Exactly as it was

I have a natural tendency to get worked up about things.  I worry.  I stress.  I fret.  I am, by nature, an anxious person.  It doesn’t serve me well.  Though I believe, in the deep and rarely examined recesses of my mind, that my worry and anxiety will ultimately benefit me, they don’t.  Somewhere along the line, I became convinced that conceiving of, and preparing for, every eventuality would give me some influence or control over situations.  It doesn’t.  I read once that  “Worry doesn’t rob tomorrow of its problems, it robs today of its joy.”  That pretty much sums up the reality, but still, somewhere in my mind, I equate worry with control and control with happiness.  Thus, I somehow think that worrying will make me happy, even though it never, ever has.

I’m also a perfectionist.  (Being a perfectionist might not mean what you think.  It doesn’t mean “doing everything perfectly”.  It means “not being able to let go of the idea of doing everything perfectly”.  Which is crazy-making, because no matter how well you ever do anything, you can always find a way that it isn’t “perfect”.)  If I don’t work on it, I naturally revert to a state where I am constantly anxious about how I can make things perfect.  So, I basically make myself miserable pursuing an impossible goal.  And perfection isn’t even a good goal!  Again, in some back room in my mind, I got the idea that perfect = happy.  Also, not true.  Trying to be perfect, at everything, all the time, is actually a pretty great way to NOT be happy.

I’m working on this in myself, and I’ve made good progress.  I can now see that somewhere in my mind I think that worry = happy, and I can see the nonsense of that idea.  I can also see that my life is actually happier when I don’t worry about anything being “perfect”.  Which is great.  But I’m not totally immune to it yet.

When I was preparing to go home for Christmas this year (yes, back in December), amongst sick kids, sick me, a break-in across the hall and all the usual frenzy of the Christmas season, I slipped back into this thinking.  I spent a lot of time in the weeks before my trip home contemplating (aka worrying about) all the things I could do to make the holiday at home with my family go perfectly.  I worried about what I would pack.  I wanted to make sure we all had the right sweaters, the perfect pajamas, the best outfits that we could for our weeks at home.  I tied myself in mental knots trying to figure out how to maximize every moment of our time at home so that we could see all of the people we wanted to see and do all the things we wanted to do in order to ensure a perfect holiday.  I stayed up late doing laundry, wrote up complicated planning calendars of people and events, and lost sleep over things like whether or not I had packed all of the most perfectly appropriate socks.

Before I made myself sick, crazy or miserable, I got things straightened out, though.  A few days before we left, in the midst of the chaos of that week, I realized that the only thing that truly mattered is that we were going home.  We were travelling across the ocean to see our family and our friends.  We would spend time with people that we love.  We would do fun things.  We would also not get to see everyone we wanted to, because time is finite, the holidays are busy and kids have a limit on how much activity they can handle happily.  No one would care if we had our best Christmas sweaters or the best possible collection of socks on hand.  Whether or not we made the connections on our flights was not going to make or break our trip.  None of the stuff I was agonizing over was going to make the difference between having a wonderful holiday and not.  What was going to make the difference was me NOT trying to make it be perfect.  In trying to make it be perfect, I was going to miss the fact that it was going to be absolutely wonderful regardless.  I wouldn’t have been able to enjoy it as well, and in not enjoying it, I would have gradually eroded the enjoyment of the people around me.  In reality, it didn’t have to be anything different than exactly what it was to be a happy holiday.

In the end, it wasn’t perfect.  We didn’t get to see everyone we wanted, and we didn’t get to see anyone for as much time as we wanted.  There were tons of things we wanted to do that we didn’t (there always are when we go home).  There were peaceful moments, busy moments, quiet moments, festive moments and lots and lots of love and fun.  It didn’t have to be any different.  It was exactly right as it was.

(I mean, really — how could we have improved on this?)

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Liam’s first field trip

Nearly two weeks ago, on a Thursday that was a brief island in the middle of the sea of illness that was most of October, both boys were well enough to go to school.  (It was the first time in about 10 days that that had been true.)  Liam had been better for a few days at that point, and I was really glad, because I didn’t want him to miss out on his first field trip with his class.

His class took a trip (which required a ride on the U-Bahn for the teachers and the 24 kids in the class) to see a theater performance.  I was simultaneously very excited for him and completely terrified.  He’s still so little.  He’s such a little guy to be out in the world without me.  I’m still adjusting to not being with him 24/7 — having him out in the city, experiencing things separate from me is a lot to handle.

He is still such a little guy.  Just barely 3.  He’s too little to speak up for himself or find his way if he got lost, and besides, his German is minimal (and he’s often hard to understand, even in English).  B, who is 5 now, can recite his address when asked in English or German and can explain how to get to his home or school on public transportation.  Liam can’t.  It’s scary to have him out of school on a trip.  I have to put a lot of faith in the teachers, and in God or the Universe or whatever forces might be looking over him.

