This weekend my husband, son, and I went to visit my family in Minnesota. Among other things, we participated in our family’s annual epic Easter gathering, complete with extravagant food and even more extravagant music, courtesy of my father and the musical friends he has accumulated over the past sixty years.
While at the party one of the guests accidentally dropped a Valium pill on the floor. I didn’t find this out until the next day.
Under normal circumstances this would not be a big deal. Heck, under normal circumstances I might be motivated to look for the pill for the selfish purpose of getting a few winks of sleep. But ever since becoming a mother, my definition of “normal circumstances” has dramatically changed. When I found out about the pill I panicked.
After calling poison control, my father informed us that Valium could make an infant stop breathing. The phone operator said to keep an eye on the babies in our house and take them to the hospital if they displayed signs of excessive drowsiness.
Let’s talk about my rationality when it comes to possible disease or crisis. One night the bottoms of my feet had started to hurt, like I had stepped on glass. I mentioned this casually to my husband, while inwardly starting to plan my last will and testament. My husband wondered if it was possible that my feet were dry and needed some lotion. My skin, after all, is very susceptible to cracking in the winter. I nonchalantly said, “Hmm, that’s a good point.”
When he asked me what I thought I said, “Well, it probably isn’t that my gestational diabetes has turned into full blown untreated diabetes, leaving me with feet that are one sugar spike away from amputation.” My husband thinks I’m hilarious.
So maybe the doctors shouldn’t leave it to my judgment whether or not my son seems overly drowsy.
My son, thankfully, saved us a trip to the ER by not acting even remotely interested in sleep, despite having been up until one in the morning, refusing to wind down until the adults had finished their fun. But the story of how my son deals with FOMO (fear of missing out) is for another time.
This one is about the crippling and devastating fear that grips me when I least expect it. This is about the fear that starts in my stomach and spreads to my limbs. This is about the fear that can keep me in the house on a Friday night instead of going out because I don’t want to get in a car accident with a drunk driver. The fear that turns dry feet into my final moments. This is about a fear that I fight hard to keep from controlling my life.
I didn’t really think of myself as a fearful person until I had my son. Suddenly there are monsters in every corner. The news stories are unbearable as I imagine the world he is inheriting. A world with movie theater shootings over text messages. A world with food shortages due to climate change and disease. A world where parents are abandoning face time with their children for texting with their friends. A world where pills are innocently dropped on the floor at joyous Easter gatherings.
When I was younger I would often overhear my mom telling people that the safest place her children can be is in the palm of God’s hand. I always liked that. That is, until I had my own child. As soon as his tiny body was placed on my chest, umbilical cord connected, I had a different idea. The safest place my child can be is in my arms. Scratch that, the safest place my child can be is back inside my womb.
Actually, scratch that, too. My child has never been safe. Period.
Apparently fear can make me wonder if I made the right choice to become a parent. By this I mean that fear can blind me to the miracle of the flesh and bones and skin in my arms, a beautiful baby boy who through a whole lot of biology I pretend to understand is made up of my husband and me and stardust and the breath of God.
I find it interesting that in the Bible when angels appear the first thing they say is, “Do not be afraid.” I can’t be certain, since I’ve never seen an angel, but I am pretty sure that my face would have been on the ground with everyone else’s, unable to look at the huge fireball of an angel suddenly appearing where there wasn’t one before.
Or for a more metaphorical approach to understanding my faith for my often-skeptical religious self–I am pretty sure that angels are appearing to me all the time. But in my fear I don’t recognize them. They are shrouded in the dark shadow of what might happen. They are in the present and I am off in the future, waiting for what might be, bracing myself for pain or tragedy.
What I am left with is a choice between fear and faith. And I’m not too good at faith. I am the person who much of the time has more faith in my belief that my son will probably find the pink Valium pill somehow tucked away in the belongings we brought back 400 miles from my parents’ home, than I have in the idea of my son sitting in my palm of God’s hand.
But maybe the best part about my parenting fear is that it drives me to want more faith. I don’t want to be afraid. I want to be the person who believes that my son is safe in the palm of God’s hand. I want to be the person who trusts that he won’t pick up the pink pill. I want to be the person who notices the angels all around me, the miracles big and small. I want to believe, as my friend Lenora says so eloquently, that love is greater than fear.
And maybe that stumbling, fumbling desperation, driven entirely by necessity, is itself a kind of faith.
And maybe one of the angels is my mom, reminding me again and again that in the absence of certainty we have the ability to trust, trust that God is holding my son in his hands, pink Valium pill or not.
And if my dry feet do end up killing me, there is really no other place I would rather be.