Monday, February 3, 2014

The Age of Worry

It recently occurred to me that if you are the sort of person prone to worry, parenting is a never-ending buffet of anxiety catalysts. My wife and I have been parents for over ten months, and somehow we manage to be almost as concerned about the presence of a behavior as its absence.

For example, we spent a great deal of time and energy ensuring that our son takes regular naps. This process began as intricately choreographed dance of pacifiers, gentle rocking, and impeccable timing. 

The days he napped well, my wife and I would hold a post-nap debriefing to discuss the exact combination of techniques that had led to this unprecedented event. What time of day was it? What was the snuggle-to-snooze ratio? Was he placed in the crib facing true north or magnetic north?

Invariably these proved to be fruitless, but we indulged in them nonetheless. This continued for several months until we reached a point that he was able to put himself to sleep. We basked in this newfound efficiency until we began to worry that he was sleeping too well. We found ourselves watching the clock as it passed the two hour mark and wondering if perhaps he had taken ill. What if he stopped breathing? Should we wake him up? Had one of his kidneys failed rendering him too weak to signal that he had regained consciousness?

This was even worse when it came to fecal output. There were a few days in a row were they was a great deal of ingress but not egress. The doctor advised that a little prune juice mixed in with a bottle should do the trick so we began dosing him with nature’s laxative every meal and eventually there was a day of reckoning. The force was substantial enough that he came close to blowing the officially-licensed Sesame Street characters off his Pampers.

Alternately, my wife and I would find ourselves in conversations only a parent would understand:

“Honey, I think he might be pooping too much.”
“What do mean by too much? Volume or frequency?
“Let’s start with volume. In terms of an oil spill are we talking the stain in the garage or Exxon Valdez?”
“Can you please try and take this seriously?”

Before becoming a parent, I cannot imagine having an in-depth conversation with my wife about bowel movements where phrases like, “It was more Quaker Oats than Cream of Wheat” were common. Even if he somehow manages to produce 2.3 bowel movements and 3 hours’ worth of naps we have expected, there is always eating habits we can concern ourselves with.

We worry that he is not eating enough, or that he is eating too much of one type of food. Then we worry that perhaps we are not transitioning him toward table food fast enough because we saw a kid his age gnawing on what appeared to be a Ribeye sandwich while our sun sucked yogurt smoothies from a pouch. If, however, we give him table foods too soon we agonize over whether or not his tiny incisors are capable of processing the food enough to prevent choking.

This leads to another line of thinking concerning choking. We are now taught to avoid a blind finger sweep due to the risk of pushing the object further into the child’s windpipe. Instead we have been taught to support the infant face-down on one hand while striking it’s back with the other hand. This sounded reasonable, until we realized our son took his meals in a high-chair equipped with a 5-point interlocking safety harness. By the time we extricated him from his high chair I could have already rigged up the shop vac to alleviate the blockage.

I have the impression that this is only the beginning of the age of worry. When these concerns fade there will always be new ones to take their place. Are they fitting in at school? Do they feel like they can come to me with their problems? How can I explain the continuing 8-week processing timeline for new magazine subscriptions despite the advent of commercial spaceflight?

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