Having children, dogs, aging relatives and other needy beings in your life means you are required to worry. I have discovered that I worry because I believe it is a form of prophylactic magic: if I worry enough, nothing bad will happen. If I drop the worrying ball, however, all will be lost and it will be totally my fault, simply because I forgot to worry.
MOS-32 tells me he is going to NYC for a friend’s birthday party. I say, “Don’t drink.” He says, “Well, I’ll have time to sober up before I have to drive.” I say, “Great, now I have to stay up all night worrying,” because I know – I KNOW – that only I have the power to keep him from crashing his car on the Cross Bronx Expressway.
Somehow he reveals that he is taking the train, and will be driving the 5 miles to home only after the 2-hour train trip. No navigating unfamiliar highways that are eternally under construction! He will just be sitting on a train driven by someone else. “THANK YOU!” I say. “Now I don’t have to worry.” I am confident that the train engineer’s mother is on worry alert for HER son, and she will keep the train from going off the tracks.
I wish I could stop worrying. Despite my magical thinking above, I know it doesn’t accomplish anything except wear and tear on my psyche. But there is something to be said for listening to your instincts. I’m a big believer in The Click – that feeling I get when something is RIGHT. It comes in handy when buying clothes, furniture, cars and also in making more existential decisions. The older I get, the more reliable I find The Click to be.
Similarly, I have learned to trust that warning feeling in the pit of my stomach. While in high school, MYS-27 wanted to spend the night with a friend at her family’s cottage on the river in a faraway Connecticut town, accompanied by some other friends. I told him I had to talk to the parents first and make sure they would be present the whole time. He was SO embarrassed but I had to do it. The parents gave me the reassurance I needed, but still I had the bad vibe. Nonetheless, I had no real reason to stop him from going other than my neurotic “mom feelings.”
Later that evening, the phone rang. This is what I heard. “Mom…cut…hospital….” It was MYS-27, calling on a cell phone with a bad connection to tell me he was on his way to the hospital with the friend’s father. He had to be the one to call, because he knew if I heard a strange man on the phone talking about my son, I would have lost it completely.
Then the father got on the phone to tell me to which hospital they were going. I drove an hour at top speed to get to this little hospital, where I discovered my child with a big bloody towel around his hand. It turns out that the friend’s younger brother decided it would be fun to get a kitchen knife and come out of the cottage to scare all the teenagers. MYS-27 tried to stop him and the little brother wielded the knife, cutting my son’s thumb. Oops!
His tendon was severed. He had to undergo hand surgery a few days later, wear a big old cast for weeks, go to a hand therapist to regain strength in his thumb, and live with a hideous scar (it’s faded a bit, now that 10 years have passed). He handled it well, but I self-flagellated endlessly because I did not listen to my Bad Vibe.
Then when MYS-27 was 21, he decided it would be fun to go to Israel with some friends through the Birthright Israel program, which provides a free trip to Jewish young people with the hope that they will discover that the State of Israel might have some significance in their lives. It’s hard to mount a good set of objections to a free trip, but Israel — where people are routinely blown up by suicide bombers? Oy. I was worried, of course.
MYS-27 was his usual undauntable and persistent self. He advocated ferociously for permission to go on this trip. Finally, he asked me if I had that BAD VIBE when I thought about the trip. This was risky on his part, because I could have said I did, whether I did or not, and that would have been that. But we have zero tolerance for dishonesty in our family, and I was forced to admit I did not have the bad vibe. Once he helped me to realize that, it made it easier to say yes to the trip.
There was no form of communication available while he was away, other than generic emails from the tour coordinators. Guess what — we both survived! MYS-27 had a life-changing experience, and so did I. I learned to trust my instincts, thanks to my sweet son’s reminder that The Vibe knows best. It’s really a very useful tool, and someday I am sure I’ll stop worrying….Oh wait, now I have a little grandson! A whole new world of worry awaits.