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Alarmist Mom: How to Fight the Urge to Freak

Alarmist Mom: How to Fight The Urge to Freak

I have a new hobby in my middle age. I am an alarmist.

I wonder if this is something new or if I’m just now realizing it. When they were little, I did a decent job shielding our boys from my tendency to warn them about impending doom. I vowed to never say things like, “Get down from there, you’ll fall,” or “Put that knife away, you’ll put someone’s eye out.” By not saying these things, I hope I communicated something like, “You are such a refined amalgam of balance and skill and strength and grace that I trust you will rarely fall.” And, by golly, they didn’t … very much.

I wonder if I’m already losing my filter.

We have a friend who is nearing seventy. He’s a lifelong hero of ours, one we know very well, and still, up close, we find what he accomplishes and who he is awe-inspiring. So when his wife shared some of his recent “issues” I was a little bewildered. Not that he isn’t human and doesn’t struggle like all of us, but this was a step beyond that. It involved an intervention and a hard-to-swallow diagnosis. And, after a lot of pain, a kind of rebirth. Drastic stuff.

For a long time Bill and I have said our friend reminds us of our son Stephen. And so, as I listened to his story, a little alarm went off inside of me. I thought something along these lines:

“Someday Stephen may have to come to terms with his weaknesses.”

Well, duh.

This is exactly what I do on an almost daily basis. In fact, Stephen is far more self-aware than most men his age and he “comes to terms” with his weaknesses all the time. He’s a humble young man. Even so, this was some serious emotional business, so I felt I had to warn him. Which should have been my first warning. “I felt I had to” is not an especially good reason to say anything, especially unchecked or unedited.

I have a new hobby in my middle age. I am an alarmist.

But first, a little poem. In early spring this year, I got home from a four-mile run just as the sun was setting, rifled through our kitchen junk drawer for a piece of paper, and wrote this down:

Just overnight
lilies of the valley erupted
along my running path.
At dusk today they pierce
my peripheral vision,
bright constellations
on the ground.
“Danger!
It’s not warm enough
here for you yet,”
I say to them in passing,
my alarm muffled
by the hood I wear
to keep out the wind,
the presaging wind
of the freeze
we’ll have tonight.

I kind of liked my little poem. But, the thing is, spring flowers have been fighting early frosts since time began. It is in their DNA to face the unpredictability of weather with courage. So, if you think about it at all, my little poem is absurd. Yes, temperatures may drop, but never fear.

Flowers are going to bloom. It’s what they were meant to do.

“I felt I had to” is not an especially good reason to say anything, especially unchecked or unedited.

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I have no doubt that Stephen is going to bloom. No, I take that back. Like the lilies of the valley on my running path, he has already bloomed. And just because I can see a winter storm or two in his future, just as—if I think about it—I can see in my own future or the future of our other sons, this does not mean he will cease to be what he was meant to be all along. Just because our friend has, at the latter part of his life, learned lessons he may never have learned at the earlier part doesn’t mean he wasn’t a hardy bloomer all along. I can attest to the fact that he was.

I don’t think I should have warned Stephen about anything, but in doing so I got a clear vision of who he already is. Right before he left our house after what must have been a frustrating conversation, he assured me that he wasn’t angry with me. I needed that. But then he said,

“Mom, you just didn’t unpack your thoughts very well.” Spot on.

“Besides,” he reminded me, “correlation isn’t the same thing as causation.”

And correlation is no reason to sound the alarm at all. That I did is proof that I’ve become a little trigger-happy. So I think I’ll try to quit my hobby before it becomes my full-time profession. It’s funny that back when the dangers I resisted warning our sons about were actually quite possible, I was better at holding my tongue. Now that the dangers are far less probable, I need grace to keep my warnings to myself.


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Kitti thrives when making new friends with refugees, teaching them the art of coffee, and continuing to raise her tribe of kids and grandkids.

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