November 5, 2012

When Does a Parent’s Worry End?

Or How Long Can I Hold My Breath?

There’s a question I’ve been meaning to ask my dad. It’s been on my mind since the I now pronounce you… part of each daughter’s wedding. That moment when I let out my breath, whispered in a new son-in-law’s ear, “She hates tomatoes and kicks in her sleep,” and bequeathed my glue gun and leftover sequins to a new drill team mother.
It started as a catch breath while they delivered their first speaking part, “Lo, a star,” in the Christmas pageant. Then every difficult fingering passage at piano recitals found me waiting, breathless. By the time #1 auditioned for a scholarship, one lungful made it all the way through a sonata. When their father answered that who gives her in marriage question, I looked forward to never needing a deep breath again.
Three grandchildren later, I’m still doing it. Last week, Daughter #2 met Hurricane Sandy head on during a business trip to NYC. I alternated between texting hourly weather reports—as though she couldn’t look out the window to see water, wind, and the crane dangling on the next block—and calling to see if she was keeping her cell phone charged.
Being stranded by a hurricane wasn’t the first time she put herself into events parents can’t control. Last year, volcanic ash grounded her in Paris and then London. Her text messages reassured me that she had a hotel room. I needed to hear that the shopping those cities offered wouldn’t cause disaster to her bank account before skies cleared for air traffic.
Before that, when 9/11 stopped all flying, she managed to be waiting for a return flight from a Caribbean resort. I was more concerned about her passport, clearly marked born in the Mideast, than I was about how soon planes would take off. My fear was well founded. Through the next four years, officials stamped her every boarding pass for a thorough security search. She eased my worry. She told me that batting her baby blues got her through pat downs quickly.
This series of being in the wrong place during travel crises started when she became snowbound on the way home from a visit to her fiancĂ©. All roads along the route closed, food in the over full hotel ran low, and her college professors threatened failing grades when she alerted them to her “extended spring break.” I fretted about whether three days sharing a single hotel room with her future in-laws would help or hinder the marriage.
I understand that all parents suffer through our offsprings’ rites of passage. 
Apparently, my mother worried through the two years my young husband and I lived in Africa. She told me several years after we returned [safely] home that she had been afraid something dire would happen to us and she would have to fly to the Dark Continent to claim two babies who didn’t know their grandmother. (The flying was as problematic as being a stranger to grand babies.)
While they didn't have to rescue grandbabies, they did rush to Texas to help me following my husband’s sudden death. They were sure they would be taking me “home” with them—until they met the twenty-five years of friends I have here. They returned home alone, but I noticed their visits became more frequent, I supposed to satisfy themselves that I was OK.
That question I have been meaning to ask my dad is about when he and my mother quit holding their breath. Maybe I can remember to do that the next time he makes a visit to check on me.