nothing to worry about, it was a hard thing to hear. While I know it could be nothing, I have been fighting a battle against that very feeling for most of my life. It defines me in a way I would love to undo. All that I can do is offer him my experience to lean on. I can give him the coping techniques it took me years to learn to use. I can honestly tell him that I understand when he tells me that he’s worried about the sun going supernova. I can love him and not let my anxiety define our relationship.
We all have fears about what our children will face in life. Often, they are the very things that we have fought ourselves, the things in us that we wish we could change. It’s difficult to know that, with all of the good things we pass on, we can also bring along the things we wish we could rid ourselves of. But everyone has demons to face in life. We cannot change our DNA and we can’t always change the world around us either. All we can do is help our children to highlight the wonderful and cope with the less-than wonderful. And never underestimate the power of love.