Monday, May 26, 2008

Do I Worry? Duh!

Natalie Williams, a pediatric psychology resident at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, is conducting an Internet-based survey to learn more about the challenges faced by parents of children with food allergies. The survey asks questions about parenting issues, parent worries and concerns, and child emotions and behaviors. She’s asking everyone who is a primary caregiver of a food-allergic child to take her survey so she can help develop the body of knowledge about how food allergies affect the daily lives of children and their parents. (Do take the survey. It’s here.)

I just participated in the survey, and it was interesting to see the types of questions being asked. Sometimes, however, I wasn’t sure how to answer a question. For example, I was supposed to indicate if “I worry about my child’s future,” and the choices were “Never,” “Sometimes,” and “Often.”

The thing is, I do worry about my child’s future, but not usually in relation with his food allergies. I worry about his ability to control his rambunctious, high-energy, emotional approach to life so that he fits in a little better with his colleagues when he enters the workforce. I worry that he’ll inherit a world polluted beyond the limits of human health. I worry that he’ll lose his fascination with science and sports and end up being sucked into the black hole of video games when I no longer have control of his schedule. I worry that a girl will break his heart. I worry that he’ll be lured in by drugs. I worry that he’ll be lured in by a religious cult. I worry that he’ll be lured in by a traveling circus.

I look at the world he’s growing up in, and I am wracked with concern that the America I love is becoming the laughing-stock of the world because we’ve lost sight of some fundamental human values like acceptance, charity, education, and support, and replaced them with political charades like intolerance, greed, territorialism, and prejudice. I worry that we’ve become a society more interested in which big-bosomed gold-digger marries the jerk on some reality TV show than in whether or not the majority of Americans can afford basic health care. I worry that I’ll be hit by a bus and won’t be there to help guide him to adulthood. I worry that he’ll get his feelings hurt at school.

I worry that he won’t be able to get a scholarship to college, and that the amount of money I have managed to save for his college so far won’t buy him a venti latte at Starbucks when he finally gets to campus. I worry that he won’t make the high school soccer team, even though he’s only in third grade right now. I worry that the city of Venice may sink into the sea before the dollar strengthens enough so that I can take my son there to see it. I worry that he’ll get nibbled by a barracuda the next time he goes snorkeling. I worry that his hormones are about to kick in, and I’m not going to be a patient enough mom to handle that. I worry that he’ll want to buy a motorcycle someday.

And yes, I worry that he’ll eat something with nuts in it someday and have a bad reaction before help arrives. I worry that before too long, he’ll be out of my reach, and traveling through hazelnut-infested countries without me. I worry that he’ll kiss a girl who’s eaten a peanut butter cookie. I worry that his kids might someday have even worse food allergies than him. I worry that he’ll make a student mad at school someday, and that kid will smear peanut butter on him to get even. Of course, I also worry that the angry kid will skip the peanut butter smearing and just haul off and paste my son with a mean left hook. Kids find ways to hurt each other, and the weapons change to suit the moment.

So there are a lot of reasons why I worry about his future. Only some of them are food-allergy related. Most of them are typical parent worries, and I think most parents lie awake at night dreaming up disasters we have no business dreaming up. My dad said his grandmother used to lie awake at night worrying that someday her husband might want to move the family to a ranch with an open cow tank, and maybe her kid would fall into it and drown. She would worry about this, even though they weren’t moving and had no plans to move. And I thought I worried unnecessarily.

It will be interesting to see the results of this survey. I wonder if we food-allergy parents really worry more than other parents, or if we all worry the same amount and just have a few variations based on our own particular circumstances.

I wish I didn’t worry quite so much. But when they handed me that adorable little caterwauling bundle of joy at the hospital nine and a half years ago, the doctor said, “Congratulations, it’s a boy. And along with him, here’s your bag of worries, your box of obsessions, your knapsack of fears, and your suitcase of paranoia. Enjoy him!”

And I do enjoy him, despite all the worries. He’s worth every moment of it.

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