Janet Sheridan: The one who needs you most
February 24, 2011
I ran on shaking legs into the kitchen and the clean smell of my mother's ironing. Gasping for breath, my heart pounding, I poured out my story of the stranger with too much hair who offered me a ride: how I clung to the passenger door as his shabby car crawled the gravel road; the way he stared at me and asked where I was headed alone on the road.
"He was creepy, Mom, so when we approached Anderson's, I opened the door and jumped out and fell on the gravel and scraped my knees and hands — see, look at them — and he kept driving, and I waited by Anderson's until I couldn't see his car anymore; then I ran home."
Her anger exploded, quick and unexpected: What was I thinking? Why would I get in a car with a stranger? She thought I was smarter than that. It was a foolish, foolish thing to do.
I expected congratulations on my quick thinking, or concern over my bleeding knees, or fury at the old man. Mom's anger hurt my feelings; I didn't understand it flowed from fear.
Now I understand that worry accompanies parents each step of the way.
A sister-in-law once told me parental anxiety isn't as immediate when your children no longer live with you, because much of the time you don't know where they are or what they're doing. "But," she added, "your concern about them is always present."
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When I married Joel, he gifted me with children, grandchildren, and worry. Our daughter, Jenny, recently experienced unexplainable abdominal pain that triggered a series of medical tests with vague results. She shuttled from specialist to specialist with no definitive answers before receiving an alarming diagnosis.
The telephone took on increased importance in our lives, and as we moved through our days, our minds were with this hardworking, spirited wife and mother of three as she sat in one medical office after another and, eventually, had surgery.
The surgeon's success and Jenny's total recovery ended the weeks of worry, but it took time for my sleep to return to normal and my stomach to unknot.
I remember the October when Mom called her married children and asked them to quit driving home to Lander for Thanksgiving and Christmas: "Your dad and I worry too much when you drive so far on winter roads, especially over South Pass. We won't be lonely with Blaine and JL and their families nearby; and we'll still have our summer reunions in Lander."
Her words surprised us: why would she worry about our driving? We were also relieved — being stranded by a blizzard in Rock Springs is rather depressing.
I attribute most parental concerns to the same source. Our grumblings about grades, undone chores, messy rooms, financial irresponsibility, choice of career and lack of grandchildren all flow from a desire I've heard many parents express: "I just want my children to be safe and happy."
Once when Barbara and I were home from college for Christmas, we sat around the Scrabble board with Blaine and Mom. Barbara, Blaine and I were amusing one another with low-level bickering, when out of nowhere, Blaine made an astonishing announcement: "I'm Mom's favorite."
"Mom," Barbara and I implored, "say it isn't so."
Mom looked up from the board where she was closing in on her customary win and replied, "Blaine has been my favorite."
Blaine roared with laughter; I sat open-mouthed; quick-thinking Barbara asked: "Well, who's your favorite now?"
Mom's reply silenced our mock battle: "My favorite has always been the child who needed me most at the moment."
We were so lucky.