Like most people, I don’t remember very much of the first few days of Little Man’s life. It was a blur of feeding, nappy changing and very little sleep. But one thing I do remember is lying in bed, overtaken by a feeling of terror that made my heart ache and my head swim. Filled with anxiety, my mind would run away with itself, envisaging scenarios where he would become ill or hurt and would be taken away from me. It was exhausting. I realise now that severe sleep deprivation and the general overwhelming nature of becoming a first time Mum had a lot to do with those early feelings of anxiety. As Little Man got bigger, less fragile and I got more sleep, the scenarios ebbed away. Occasionally a change in circumstances may see them rear their ugly head, like the first time we had a night away from him and I scared myself at the thought of not being able to protect him or when he was poorly and his temperature rocketed and in my head, this wasn’t just a cold.
At the grand age of 3, the fear that grasped me in those early days has virtually gone and we bounce through our days with a general feeling of safety. Today though, during our usual post-nursery chats, Little Man said something that made my eyes pricked with tears. He is a very happy and (sometimes overly) loving little chap and whenever I pick him up from nursery, he is playing with his little friends. But tonight, when we talked about his day at nursery, he said that he hadn’t been playing with one of these little friends because they don’t like him. My heart broke as he sighed.
Am I being unrealistic to think that at 3, he shouldn’t have to worry about being liked? At 3, I want him to be able to just play, to be unashamedly himself. I don’t want him to carry around the burden of wanting to be liked. And then I got thinking about the fact that when I’m not with him, I cannot protect him. I cannot protect him from the hurtful words of other children or anything else for that matter. And then my head started swimming again and I thought of all the things that I cannot protect him from, with me or not. And the anxiety crept into the pit of my stomach and I wonder if I’ll ever lose this fear that I have for him. Will I ever not be scared or consider the what if’s? I look to my parents and how invested they still are in me. At 30, they still worry for me and about me, still feel it when I’m struggling. And it’s obvious that this is what parenting is. When we become parents that anxiety and fear just becomes a part of who we are. So for now, I’ll just be grateful that alongside that anxiety and fear comes a sense of wonderment and joy, that so far, Little Man hasn’t given me too much to worry about.