People often say that as your children grow up, you have to let them go, let them fly. For this anxious mother, I have to let them go so that I can fly too.
It was the fall of 2011. My three-year-old was in preschool five whopping half-days per week and it was glorious. He had gotten a coveted morning spot which worked exponentially better for all of our schedules - including his one-year-old sister - than the two afternoons per week the year before. In one of our first weekly updates from the teacher, she announced they would be going a class field trip to a nature center. Out of town. On a school bus. What?!?! School itself didn't stress me out, but field trips off the island were a whole other story.
I did what any normal neurotic, anxious, fearful-of-death mother would do and got to work looking up laws about seat belts and car seats on school buses in New York! I mean, the West Side Highway and Saw Mill River Parkway are essentially race tracks! And buses tip over - like, all. the. time. It turned out that it was in fact against the law to put a three-year-old on a bus not in a car seat. Phew. I could couch my fear in the law - one of my favorite things to do! I'm not crazy. SEE! It's right here. But I didn't want my kid to miss the trip. So, of course, I drove him in our car. Yes. I. Did. He was too young to be embarrassed and I was too proud and self righteous and it was a great trip. And the bus didn't crash so those other kids got lucky too.
Flash forward to 2017. My now nine-year-old has been on countless school trips. I went on a lot of them in the early days. I was anxious about things like crossing streets and likely things like him falling off the subway platform. As time went on, I admitted to myself that I HATED going on field trips. It's not fun to be in charge of other people's children. It's not fun when kids misbehave or feeling like I have to tell them what to do. It's not enjoyable being vigilant. It's exhausting. It's not fun losing all the (flexible yet demanding) work time and figuring out how to get it all done. I still go sometimes - in a pinch - or if he asks - because I know I'm lucky to still be asked and because I get to learn cool stuff and because my schedule allows it.
I think part of my lessened fear and anxiety has had to do with my son getting older and me being more ready for him to do more as he experienced more of life without me and still came home at the end of the day. I had always worked, but mostly part-time and mostly from home, with him with a sitter within 5-10 blocks if not in another room for his early years. As he spent more time at school, with friends, at activities, I could breathe the tiniest bit deeper when he was away from me. My brain also had become occupied with more - juggling more work responsibilities and a second child left just a little less time to obsess and worry.
I've also actively worked on reducing my anxiety. For this particular representation of it, a few months of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT*) was very helpful. I was going for pretty intense anxiety around some health challenges (other posts to come) and did some work to transfer some of what I was learning to the "I'm afraid my kid is gonna die" anxiety. I have been a fan of talk therapy for nearly 20 years and gone on and off over the years. After trying the medication route with not much success, CBT was recommended and I was in fact the prime candidate my doctor thought I would be. It's not perfect, and as my CBT therapist had to tell me more than once, his goal was to help me REDUCE the anxiety, not ELIMINATE it (which had always been, and still is - don't tell him - my goal). There would be spikes and valleys, he said. And there are. But thanks to that work, for the most part, I've been able to get down from the spikes more easily and more quickly than before.
He is on a trip to Ellis Island today. I don't even know how they got to the boat.
I better go make a call.
*I did not plan to mention CBT in this post and this is not an endorsement of it. It has been helpful to me, as have lots of other things. I'm certainly not a qualified medical professional and it would make me anxious if you thought I was.