Four years ago this month, my baby brother was in a serious car accident.
Headed back to work after his lunch break, his car collided with a cement truck. He ended up in a coma, with a breathing tube and limited brain activity. Doctors at one point told us they'd done all they could do and that we should prepare for his death. I don't recall praying more frequently or fervently than when my brother was lying in the ICU — there but not there — fingers swollen, body chilled, lungs being filled at eerily even intervals by a whirring machine.
He's alive today, thank God, and the memory of those days also lives on, not just for me, but for my parents. They nearly lost a child. I can't even imagine how they made it through those weeks.
My twin boys were not yet a year old when it happened, and I can remember realizing then that until the accident, I'd had absolutely no idea what in the world my husband and I had gotten ourselves into.
The revelation stunned, like a slap to the face: You mean to tell me that you can get your children through the SIDS stage and the could-choke-on-a-grape phase and the might-run-into-the-street age; you can usher them through teenage depression and risk-taking and foolishness; you can make it through the binge-drinking college years, and still — still— you have to worry? What cruel joke is this?
Up until then, I truly thought the newborn days were "the hard part" and that even though having twin toddlers was slightly worse, my reward for getting past the tantrums and sleep regression would be hilarious preschoolers, well-adjusted teenagers and adult-children-turned-friends. I was banking on WorryNoMore Street being just around the corner.
My cousin once told me that you never know what guilt and anxiety really are until you become a parent. I know now how right she was. The reality is: You can never stop worrying. Even if the angst is not about their potential for sudden death, there are always things to worry about.
Are they getting enough sleep? Is the humidifier helping? Why won't she toilet-train? Why does he seem so angry? Are they getting too much homework? Watching too much TV? Do they seem to be making friends at school? Is she highly anxious or just shy? Is his sore-loser tendency a big problem or a little one?
College and careers. Drugs and sex. Bullying, identity, self-esteem.
It's all so heavy, and so scary. No matter what you do, so many things can go wrong.
I want to cry when I read the newspaper. Heroin addictions are on the rise, particularly among young people in middle-class families. Young girls in Prince George's County are disappearing at an alarming (to me) rate. A family in Timonium recently experienced a harrowing bout with botulism — a disease so rarely seen that doctors didn't even know what it was when the little girl was brought in with life-threatening symptoms.
So many things. So much wrong.
Knowing this, how do parents get through each day without imploding from worry?
For one thing, we try to control as much as we can of our children's lives.
We take DHA during pregnancy and buy our toddlers organic apples. We ban bumpers in cribs. We make our playgrounds ouch-proof. We call the pediatrician for everything. Or we ignore doctors' advice and set our own vaccination schedules (if we vaccinate at all). We do our children's homework. We write their college essays. We deny them sleepovers, Pop-Tarts, the chance to try things on their own and fail.
As the mother of three, I can understand it all. I may not agree with all parents' methods for keeping their children protected from pain, but I get it. I know deeply what motivates them.
But the best way to get through these seemingly booby-trapped days is to remember that, most likely, our children will be OK. They are safe. They are loved. They really are (halfway) listening to the lessons we try to impart.
As parents, we are doing the best we can — and we won't affect the outcome of their lives one iota by worrying.
So I am trying to remember to breathe. Stress less. Enjoy more.
Lots of things could go wrong, true. But so much more is likely to go right.
Tanika Davis is a former Baltimore Sun reporter who now works as director at a communications firm. She and her husband have twin 4-year-old sons, a 3-year-old daughter, a perpetually messy house and rapidly appearing gray hairs. She also needs a nap.
She can be reached at email@example.com. Her column appears monthly.