Giada fell again - the result of wobbly, eleven month old legs trying their best to take a few tentative steps. When it comes to putting one chubby foot in front of the other, her face is all business. Lips tight, brows narrowed, all her energy focused on getting it done. I remember that same face on Lina as I cheered her on with arms outstretched in front of her, ready to guide her first clumsy steps.
But with Giada, I'm shouting for her to stop. Wait for Mommy to hold your hands. Not by yourself! Only I'm not fast enough, and for the second time this week, she crashes forward, slamming her nose onto the wood floor. There is screaming (from both of us) and a slow, steady drip of warm blood oozes from where the surgeon made the incision on her nose three weeks ago. For the second time this week, I am hysterical.
"Honey, she's a baby. It's impossible to hover over her every second of every day, especially with a two year old running around," Mom tells me. "These things are gonna happen." Because these words belong to my mother, I believe them, granting myself the relief that Giada's tears actually aren't all my fault. It could have happened to anybody. I'm not terrible, didn't you hear my mom tell me so?
The fact that my mother has become the calm voice of reason is ironic, to say the least. Here's a woman who worries about absolutely everything - from potential sex offenders at my neighborhood playground, to E. Coli contamination in the ground beef I just bought at Key Food.“I don't know, Mary, this chopped meat just looks funny. Am I right?”
There's definitely a lunatic-running-the-asylum scenario playing itself out here as Mom tells me to chill out. Stop worrying so much about the girls. They're fine. But still, no one in this world seems to have such a natural knack for calming me down. Inexplicably, my mother's words are the only ones that settle my own nervous energy, which has truly manifested itself since having my children.
My sister has seemingly no patience for our mother's anxiety. In fact, it drives her absolutely crazy. "The woman needs to relax," she'll say. "Seriously." And while I do agree with my sister, and will even share a laugh over Mom's neuroses, part of me can't help but defend her. Her worry grows from nothing else but love. It is bigger than she is, and ultimately measures the intensity with which she loves us, her children. This is met with a twinge of recognition, as I can't help but see myself all tangled up in our mother's antics. I have inherited the madness, the worrying gene that drives everybody crazy.
In truth, it wasn't until I had my kids that I understood what it was to worry. Their health. Their safety. Their happiness. It all sits in the forefront of my mind; a nagging, persistent presence that seems only to burrow itself deeper and deeper as they get older. Is Giada's nose going to look normal? Is Lina getting enough attention? Am I effectively disciplining them? Do I feed them enough organic food? It never ends.
When the baby fell, I held a wet washcloth to her bleeding nose, my mind racing to every far-flung possibility of what this could mean for her surgical recovery. All I want is for her to heal, for the swelling to go down. But Giada seems to have other plans, primarily learning to walk. It seems she won’t be deterred by a silly incision, or her mother's desperate pleas to sit still. So to be on the safe side, I've taken to holding her constantly. Making dinner. Brushing Lina's teeth. Sitting on the toilet. That baby is in my arms and I'm not letting go. Mike isn't as keen on this technique, though, insisting that I'm being paranoid and overprotective. "You need to calm down," he tells me. "Seriously."
It's his tone, more than his message, that unnerves me. The exhausted way in which he implies that the ol' wife is up to her crazy nonsense again, as if he's caught me fastening a protective doggy cone around the baby's neck. There was a time when I would have argued back, but now I simply slump my shoulders in defeat, embracing the neurotic mother in me. "I'm sorry," I say. "I can't help it."
Mike heads to work a short time later, leaving me to further obsess over the baby’s nose. It’s when I’m putting the girls to bed that the phone rings. My mother’s calling to check on us. All day she’s been worried about me. I tell her everything, feeling myself finally unwind as she says she knows exactly what I mean.