Lord willing and the creek don’t rise.

Dear friends,

Now that both my children are older, both driving, both moving about the world in ways I no longer see and supervise, I find myself confronting a new kind of parental anxiety.

Hold on? Let go?

Of course, it’s not that easy. It’s never that easy. It’s always the degrees in life that get you.

A young child in our community died recently, of a sudden illness. Our school sent parents a note about contagious diseases and proper precautions, although we all know there’s never proper anything that makes us feel better in these situations. Our entire community grieved over this unimaginable loss, and all parents who hear this kind of story feel a sharp pang of fear in knowing it could have been their child. Could have been their loss.

Sunday afternoon I tripped across this mother’s story. She lost her 12-year-old son last year in an accident in a creek on a rainy day. Not long after I finished reading the story, Parker came home after spending the night at a friend’s house. He popped in long enough to say he was going to grab his swimsuit and return to the friend’s house to swim in the creek behind his house.

“Okay,” Mr. Mom said.

“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” I said.

Obviously, reading a story about a 12-year-old boy dying in a creek on a rainy day right before my 16-year-old announces his attention to go swimming in one after a day of heavy rain makes me worry. But even if I hadn’t read the story, I probably would have asked the same questions: Who will you be with? How deep and wide is the creek? Don’t you think it’s too cold and too early in the year to be swimming?

And the hardest questions of all: To what degree do I assert my concern, both with Mr. Mom and Parker, and do I allow their judgment to override my fear?

In the end, Parker went swimming. And he came home safe two hours later. Upon questioning, he said the water was not running fast. It was deep (perhaps 10 feet he estimated, which doesn’t make it a “creek” in my book) and cold. It was also fun, he said, in the same voice Mr. Mom had privately described to me what he considered reasonable boyhood adventures after Parker left with his swimsuit.

Mr. Mom lived through what I would describe as a largely unsafe adolescence. I lived through a very tame one. How I reconcile our varying degrees of parental comfort based on very different experiences is another one of those questions I struggle with.

My comfort level is further eroded because my brother died in his early 20s due to complications from a motorcycle accident. I was 11 when I watched my mother lose her only son, so I’ve spent a lifetime fearing that kind of grief more than anything.

If you are a person of great faith, I suppose you look to the Lord for comfort and answers. If you are a person of little or no faith, I suppose both are hard to come by. If you are a person in the middle, like so many are, I imagine you swing between divine purpose and pointless longing for what can’t be undone depending on the tenor of your grief on that day and hour.

To his credit, Mr. Mom has always been respectful of my concerns, even if he thinks I’m being overprotective. He usually starts on one end of the spectrum and I start on the other, and so far we’ve managed to grope our way to the middle. Or what feels like middle ground to the two of us.

At some point, I guess, all parents have to learn to reasonably judge their child’s strengths, frailties, attraction to risk, and ability to self-manage among peers in uncertain circumstances. I always judge more conservatively than Mr. Mom. I guess I’ve gotten comfortable with him tugging me his direction a little.

Some days, though, when you read of the tragic loss of others, you never get comfortable.

Until the child, who will always be your child no matter his age, walks in the door.

With gratitude {for two kids who have so far escaped serious injury and their mother’s worrying},

Joan, who comes from a long line of worrywarts but has managed to release some of her irrational fears, arachnophobia and batophobia nothwithstanding

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