We walk across the bridge on the way to story time. It’s only 9am and it has already begun. What if the wind becomes strong and your stroller goes over the bridge? What if a deranged stranger comes and pushes us over? We could take in the sight of the river and could imagine the types of fishies that live in there. We could stop and count all the boats we see. Instead, I rush across as fast as I can.
I see you disappear onto the other side of the playground. I ponder letting you have your space and imagine the pride you would feel wandering around without mommy next to you. Here we go again. What if a stranger is on the other side and grabs you? What if you wander away and into the street and I don’t see? What if you climb too high and fall? I rush to the other side to find you sitting at the base of the slide collecting acorns. You smile up at me.
We stroll through the festival. Music, dancing, and balloons. You cry “out, out!” and are trying to get out of your stroller. I think it would be fun for you to dance to the cultural music and play. Then it comes again out of the shadows. There are too many people here. What if a crowd walks by and we get separated? What if someone accidentally knocks you down? “Not right now,” I say and we go home. You cry.
The what ifs have been by my side for years. Sometimes, they’ve been friends that have kept me from making the wrong decisions. Other times, they have ruined what could have been. They shorten my breath, but motivate me to take action. They could shut me down or keep me going. They weren’t wholly bad or wholly good, they just were. I was used to them like an old sweater. Sometimes, I could shake them off and tell them they were silly and other times I clung to them desperately because I thought I needed them. But then you came along and things began to change. They became darker and scarier. They robbed me of energy and the will to tell them to go away. They became stronger and overshadowed the joy of becoming your mom. As the days ticked by I realize I heard them louder and louder and my own voice started to disappear. Somedays I still feel like we are on the edge of a cliff together and I’m constantly fearful that you will fall off.
I’m a therapist for God’s sake, I should have a better handle on this.
I used my tools to keep the thoughts from swallowing me whole before. But it was easy when it was only about me. Now my thoughts confuse my love for you with the worries about what could happen. The line between protective and irrational is blurred for me. I just want you to be safe more than anything because I can’t imagine going on if anything happened. The thoughts lie to me and tell me that if I believe them I will be able to keep bad things from happening.
So I’m sorry my little one, for my anxious mind. It’s my job to keep you safe and secure but not at the price of us enjoying our life together. It’s not fair for you to be chained down by my worries.
So I try to change my what ifs. What if I breathe a little and loosen the reins? What if I start to tune them out? What if I trust what I want for you and not my anxious mind? What if I try to show you the world isn’t as dangerous a place as my thoughts tell me?
What if I show you that in an uncertain world you can still feel joy?
The day will come where I won’t be there to make you hold my hand as you walk across the street, or tell you that you’ve climbed too high. You will need to make those choices for yourself. So I will try to find the balance between teaching you your limits but allowing you to explore. I will try to figure out which thoughts I should listen to or ignore. More than anything I want you to be safe but I also want you to know a life that I am trying to have, a life where you can enjoy the day without constant worry, where you can walk into a new situation without fear, where you aren’t tortured by the what ifs.
Rachel Bowers is a licensed therapist/social worker, maternal mental health advocate, and mom. She blogs at Full Motherhood and is the co-founder of Mentoring 4 Moms. When she's not chasing after her spunky 2 year old pirate-loving son she's fantasizing about being in a Jane Austen novel or starting random conversations with strangers because everyone's life story is truly fascinating.