I don’t know how the teachers manage it.  Some days, just dragging my two to school is enough to exhaust every ounce of patience and high-ideal parenting I have.  But they do make it work.  (There also seems to be some kind of magic power the teachers exert over the kids, because when I see kids out on field trips, they are always so well behaved.  It’s amazing.)

I couldn’t help it.  There was a knot in my stomach that didn’t unravel until Dan texted me that he’d picked him up.  As it turns out, the day was great.  They rode on the train and saw a play.  (I didn’t get much of the story except that there was a rabbit in it.  And there was a song that Liam keeps singing to us, but he doesn’t know the words, so I’m not sure of the story.  But he liked it.)  The teacher made a point of telling is that he was very attentive and well behaved.  And he had a great time.  I’m so glad!

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I couldn’t help but worry, but I’m so happy that he didn’t worry, and that he enjoyed himself so thoroughly (he’s still telling us about it).  Here, this is perfectly normal.  Preschool classes go on field trips all the time.  (Benjamin has been on dozens at this point.)  And kids as small as 3 go along, just fine.  Even though this is our third year of “school” here, we’re still getting used to the idea.  But, we’re doing better.  (This was certainly an improvement over Benjamin’s first trip.)  And Liam is doing just great at school . . . even on his field trips.  I am so very happy that it went well.

Liam goes to the dentist

Today was Liam’s first ever dentist visit.  He was too young to have gone before we moved here to Austria, and I was kind of waiting until we had a visit home to visit our (much loved) dentist in Virginia.  But, a few weeks ago, I noticed a spot on one of his front teeth, and I’ve been freaked out ever since.  The pediatrician and I agreed that it needed to be seen by a dentist, and probably shouldn’t wait until our next visit home to the US (scheduled for December).

I’ve been worrying about it since.  I’ve been worried that it’s something dire, I’ve been worried he’ll be uncooperative at the appointment, or traumatized by it.  I’ve been worried that there was something that I’ve done (or didn’t do) to cause him some kind of horrible dental damage.  We had an appointment scheduled for 2 weeks ago, but he was sick with some kind of flu-like illness, and it just didn’t seem like a fair time to subject him to a first dental visit, so we put it off until today (and since then I’ve been worried about some awful consequence resulting from the delay).

I’ve been anxious about the visit for days.  I woke up early this morning and laid in bed, stressing about it.  How was it going to go?  This isn’t a children’s dentist — would they know how to handle a 2 year old?  What was the dentist going to say?  What would happen next?  Would I feel comfortable with any problem being solved here, or would I feel the need to have it taken care of at home?  How urgent would it be?  Would I have to make an extra trip home with Liam to get it taken care of?  (This is how I spent an hour of my early morning today.)

So, just before 9:00 this morning, I dragged an uncooperative Liam out of the house (not literally, but almost — he didn’t even have his shoes on).  The elevator was broken and he wouldn’t walk, so our trip began with me carrying him down the stairs from the 6th floor.  We’d been talking about this visit for weeks, and telling him what to expect.  We told him the dentist was going to look in his mouth and count his teeth.  We told him it would be ok, and that it would be quick and easy (Benjamin added his reassurances).  But apparently, he did not want to go.  I did not feel encouraged.

But, we made it.  I carried him the whole way to the strassenbahn, and the whole way to the office, but we made it (and only a few minutes late).  As we made our way to the office, he calmed down and regained some of his enthusiasm.  I reminded him that the dentist was going to look at his teeth (which he said was “ok”).  But as soon as we got into the reception area, he stopped looking at anyone, stopped talking, curled up against my chest and hid.

The dentist was great, though.  They told me I could fill out the paperwork afterwards, so he wouldn’t have to wait, and we went straight in.  I sat in the “big” chair, with Liam on my lap, and the dentist and I just talked for several minutes, about Liam, about his history, and about my concerns.  After a few minutes, Liam started peeking out for quick glances, and then started listening without hiding.  I told him the dentist wanted to count his teeth, and he tentatively opened his mouth a tiny bit.  The dentist gently checked out his teeth, and even got a mirror in to see the backs of them.  Liam did GREAT (although he did not speak a single word the entire time — it may be the quietest 10 waking minutes Liam has had since he started to talk).

003It turns out that the discoloration on his tooth is an early form of decay (pre-cavity) and that there’s nothing actionable about it for the moment.  We just need to keep an eye on it and be fastidious with our oral care for him.  (Which, apparently, we already are — the dentist was pretty impressed that we’re already flossing.)  Evidently the dentist’s son had the same thing, and it didn’t get worse or better, or need particular attention.  So, nothing catastrophic there.  (He suspected that pain medicine/fever reducer was to blame in his son’s case — it showed up shortly after they’d been using it a lot, and it’s one of those things that we routinely give after teeth brushing . . . and it contains a lot of sugar.  I’m guessing it might be the same thing here.)  The dentist was impressed with how well Liam behaved and how willing he was to have his teeth looked at by a stranger.  (I’m feeling pretty proud right now.)  And then, after the exam, Liam got to pick out a toy (a blue race car) and his smile and chatter came right back.

