Monday, June 21, 2010

Proximity Worry

My kids call this syndrome “proximity bitching” but it’s really more about worrying than anything else. It seems the closer I am to my grown kids physically, the more I worry, which, I guess, factors into increased bitching (at least from their perspective).

Since, in any given year, I spend just eight weeks or so in Portland (two at Christmas, six in the summer), leaving forty-four weeks in Atlanta, poor Molly carries most of the burden of my anxiety. I worry about her school work, her health, her sleeping patterns, her money management, her cats, and her (lack of) cooking skills.

However, for the eight weeks I’m in Portland, Melissa and Billy are the lucky recipients of my hovering. Just recently, Billy had a series of severe headaches a doctor semi-diagnosed as cluster headaches. As you might guess, within twenty-four hours, I was an internet expert on the topic and the poor guy not only had the headaches to suffer through, he also had his mother texting him every few minutes with stupid messages like“how r u?” or "rate pain 1-10". In addition, after just a couple of days following Miles around, I’m already obsessing over him running out into the street, as if Melissa doesn’t handle Miles and the street all months other than Grammy months. Molly, on the other hand, is getting some time off as I have no idea what graduate projects she has due or what she’s burning for dinner.

I think proximity worry partially has to do with time zones. When I’m in a different time zone from my kids, I don’t fret as much. It’s almost like they aren’t living in real time. For example, when I wake up in Atlanta, it’s still the middle of night in Portland and I figure most people don't do anything really stupid just before dawn. Conversely, although Molly stays up too late and sleeps too late (in her mama’s opinion), it doesn’t bother me as much when I'm on west-coast time, since our personal clocks seem better synchronized from three time zones away.

When I was a young adult, having achieved the status of working woman, wife, and mother, I believed my parents were done with worrying about me, and they certainly didn’t seem to be overly interested in how I was doing, even though we shared a state and a time zone. They retired and traveled, had a cabin on a river in south Georgia, and finally built a retirement home on that same river. Of course, those were the days before cell phones, texting, Facebook, twitter, and Skyping brought immediate information on the good, the bad, and the ugly of us all into virtual proximity. As my parents were merrily puttering down the inter-coastal waterway, they weren't constantly checking their Blackberries for updates on my bad judgment.

I do remember my father being incredibly mad at me when Gary and I split up. Except for wanting his sympathy (which I didn’t get), I believed it really wasn’t my father's place to have an opinion on my screwed-up life. Boy, do I now see things differently. To continue with my somewhat wet analogy, Daddy thought his little girl was safely moored and battened down, and then, all of a sudden, she was back at sea, and unfettered at that. I now know his new worry probably caused his river putter to sputter a bit, knowing I was knee deep in life change.

Just recently, I was talking to Molly about my obsessive worrying and she pointed out that it probably has something to do with loss of control. When my kids were little, I drove them to school, took them to the doctor, and fed and bathed them. Although I did none of those things particularly well, I still accomplished them in my own way, in my own time. Now, my parental tasks involve mostly sitting and waiting - and worrying - and texting some.

I know mental health experts and well-meaning others would tell me to get out, to get a life, to volunteer, to get a turtle or a bird, to pray or meditate. I do use those stress-relieving and centering strategies (other than the turtle, the bird, or any real volunteering), but I have this weird philosophy, which pretty much says if I worry enough, nothing bad will happen. Take income taxes. If I obsess enough over how much I'm going to owe, the outcome will be good and I might even get some money back. Of course, an accounting course could also have a good outcome in that I would learn how to handle my taxes and what exactly to expect, but that accounting thing just sounds so boring.

Back to my kids. The one time I didn't worry about Molly and her health, she ended up in the hospital with emergency gall bladder surgery over Christmas vacation. Even when she showed up at my house with yellow skin and glowing eyes, I didn't worry, or at least I packed it away to be opened later with my winter coat and gifts for the grandkids. We boarded a plane for a cross continental flight with a Vegas layover and landed just in time for a breakneck trip to Good Samaritan and a family Christmas dinner in the hospital cafeteria.

And so, it seems I'll most likely continue to obsess and fret and do smart things and dumb things, worrying when I shouldn't and not focusing on real problems when I should. I'm pretty sure I won't be making any major changes as to how I navigate the world at this late date, so I'll just keep on putting one step in front of another as I stumble through life, figuring it out as I go along. It's not particularly pretty and it won't win any prizes, but so far, it's worked out pretty well.

Except for that layover in Vegas followed by emergency surgery in Portland part.


Olga said...

It's hard not to worry about my kids. I have to keep telling myself they have a life that is seaparate from mine. They are adults who get to make their own decisions. Still, I'd give anything to have my daughter be a better cook.

Anonymous said...

Yes, Marcia. I think what you describe is what a "Mother" is. And your next to last paragraph sums it up nicely. Worrying is a hard job. Mary B

wisewebwoman said...

I guess the greatest fear is us outliving our kids.
We think we have all the power in the world and we have none when it comes to others' lives.
One of my mantras to stop this incessant mulling is:
"I am powerless over my next breath."
That has helped me so much in (most of the time) wearing the world like a loose garment.
One daughter is estranged from all of us and lives far, far away, the other has MS and I can honestly say I don't worry. There is no point and would just give me ill-health and not being present in the moment - which is all that's important.

Anonymous said...

Dads worry, too, and your post gave a reasonable explanation of some of my actions regarding my own son. Thanks. Phil

oklhdan said...

I grew up with a worrier and a non-worrier. I have taken after the later parent. It isn't that I don't worry at all but I wait to see exactly what I have to worry about. I don't borrow trouble. Then I decide whether my worrying will have any impact what so ever on the possible outcome. If the answer is NO then I move on.

something witty said...

I don't want to add more worry, Mom, but I'm going to have to disagree with one statement you made above. Some of my worst decisions came right before dawn. Granted, that was back in my still-awake-before-dawn stages of life and not my bagel-and-coffee-commute stage that I'm in now.

marciamayo said...

Oh God, Billy. Now I will have no rest at all.

Friko said...

So, have I got this right, you don't believe in letting go, then?

I could take lessons from you in worrying, but I don't suppose I will.

marciamayo said...

You've got that right!

Nigel said...

just my two cents. I also suffer from cluster headaches and they are horrible and I mean horrible. Also I'm noticing as a new father that I most definitely am not a worrier. My wife is the worrier of the two of us. But thats nothing new I never worry.

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