My daughter came down with a low-grade fever on Wednesday. It persisted for a few days, then suddenly spiked on Friday up to close to 105. I took her temperature twice, convinced I had somehow got it wrong. 104.5, clear as can be. My stomach dropped. My hand shook as I called the doctor. In the back of my head, the little voice “What if she’s really, really sick?” And then, inevitably, “What if she dies?”
I struggle with worry. It is a lighthouse beacon, continually highlighting dangers even when no ships are in view. When my children sleep past their usual wake-up time of 6:45, I enjoy about 15 minutes of extra sleep. Then, like a switch, on comes the worry: Why are they sleeping so late? Are they getting sick? Are they breathing? I worry when my husband is more than ten minutes past when I expect him to get home. I worry when my cat gets up after lying around all day and walks a bit stiffly.
I use google like a worry stone. I work that search engine over, trying to comfort myself that my children’s various ailments are not life-threatening. I have googled, multiple times: How many children have died from the flu? What do leukemia bruises look like? What does brain fluid look like? (This last one was when my daughter had a runny nose and hit her head; unhelpfully, it apparently looks like mucous.)
I worry. I worry a lot.
I’ve written before about my decision not to helicopter parent, and this may seem contradictory. But I think it’s actually very different. I feel comfortable(ish) letting my children climb to the top of the play structure, or play with marbles at a young age, or roam the house without baby gates. I trust my children.
I do not trust illness. And I don’t need to peel back too many layers of my psyche to figure out why. My mom died of brain cancer when I was in high school. She was only fifty years old. So I know that terrible things are rare, but I also know that they happen, and that they can happen to the people you love most.
My friend, who also struggles with worry, once told me something that struck a chord – when you worry, you live it twice. It’s true. I know it is. It’s unhealthy to worry unnecessarily, and no amount of worry is going to prevent cancer or SIDS or the thousands of other ways you can lose someone you love. And I can say that Dr. Google makes fewer house calls after five years of parenting. I have a better sense of what is within the range of normal and I have more confidence in my ability to tell when something is really wrong. But the worry is still lurking there. I know that it will only take a high fever or a bruise in a strange place for it to come around again.
My daughter is fine. That fever came and went for a few days, but it finally broke. Her nose is runny and she is cranky, but she will be okay. Odds are, all my children are going to be okay. Rationally, I know that. And while I know rationally that my children will probably be okay the next time too, I can’t help but worry that they won’t be.