Thursday, August 19, 2010

Chain Overreaction

One of the things that happened to me personally immediately after Kelsey died was that I went through a heightened paranoia about the other individuals in my family, particularly Marissa and Greg.  At first, if they were out of my sight for even a minute, I was worried.  Not just vaguely nervous, but hand-wringing, brow-furrowing frantic.  I recognized it as a reaction to the shock of losing one immediately family member suddenly, so I tried to control it.  That was a lot of work, I have to say.  What I really didn't want to do was to cast the shadow of my fear onto my daughter.  She was under enough stress at the time, she didn't need my frantic hovering to add to it.  I would fight competing emotions when she would leave to spend time with friends or her boyfriend in the first few weeks, being glad on the one hand that she was getting away for a while, but worrying every second she was out of my sight.  I felt much the same with Greg, but it faded faster.  For one thing, he was older and more capable for taking care of himself.  For another, he's not my child, my flesh and blood.  I still was vaguely afraid if I didn't know where he'd gone or if he was gone longer than I thought he would be.  Truth is, I am still that way.  But, I was able to regain a sense of control over that fear with a lot more ease than I could whenever Marissa ventured out.

Our choice to have Marissa live at the dorm at her college despite it being literally just down the road from our house has been questioned by well meaning friends who view the expense of it in light of our circumstances.  But, for both her dad and me, it was critically important to get her away from these walls and the memories they contained, and just to allow her some space to be her own person.  Yet, at the same time, not too much space (figuratively and literally).  Dorms are a bit like half way houses for young people.  She still had a roommate and a resident advisor keeping at least a bit of a watch on things, plus there were gates and doors on the building.  It wasn't Fort Knox, but I could go to sleep at night knowing she was in a semi-secure location.  She could have a chance to be a normal young college kid, and I could spend those months learning to chill out and stop worrying.  And, best of all, I could be there within twenty minutes if I needed to be.

Despite my inner fears, I honestly will congratulate myself on keeping a lid on them for the most part.  I've encouraged her to go out to concerts and she's traveled back and forth to her boyfriend's grandparent's home down near the coast several times.  But, I'm still just always vaguely uneasy about her well being.  As evidenced by the other day.

I get this text from Marissa at the end of the work day, "I think I have a concussion."  I was planning on staying for about another half hour, taking advantage of some quiet time to play a little catch up.  I didn't.  I clocked out quickly, managing to fire off a response text to ask what happened and sped off home.  I don't live far from work, and I'm right by the tollroad ramp, but it seemed to be a long commute.  When I pull into the driveway, Marissa's car wasn't there.  I knew she was planning on spending the night at her boyfriend's condo, but I had no idea she was already there.  Greg heard me drive in, a little earlier than anticipated, and poked his head out the door.  "Where's Marissa?"  I bark.  He immediately gets that something is wrong.  I explain why I'm asking.  He ducks back into the house, shutting the door behind him.  I stay standing in the garage and dial her.  Turns out Greg had gone back in the house to do the same thing, so as she was talking to me, his call is trying to beep through.  She tries to underplay it at this point, explaining that she had lost her balance and hit her head - admittedly hard - on the edge of the stairs, but she is fine, so she says.  She would later clarify that the extent of the pain was, she thinks, attributed to the fact that she hit the back of her head on the sharp corner, more than the fact that she rattled her brain around in its cage.   I'm not convinced, offering to come over there, fetch her and take her to the emergency room, at least check her out personally, any number of things.  Her boyfriend wasn't there, he was at the store and hadn't been there when it happened.  We finally left it that he needed to keep an eye on her and call us with his evaluation.  With that, I went to work out, convincing myself that panicking was not a valid reaction, leaving my phone with Greg so he could snatch it up when Boyfriend called, which he sweetly and obediently did in short order.  And she was right, she was fine.  The next morning she texted not to worry, that she had survived the night, making light of our all out hysteria the night before.

We all had a bit of egg on our face, I guess, but it's just one example of how we are now.  Not that we purposefully neglected her before, or would have been complacent about her texting that she had suffered a serious bodily injury, but we wouldn't have wanted to call out the National Guard either - not immediately anyway.  Having her out of my sight, trying to evaluate the situation remotely was the scary part.  But, bottom line is she's an adult.  An adult with an inherited stubborn streak.  Even when she's right in my line of sight, I can't really force her to do what I want her to do if she really doesn't want to do it.  And I need to allow her to be an adult and make those choices herself, but then face the consequences when she does.  My job at this point is to provide her a safety net as she goes out and learns how to live her life, not a cage.  My greatest fear, bigger than anything else like asthma attacks, bumps on the head or being sprayed by a skunk when she sits out back at night, is that her father and I will smother her sense of self and independence.  I have to guard against that.  The footprint her sister's loss left on our hearts is so massive as it is, we shouldn't do anything to make it bigger.  And that's a heck of a mandate, as it turns out.

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