I called Oldest earlier today to wish him a Happy Easter. He had spent the morning with numerous members of my family at my youngest brother’s house. From the sounds of it, the yearly tradition of the grown-ups-in-name-only hunt for the $100 egg did what it always does – it sent my purportedly adult male siblings hurtling back to their childhood personas. There is a certain competitive fire that can only be found in the bellies of siblings whose childhoods can lay claim to the descriptor, "Darwinian". If your from a big enough family, you probably know what I am talking about.
Anyhoo, Oldest sounded fairly chipper and after our convo, as he would call it, I hung up missing him but happy that he had been with family today.
When the phone rang again shortly thereafter, I was surprised to see his number on the caller ID.
He skipped the social niceties and declared without preamble, "I’m having an anxiety attack."
Since these kinds of situations are right in my wheelhouse, I was able to calmly ask, "What’s going on?"
"I am worried about that ticket, I can’t work anymore because the cop took my fake ID, I don’t have any money so I can’t go anywhere for Spring break next week AND I have a ton of homework for mid-terms – I have to read a WHOLE BOOK online."
"Hmmm, that is a lot," I replied. "Do you have any sense of what kicked off your anxiety?"
(Can you tell I have spent almost as many years in therapy as Youngest sends text messages in a month?)
"I don’t know."
Oh well, off went the therapy hat. On went my mother’s eminently practical, problem-solving Mom hat. "Well, all that worrying is not going to help anything. So let’s look at all the things you have to worry about and figure what action you could take right now to deal with any of them. The ticket? Nothing you can do now. Getting another job? Nothing you can do now. Money? Nothing you can do now. Where you are going to go next week? You could probably do something about this now."
"I don’t want to do anything about it now."
"OK, well that leaves homework and mid-terms. You can do something about those."
"But it’s Easter Sunday. I don’t want to do homework."
"I get that, but the only way to work yourself out of an anxiety attack is to pick something you actually can do right now and do it. Figure out the next action you can actually take and take it."
"OK, I’ll go work."
We hung up, and to relieve the anxiety that our call had stirred up in me. ("My baby! He’s all alone. He’s too sad! I should send him money, stat!), I sought out Mate and told him all about it.
"Sunday Night Anxiety," he said calmly.
His stubborn refusal to do the gentlemanly thing and relive me of my anxiety led me to depart in a huff, carrying my unloaded anxiety with me. What was the next action I could take?
I could call Oldest!
I know what you are thinking. The last thing a mother should do when her child is anxious is to take on that anxiety and then look to said child to relieve her of its burden. Well, you weren’t there to shake your head disapprovingly at me so I went ahead and dialed his number.
"Whatcha doing?" I asked innocently, as if we hadn’t hung up, oh, nine minutes earlier.
I’m not sure who was more relieved.
Once you get past the day-to-day busy-work of mothering, the wiping of noses and butts, the making of lunches, the putting to beds and the getting to schools, the instilling of language and manners, not to mention the explanation of the Pythagorean Theorem, you are left with very little to do but tolerate things. Last week it was not knowing, today it was anxiety.
There are plenty of semi and completely gross things that I became inured to as a mother – snot, vomit and shit spring easily to mind. Before becoming a mother, any single one of those would have made me recoil in horror. But over time, they lose their power. You get used to cleaning up messes.
Given the choice between tolerating anxiety and a stinky three-pound diaper, I’d take the diaper any day of the week and twice on Easter Sunday.