Have we discussed my crippling anxiety before? We have? Weird. Don’t know why it would have come up. Oh, yes I do. BECAUSE I’M BARELY ABLE TO MAKE IT THROUGH THE DAY WITHOUT IMAGINING 100000000 HORRIFYING SCENARIOS UNFOLDING AND RUINING ALL THE THINGS.
But seriously. As I’ve gotten older, and become a parent, my anxiety has reached a fever pitch. Since the husband has assumed the role of helicopter parent (a badge he wears with honor), it’s my duty to assume to role of chill parent who is totally not freaking out on the inside every fucking second. On the outside, I’m nailing it. On the inside, I’m a hot mess.
Remember Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon? The theory that every person in the world can be connected to Kevin Bacon within six degrees? My anxiety is like that, only it’s Two Degrees of People Not Paying Attention. Every sweat-inducing scenario that I create in my mind can be connected back to someone not paying attention within two degrees. And the real nail in my proverbial coffin is that we as a society are moving further and further away from mindfulness and community. Further away from the idea that it takes a village. That we’re all responsible for one another. That all kids are our kids. And while mostly this is just kind of depressing and socially annoying, sometimes it’s devastating. It’s so fucking scary to think of sending your child out into a world where most people aren’t really paying attention, or frankly just don’t care.
And I’m not suggesting that it isn’t also the responsibility of our children to learn not to do really stupid shit. Hey, kid. Don’t run into the street. Don’t climb on top of the play structure like an asshole and then encourage all the other kids to do it too. Don’t go with that guy with the candy. Definitely don’t go with that guy with the candy and the van. Also, no one has a puppy in their car. Puppies would shit in a car if left alone and that knowledge alone is enough to call someone on their puppy lie. Don’t play with a switchblade. Don’t put a plastic bag over your head. Nope, not even if it makes you look super funny and your friends laugh. Don’t turn off your phone before sneaking out so I can’t track your location when you turn up missing. Don’t climb over fences or sneak in places with signage SPECIFICALLY TELLING YOU NOT TO. Do not ever pick up your phone in a moving car. Ever. Ever.
But raising kids is equal parts preparation and practice. Kids, like adults, have to fuck things up in order to actually believe they can be fucked up. As grown people, we like to pretend that this isn’t the case. We like to pretend that our wise words will be enough to guide our children away from all danger and poor decision making. But sometimes preparing your child isn’t the side of the equation that matters. As a parent, you spend the majority of your collagen and natural hair color trying to ensure kids do it the right way, while steeling yourself against the knowledge that it may not be them who screws up. It may be something, or someone, completely out of your control. And what energy is left is focused on hoping that when they do fuck up, when they do run into the street chasing a ball that isn’t worth their life, someone is paying attention. That the person driving down the street isn’t texting or changing the radio station. You pray to the fabric of the universe that when your child goofs, it’s not the end.
Which brings us to my biggest anxiety du jour: texting while driving. I’ve looked over countless times to see a driver typing a novella on their phone, not once looking up. I’ve seen it near the park, on my street, on the drive to work. I watch young people, old people– all people– blow through stop signs and cross walks. I read articles about kids hit by cars while legally crossing the street. WHILE DOING EXACTLY WHAT THEY ARE SUPPOSED TO DO. EXACTLY WHAT THEIR PARENTS TOLD THEM WOULD KEEP THEM SAFE. I don’t know what’s so important. I don’t know what I sometimes think is so important. What I think absolutely cannot wait for a red light or a driveway. But I know that every time I watch a car swerve across a double yellow, or someone take a selfie while traveling at 65mph, I hear myself say, please don’t kill my kid. It’s symbolic more than anything. People like you. Actions like yours. Please don’t let them kill my child.
I can’t change the world. I’m not even sure I can convince my son not to be the one taking the selfies, typing the novellas. Hell, I can’t even get people to stop smoking near the playground. But as long as there is breath in my lungs and typing in my fingers, I can ask this. Please, please don’t kill my kid. Look up. Pay attention. Drive undistracted. I’m not asking you to babysit or empty man-sized poops out of a kid potty. I’m not asking you to contribute to college tuition or attend a toddler birthday party. I’m asking you to remember that your actions– your carelessness– have consequences. I’m doing the very best that I possibly can, but there is a place where my parenting ends and faith and trust in the world begins. It’s the scariest place in the world. It’s the place I can’t control. The source of all my nightmares. And if you do that, I’ll make you this deal. I’ll do the same. I’ll see you. I’ll watch out for you. I’ll keep my eyes on the road. I’ll remember that you may be crossing the street. Your child may be crossing the street.
Please don’t kill my kid. And I’ll try damn sure not to kill yours.