Having parented a terminally ill child has put a lens on mothering that I did not foresee but am not at all surprised by. For all of the eight months Lydia was with us, I was holding my breath, waiting for something to happen. Knowing that her time with us was short, I knew any day or night could be her last. I would walk past where she was sleeping and pause, waiting to see that her chest was rising and falling. I know a lot of new moms do this, but only a few moms know that one time they could walk by and it won’t be happening anymore.
I knew my experience as Lydia’s mama would alter the way I would parent other children, but I really hoped it would all be for the better – more love, more joy, more excitement with every milestone. I did not know (actually, I probably knew but just refused to acknowledge) that it would also be more fear, more panic, more CRAZY CRAZY CRAZYPANTS.
In the first weeks of Levi’s life, I thought I was doing OK. I slowly began to realize that I wasn’t. If he slept for too long, I panicked thinking he was definitely dead. If he didn’t eat too much, I freaked out because he’s definitely going to starve to death now. If he cried and I didn’t know why, it was some kind of horrible painful disease.
It sounds crazy, yes? Yes. It does. You can say it. People tell me all moms feel like this. Perhaps this is true, but when I stopped and realized how much of my time was spent in fear or panic, I realized I needed to start doing something.
So, I developed my very own, fancy shmancy, highly evolved parenting mantra. CALM DOWN. I’ll tell the truth and say that sometimes it devolves from those words (which I would and still chant over and over to myself) to simply “Shhhhhhhhhhhhh.” Yes. I shush myself.
I don’t want to live my life like this. I don’t want to be the kind of mom who won’t let her son walk by himself a few steps ahead of her for fear he’ll fall or get stolen. I don’t want to keep him from climbing onto the couch without being right there next to him because I suspect he could fall just the right way, break his neck and die. Not only do I not want to live like that, I don’t want my son to live like that. I want him to have courage and not fear. I want him to be confident, not timid. If he doesn’t want to do something, that’s fine – I just want him to know that he can try. He’ll never try if I never let him.
So, I chant to myself. I let go of his hand so he can try for himself and I tell myself to calm down. Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned from being a mama to Lydia, it’s that I’m not really in charge of my child’s life. I do my best to make sure that he’s kept from harm, I provide a safe environment in which he can live and play. But the true responsibility for his protection lies with our Father in heaven, who has already counted Levi’s days and will faithfully see him through to the end of them.
I’m not saying that I’ve mastered my fear. Two nights ago I sent Micah in to make sure Levi was breathing. But I’m working on it.
What are you parenting mantras? What words or phrases help you get through the day?