Start in the womb of a Jewish mother and enter into a decade of loudness: the Free Speech Movement, Woodstock, the Vietnam War. Be labeled shy and sensitive. As the only first-generation American in your entire school, have your classmates scrutinize your peanut butter and marmalade sandwiches made on challah bread, oval slices the color of egg yolks which look unusually bright yellow next to the perfectly square Wonder Bread bologna sandwiches of your friends.
Unsuccessfully try to tame your wild curls into long straight Marcia Brady hair. Be more comfortable observing and reporting on life instead of directly participating in it. Put those observer skills to good use as a reporter for your Sonoma County high school newspaper.
Go to the opposite coast for college; finally find a place where you fit in, and graduate during a recession when there aren’t many jobs, especially for journalists. Try not to take it personally, but do anyway as you word-process in tiny cubicles in high-rise offices. Lose productivity from daydreaming too much. Get lucky landing a job as a staff reporter and photographer for a sailing magazine, and travel to far away places. Be concerned that you’ll never settle down. Windsurf in all your spare time. Feel free, unburdened and adventurous as you fly across the water.
Shift career to teaching because you love kids, are used to low pay anyway, and naively think you’ll have your late afternoons free to windsurf and write. Find true love, oops — realize it isn’t, repeat several times, and finally find your match, one whose linear left brain balances your emotional right. Get married, attend all your friends’ baby showers during the years you struggle to conceive; worry that your future offspring won’t have anyone their age to play with. Then, magically, miss your period. Stay apprehensive throughout your entire surprise pregnancy, give birth to a daughter, and also your new identity: one who worries.
Obsess that your newborn will stop breathing; find solace from experienced mothers, chronicled in the motherhood books you devour, who also spend excessive amounts of time watching tiny chests move. Fret about the baby’s 90th percentile in weight versus her 40th percentile in height, her incessant need for breast milk and round-the-clock attachment, her refusal to sleep, and her colic that extends far beyond the expected time frame. Meet mothers with easy babies and think, “Why me?” Joke about exchanging your baby for an easy one, but secretly think how great it would be if you could.
Be the only one in your mothers’ group whose baby doesn’t sleep through the night on her own. Picture her at 12 and still in the family bed. As she grows and develops normally, be surprised. When she finally sleeps through the night, discover that you can’t. Then, move your concerns from the day-to-day to the projected future: Will she cry every day for the rest of her life? Will her sensitivity hold her back in life? Will the hole in the ozone layer melt the polar ice caps?
Feel guilty, really guilty, about your angst when other mothers you know have real worries: major health battles, children with disabilities, financial woes. Think, what do I have to worry about? Make a list anyway. Watch your child talk, walk, and eat food she can choke on. Wonder why no one has invented full body armor for toddlers.
During your child’s dinosaur developmental stage, your husband will coin the moniker Worriasaurus and will call you that, instead of Honey or Sweetheart. He’ll continue to use the term, even after your daughter’s plastic dinosaurs have long been buried in the toy box.
See your very clingy child survive and actually enjoy most of preschool. Weep uncontrollably at her first sleepover at a friend’s house as your aren’t-you-happy-to-have-a-night-alone-in-the-house-by-ourselves husband watches, perplexed. Know all night that she’s not there.
Fret about the leap to big kid school – view kindergarten as just one of the stepping-stones on her way to leaving you forever. Forget about the new freedom you’ll have to write and rollerblade and rediscover your pre-Worrier-Mother-self. Instead be concerned that it will give you more holes of time to worry. Get really tired of being told to relax and lighten up, especially when everyone around you is tense about war and terrorism and the economy. Stop watching the evening news.
Learn that anxiety pushed aside or ignored can bottle up and explode in the form of extreme impatience, anger and tears, and feeling unbearably overwhelmed. Try to pay attention to the angst. Reflect and ponder on the concerns, sometimes when you should be focusing on other things. Zone out to Worryland in the middle of playing a board game with your child, or participating in a pretend tea party, or amidst the constant barrage of five-year-old questions. Be brought back to the moment with the scream “MOMMY! You WEREN’T listening!”
Have apprehensions about writing this column, about choosing the right stories to tell, about the risk of self-exposure. Fear that you’ll be seen as uptight and self-absorbed. Tell a mom friend you’ll be writing about being a Mother Worrier. Listen as she misunderstands, even though you don’t have a New York accent, and says, “Yes, you are a warrior — championing for things, sticking to your gut instincts and what’s best for your child.” Think about yourself in that light, alongside brave Mother Warriors, speaking out, being strong. Be happy to be seen in a way you don’t really see yourself, but now worry that you’re not showing your true colors to your friends.
Experiment calling yourself Mother Worrier Warrior and strike the warrior yoga pose, holding it for a long time. Feel strong and powerful, until you start to waver and lose your balance.