It was an ordinary day. Except that it wasn’t. My daughter and I were making our usual trek into downtown Philadelphia and to her daycare facility. Me: Singing her favorite jams like “The Wheels On the Bus” and “The Itsy-Bitsy Spider” at the top of my lungs. Her: Getting her baby girl giggle on before falling off to sleep for her morning nap. There was so much normalcy. So much peace. That was before the avalanche of sound that came out of nowhere.
The crashing of the red pickup truck into the car behind me.
The slamming of that car into the rear end of mine
The squealing of the brakes as I tried with all my might—and successfully—to stop before hitting the truck in front of me.
The terrified yelling of my mother on the cell phone that had fallen onto the floor from the seat.
And yes, the piercing scream of my child.
My heart pounded in my chest and then dropped to my stomach when I heard the screeching tires of the big, red truck that started this chain reaction.
He, she, whomever, was leaving. Hit-and-run. My God.
For real though, none of what was going on outside of my car mattered really. I’d given Olympic gold gymnast Gabrielle Douglas a run for her money with the backflip I’d done into the backseat of my car. My baby! I couldn’t think about anything else but MY BABY. The only thing I could hear was my child screaming at impact. It’s the only thing I can hear right now.
My daughter and I were fortunate enough to escape harm in the hit-and-run accident we had on August 24, but I’m sad to say that I feel like I’ve endured an emotional hit-and-run. Fear, that ugly thing I’ve fought for most of my life, has reared its head. I don’t necessarily mean the fear of the moment. I think anyone would say it was understandable to be scared at the time of the accident.
But some things linger. What I’ve experienced lately is this overwhelming fear of losing my child. Lord knows I’m grateful that both me and my daughter are okay, but it feels like the accident has created an extended case of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder that, combined with the connectedness I naturally feel for my child, has made me want to hold on to her forever. No, for real. Forever ever.
That can’t be good. I’m going to have to let her go some time. She has to go to school (or I could home school). She has to go to college (or maybe she’ll win X-Factor and become a Justin Bieber-like star at 17). She has to get married (does she?).
I joke to hide my tears. Of course I don’t want to be that mom. You know the one! The chick that’s waiting at the bus stop for her 15-year-old child. The one her child’s friend’s parents hate to see coming. The one that catches eye-rolls and other not-so-nice gestures from teachers behind her back. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I get it. She can’t be in my care 24/7. I theoretically know this. But the fear that something bad can happen if she isn’t—or heck, even if she is—is hard to shake despite being acutely aware that there are no guarantees.
So what’s my remedy? How do I deal with this ugly fear and not become Monster Mom?
Yep. Embrace the fear for the season that it’s here… then let it go. It’s a process, I think. The anxiety I feel when I think about my daughter’s piercing scream during the accident is something that I cannot run away from. If I do, it will continue to come back. Again and again it will sear my heart and mind because I keep trying to shut it out. So to prevent insanity, I think I’ll do something different.
I will feel it. I will let the sound reverberate through my body. I will cry. I will pray. Then I will let it go. When it comes again, I won’t be as scared because I’ve felt it before. And then I will cry, pray, and let it go again. Eventually it will stop coming because quite frankly, it will no longer have an impact.
I think as mothers, we have to let ourselves off the hook. It is way too easy to pile guilt and shame on top of our fears because we somehow feel like we shouldn’t be feeling the way that we do. We believe the foolishness that says we must wear our “S” on our chests at all times when, really, what we need to accept is the “H” underneath. Human. In fact, anxiety is actually a fantastic human response to something that, depending on the intensity, could take us to our grave. I thank God for it. Sometimes.
But—and this is huge—embracing fear as it relates to our children is very different from wading in it. Becoming comfortable with it. I will not do that.
Our fears should never be our safe place. It absolutely must be processed out or yes, we will become that mom. With all of the fear triggers in the world today—from child molesters to car bombs—I do think it’s critical for us to say, “It’s okay that I’m scared for my child. It’s okay that I am fearful of her getting hurt.” At the same time we don’t want to live there. Problems come when we settle into our fear; when we become comfortable with reacting fiercely to every. little. thing. particularly as it relates to our children. That kind of waddling in fear can manifest itself simply as the mother who won’t let her child play soccer because she’s afraid her kid might get hurt or, on the dangerous end of the spectrum, the mother who doesn’t discipline her child at all out of fear of giving him emotional scars—not realizing that the lack of discipline and boundaries can create a monster who will likely do very scary things in his life. Even worse, living in this kind of fear can manifest into the mother who, scared of not being able to do her best for her children, has a psychotic break and ends up hurting her children. The bridge from one state of mind to the next is long, but narrow.
I’m certainly not saying the terror that can come from an accident like mine is equivalent to mothers who do horrible things to their children. However, I do know that as mothers we are connected on this journey. I may be only 20 or 30 or 40 paces away from the experiences of the mother next to me. As much as I might want to judge her—even rightfully so—I cannot do so without first examining my own heart.
Have you ever felt oppressed by fear as it relates to your child? Was it caused by a specific incident or has it always been with you? What has been the impact on your children? How do you deal with/manage/release the fear?
Tracey Michae'l is a writer and educator based out of the Philadelphia area. She is a wife to William and a mother to a beautiful two-year old little girl. You can find her on the web at www.traceymlewis.com.