So, all that worry was pretty much for nothing.  I’m glad I got it looked at, but I’m even more glad that all is well for the moment.  I’m glad he doesn’t need any urgent dental care right now.  And I’m really proud of my brave little guy who trusted me so much today.

Field trip worries

I’m a mom.  That’s basically like being a professional worrier.  On days like today, when B’s class is on a day-long field trip to the zoo, I worry extra.  He’s only 4, and although he’s now done these trips many times, it’s a lot for me to imagine my little guy taking a bus and two U-bahns with his kindergarten class.  And then, he’ll be out for 8 hours, well supervised, but without me (just the potty implications for a little guy who prefers to “go” at home are worrisome).  And then there’s the same trek back to school.  I was thinking about him all day, and trying not to obsess (unsuccessfully, although Liam did keep me pretty busy all on his own).

I worry that he could (in no kind of sane or logical order of likelihood or severity, much like they come into my head) wander off, get left behind, be abducted (the mind of a mommy is harsh place, full of unlikely worst case scenarios), get hurt, have a potty accident (or two or three), get sunburned, not get enough to eat or drink, feel left out, get overly tired, not understand what’s going on, not be understood when he needs to say something, and, because this is Austria and there is definitely a “don’t be stupid”/personal responsibility mentality here, I also can’t entirely put aside a (hopefully unfounded) fear that he’s going to climb into the lion enclosure or attempt to go swimming with the hippos (seriously, I fixated on the hippo thing for a good 20 minutes earlier when Liam was napping).


In short, there was no way I was going to feel better until Dan texted me to tell me that he had safely picked him up, and I didn’t feel completely ok until I gave him a big hug and kiss myself.  As it turns out, none of the things I was worried about came to pass (not even a potty accident!).  He had a great day at the zoo, had lunch and two snacks (that was a highlight) and enjoyed seeing the reindeer most of all.  All my worry was wasted energy — all was well (and there was nothing I could have done if it wasn’t).  Still, it won’t stop me from being exactly the same way next time.  It’s just how it is.

Baby teeth

Being a mom comes with an inexhaustible capacity for worry.  It starts during pregnancy:  in the beginning, you worry if everything is ok.  Once you can feel the baby moving, you worry that he isn’t moving enough, or maybe too much.  Every ache or pain causes concern — it’s the physical equivalent of being in a dark and creaky house after seeing a scary movie:  everything is interpreted as a potential threat.  As the nine months wind to a close you start to desperately wish for the baby to be born, in large part because you feel like it will be so much easier to know if they’re ok once they’re on the outside and you can see them and touch them.

But it’s a bit of a nasty trick:  you don’t realize how safe and secure they were until they are on the outside.  The first nights a new mother spends with her baby are sleepless.  Not just because of baby’s need to eat so regularly, but because even when he is asleep, the mother will lie awake listening for each next breath, attentive to every sigh, every movement, every sound.

It gets a little better as the days, weeks and months go on, but the faith you begin to get that they will survive the night is replaced by other worries.  You worry that they’ll get sick — or they do, and you worry about that.  You worry that they aren’t sleeping enough, and then the one day they take a long nap, or sleep through the night, you wake them up just to make sure you can.  You worry that they aren’t growing enough, or that they’re getting too big.  You start to worry about development.  There are milestones that you read in the books, on the websites, that your doctor provides.  Anything that doesn’t quite “make the grade” will inhabit your mind and fester.  You compare your child to the others you see, and try to figure out, constantly, if everything is ok.

I’m going through this with Liam right now.  It’s his teeth.  His first two teeth arrived “on time” (according to the books, websites and doctors) which was a relief.  (Which really just means it allowed my mind to move on to worrying about the next thing on the list of required accomplishments.)  A few weeks later, he started to get his next two teeth, also on schedule:  hooray!  But, a week or so ago, I noticed that those two top teeth aren’t where they’re supposed to be — they’re really far apart.  I can’t tell whether his two front teeth are coming in really far apart, or if he hasn’t gotten his two front teeth at all, but rather the two that are located next to those.

So, worry, worry, worry.  What does this mean?  Will his teeth grow in properly?  Will his two front teeth ever come in?  What will we do if they don’t?  Is there something “wrong” with him?  (Because that’s the worry that is really always in the back of our minds — is there something WRONG.  Which could mean any number of things, but generally means “something that will prevent his life or childhood from following a typical path and/or will make said path significantly more difficult than usual”.)  Consult the books!  To the internet!  Ask the doctors!

Right now, I don’t know.  The books and the internet tell me it could be that his teeth are coming into the wrong spot, or it could be that they’re coming in out of order (more likely).  The doctor looked at him for about 15 seconds, said she thought they were coming into the wrong spot and shrugged (lots of help, thanks).

So, I’m going to keep worrying.  What does this MEAN!  What is going to happen?  Where is my crystal ball when I need it?!?

I get the impression that this doesn’t ever end.  There’s always something to worry about.  And even though I know the energy spent worrying is wasted (it’s not like I could do anything about how his teeth are growing in) I can’ t help myself.  I’m a mom.