Tales of an anxiety manager

FIGHTING WORDS - Kay Malilong-Isberto -

The day that I was dreading arrived sooner than I thought it would: my son had officially become a lovesick teenager.

Shortly after he was born, I cried when I realized the enormity of my responsibility as a parent. I was a 22-year-old law student. I worried about how I was going to feed him, how I was going to be able to send him to school, if I was going to be a good mother. Most of all, I worried about him having to deal with any kind of pain.

Watching him get hurt took a lot of getting used to. I’d get listless and unfocused at work when he was a toddler who kept getting colds and cough. When his doctor said that a child’s immune system gets better as he gets older, I wished that time would move faster. While his doctor proved to be correct, I did not know that having an older kid just meant having to deal with seeing your child experience different sources of pain, not just from a bad cough or colds: the first time he loses a game, his first few days at a new school, the first time he sees his parents fight (and all subsequent fights).

When he started attending soirees or encounters or hang-outs or whatever he and his peers called events where kids from his all-boys’ school would meet girls from all-girls’ school, I laughed at how contrived it sounded. I went to co-ed schools all my life and could not understand what the fuss was all about. It never occurred to me that they would pave the way for crushes or infatuations and other things that 38-year-old mothers can only recall with amusement when they remember their own 15-year-old selves.

I try to remember being 15 and being hopelessly infatuated with someone in school. I must have looked out of the windows of my classroom waiting for my crush to arrive. I must have been tongue-tied when he was around. I must have felt really sad when I learned that he liked another girl. And since there were no cell phones and no Facebook or Twitter, I must have had no way of hinting at the boy that I liked about how I felt about him. If he had a landline, I must have never found the nerve to tell him how I felt. I must have pined for the object of my affection until I found the next object of my affection. And so on. And so forth.

The mechanics have changed now. They go out, sometimes in groups, sometimes by themselves. I ask if he has a girlfriend and he shrugs and says that, “they don’t believe in those labels.” After being very liberal about the rules for being out late, I change and become the mother I thought I did not want to be: the one who texts to ask her child where he is every hour until he gets home. And I impose a 9 o’clock curfew that was previously non-existent.

When I saw him moping and I realized what it was about, I fought the urge to give him an I-told-you-so lecture and to burst into tears myself. After weeks of being pestered about it, I finally bought him a guitar to replace his old one that was broken. An artist I met had told me that when one is heartbroken or emotionally suffering for any reason, it always helps to just keep doing something, to move one’s hands.   I believed her: she had created the most amazing pieces of copper wire jewelry to deal with the depression after she lost her baby a few months into her pregnancy.

I watch my son playing his guitar and feel relieved that his gloomy look is gone. I am a mother and I remind myself that my job, to paraphrase an author, is to manage my anxiety.


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