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Life Arts    H4'ed 6/29/09

One of those parenting moments

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More than twenty years ago, I had an experience I don't think I'll ever forget.  Rafi and I had taken Yael and Ariella to an amusement park. Rafi dropped the three of us off and went to park the car.  The girls, who were about five at the time, dragged me to a ride that had attracted long lines.  It  featured open cars which circled the hub like horses on a merry-go-round. For added excitement, each car also spun around on its own axis. There were no seat belts or harnesses of any kind, just a flimsy, metal bar to hold us in place.

As the ride gathered speed, we were thrown against the back of the seat. I was convinced that the girls were about to be ripped from my grasp and flung from the car.  I seriously envisioned injury, dismemberment or worse. Holding onto them tightly, I tried desperately to maintain my cool so they wouldn't panic. That ride dragged on forever.

When the cars finally slowed to a stop and we were able to disembark, my legs refused to hold me up and I felt sick to my stomach. I remember handing the girls off to Rafi and wobbling over to a shady spot where I sat for hours, numb and trembling, as the adrenaline wore off.

That often baffling and sometimes terrifying job they call parenting

 Last night when I went to bed, Michael had not yet returned for the night.  This morning, I stopped by his room to make sure that he'd gotten back safely. I had no recollection of his coming upstairs to check in, but that didn't necessarily mean anything. My memory is unreliable if I've been awoken from a deep asleep. 

His room was empty.  A frisson of fear coursed through my body as I frantically searched the house.  Nada.  I called Michael's cell phone even though it was quite early. The call immediately flipped over to voice mail. His phone was either turned off or out of juice. Was that bad, or could it possibly be a good sign? The sinking feeling in my gut instantly transported me to that amusement park of long ago.

I challenge any mother alive to put herself in my shoes and not have "those" thoughts running through her head. This weekend was the annual Taste of Chicago, with huge, rowdy crowds, lots of loud music, and acres of booths with enticing food and drink.   None of the many scenarios conjured up by my overactive imagination were remotely comforting.

Now in controlled panic mode, I followed a few leads without success.  In the meantime, Mick must have gotten my frantic message. He called home, sounding perfectly fine and unruffled.  A friend later drolly observed that his attitude made perfect sense: "Mick knew where he was."

I was clearly the ruffled one. After that initial wave of relief, I experienced that familiar and distinctly unpleasant adrenaline let-down.  Completely drained;  I could barely stand up.  Luckily, I was able to go for a swim and that helped snap me out of it, more or less. The whole episode lasted under an hour but felt like an eternity.

Lessons learned

Once again, it all comes down to the importance of maintaining good channels of communication. Loving our children, while key, is merely the down payment. They need more -  much, much more, every step along the way. When they're babies, at least, it's relatively easy: food, sleep, a dry diaper. Accompanied, of course, by bounteous quantities of love. But, at the exact same time we are effectively addressing our young 'uns' needs, they are growing, changing, and inevitably moving away from us. It doesn't seem fair.

As parents, we aim for a tiny bulls' eye that signifies getting it right:  showing enough concern but not too much, differentiating between opportunities for teaching versus those for listening only, and so on. And as soon as we're finally getting the hang of it, the job description morphs into something else entirely.  It never ends - ever - even when our children reach adulthood and have offspring of their own.  Once our kids reach those treacherous teenage years, we must switch from nurturer/protectors to mentor mode. It's a bit overwhelming, but it sure does keep us on our toes.

Prescription for mental health

In order for me to be a good mother, I receive regular infusions of sound advice, understanding, and validation from friends with kids the same age or older. Luckily, I did a stellar job of selecting friends who have proven to be calm, nurturing parents.  I have benefited immensely from their finely-honed listening skills and infinite patience. Whatever would I do without these folks? They are truly my lifeline to mental health.

Whenever I have a rare but unnerving adventure like I did this morning, I completely understand why people rave about grandparenting. It's a swell idea, with virtually no downside:  you spend quality time with the little guys, and when you've had enough, you drop them off and retire to your own home for a well deserved, good night's sleep.  Ultimate responsibility lies elsewhere.

Even when we become grandparents, though, we still have some tricky relationships to navigate -  namely, with our grandchildren's parents. Oh well, nothing's perfect. Still, interacting with our offspring's offspring will surely be a refreshing change from what often feels like tiptoeing through a minefield. I admit, I'm looking forward to it.

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Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which since 2005 existed for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. Our goal: to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Because the problems with electronic (computerized) voting systems include a lack of (more...)

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