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Kids grow up, but the worry never ends

July 21, 2002|by BOB MAGINNIS

Some friends of ours have a grown daughter, now in her 20s, who lives in a house with no roomMates. One recent Sunday, she called her mother and said she would be over later that day.

The day wore on and no daughter. Mom began to worry. She called a few of her daughter's friends, who said that, no, they hadn't seen her, but would have her call if they did.

More time went by and the daughter didn't show and no one called. Mom began to worry. A woman alone in a house. People do fall down the stairs sometimes. What if she's hurt and can't get up to call for help? What if her life is ebbing away at this very moment and we could save her if we act right now?

The husband was dispatched to check on the daughter, whom he found safe at home, a little irritated that her mother had tried to track her down as if she were some stupid runaway teen. Plans change, so what's the big deal?

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I know what the big deal is because I've been in that situation, riding around looking for a child who should have let us know where he was going to be, but didn't. When found, the reaction of the missing one is always a variation on this line:

"Hey, I'm an adult now, so you don't have to worry about me."

If only it were so easy, and humans were like those wild animals on the Discovery Channel who care for the cubs only so long, then drive them out of the den. Humans, or at least the ones with any heart, are stuck with the job for life.

It begins when the babies are born, and you wonder if they'll break if you handle them the wrong way or don't put the right amount of ointment on their tiny bottoms or let some fool who's "almost" over the flu get too close.

At this stage, you wake up at night for no reason and wonder if it was because the baby was choking and you didn't hear it. And then when you go to check, the child is laying so still it scares you, so you stand there in the dim light, looking closely to see if you can see the tiny chest moving up and down with each breath. And then you're awake for the rest of the night.

I can't wait for them to walk, you say, because then they'll toughen up. Except that when they start walking they want to do more dangerous things. Our 50-year-old house came with a pair of glass-paned French doors, which we put in the attic for 10 years, afraid that a child would put a hand through one of them.

Talking is one of the things we looked forward to because at least someone who can talk can tell you what's wrong or where it hurts, right? Except that sometimes they didn't, particularly when "no" was their favorite word or when they suspected that they'd have to swallow some yucky medicine or endure a rectal thermometer.

Parents today have baby monitors and digital thermometers that can take a temperature in a few seconds, but they have other concerns.

Like school. From nursery school on, we worry. Will they be well-liked, or at least get along? Will they learn quickly and get good grades, or will they end up in some menial job that pays $8 an hour and leads to the early onset of arthritis?

How about driving? There's an activity that every kid wants to do which makes it possible for them to kill themselves and others after the tiniest possible lapse in judgment, which can happen when their senses are clouded by a rush of hormones.

Which brings us to young love, a condition that means your child will spend hours on the phone either talking about how wonderful everything is or about how life is over and nobody will ever love them again.

And could somebody in this relationship get pregnant? We worry that that would mean a lifetime of dealing with someone we're not sure we approve of, but didn't want to say so for fear it would drive the two of them closer together.

Eventually most of them grow up and move away, but unlike animals, whose instinct tells them they have to stop worrying about the present batch of young ones so they can raise the next bunch, humans are stuck in perpetual worry mode.

It's like we've still got a fistful of quarters and an itchy flipper finger, but somebody's taken away all pinball machines. And so we think about what might be happening to people who aren't there any more, who are probably doing quite well on their own and who don't understand why we're so upset when they aren't where they say they're going to be.

None of this is to say that parenting is a complete nightmare. But for every Little League base hit, there's a skinned knee to go along with it, and the worry that a hardwood bat will slip out of some other child's hands at high speed, and maim your youngster.

Remember two things when you're playing kootchie-koo with some adorable infant. The first is that every beautiful baby fills up four - or more - diapers every day with some nasty stuff. The second is that you're able to stand upright and goo-goo at that child because some adults in your family made sure you didn't fall down the stairs and break your brains. So if you tell mom you're coming over and your plans change, please call.

Bob Maginnis is editorial page editor of The Herald-Mail newspapers.

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