Updated: May 9, 2020
I dislike helicopter parenting. Very early on my husband and I both realized, and thoroughly embraced the fact, that getting these kids out of the house sooner rather than later meant encouraging independence from the get go. We agreed to let our children have the same carefree childhood we both grew up experiencing.
As baby after baby joined the family, our children learned to fend for themselves and helped and entertained each other. All quickly learned that I simply couldn't devote myself 100 percent of the time to their every wish and whim. I knew statistically speaking the odds were minuscule that a stranger would abduct my kids from our yard, or our car, or several blocks away while they were on a scooter ride, and so I was never anxious about such things. "Go outside and play!", was often an order, not a suggestion on my part. Some in my family did accuse my children of being too attached to their mama, but I think love of ones mother and love of living at home until you're 35 are entirely different things, so I didn't worry. My husband and I are both driven, independent thinkers who took action early on in our lives. I wanted my kids to be decisive action makers too.
When my fourth child stopped meeting his developmental milestones within the first year of his life, I tried to not worry. What were the chances something was actually wrong? Very slim. Even as his motor functions declined, and the doctors could not give me any reassurances, I tried to remain calm. We had three typically developing children; what were the chances our fourth would have some rare disease? Ultimately, I learned it was about 1 in 6,000. And when our fifth child was given the same diagnosis less than two years later, I stopped thinking in terms of the odds and statistics and saw the disease as it was right in front of me. Not some number, or figure, in a table, but a living child. My child was that one among thousands.
I still don't want to be a helicopter parent. I don't want to micromanage my children's lives. I want to foster independence in all my children, but now because I'm raising medically fragile children, I can no longer be as carefree as I was. I find myself becoming "that mom".
I'm becoming the mom that needs to know if someone is sick before they come over. I'm becoming the mom that needs to know if there's accessible parking near the event we're attending. When I see kids with colds near my kids I need to be the mom that moves them away. My hands are dry and red from washing and I'm the mom rubbing her kids hands down with Purell, and taking a Clorox wipe to their wheelchairs when we've gone out somewhere. I need to know so much more, and I need to ask so many more questions. I can't fly by the seat of my pants, do things on a whim, or take a risk.
As I watch the reports of the Coronavirus spread across the globe, with cases now popping up in towns near by, my concern grows. I don't want to panic and run out to Wal-Mart and buy up all the toilet paper, but while others dismiss the severity of the disease and the potential for it's spread, I need to be the mom that checks to make sure we have all our respiratory meds on hand in case we need them and pharmacies run out. I need to email specialists and make sure it's still prudent to keep appointments. Because my boys are the 1 in 6,000, it means they're at higher risk for complications and death from any respiratory infection, so I need to consider pulling my sons out of school now, before the district makes an official decision.
Where other moms see only the slim chances of their child or a loved one catching a disease, ("What, only a 3% mortality rate? That's nothing." or "It only effects the sick and elderly so it's no big deal.") I know that my child could be in that tiny percent. My child could be that number that to so many people is no big deal.
I've become "that mom": the one that is reading all the headlines and following all the news on the outbreak. I'm the mom that wants schools to move to online classes and for large events to be cancelled. I'm the mom that wants people to take this seriously and wash their hands, cover their coughs, and stay home if they're sick.
I want to brush it all off, shove some orange juice at my kids and tell them it'll all be fine- now leave me alone to blog. But I can't because I've become "that mom"; slowly, surely, from years of hospitalizations, long nights, and hard news from other medically fragile moms whose kids didn't make it through a respiratory infection. Those moms did all they could, their kids fought as hard as they could, and they lost. Every cold and flu season takes it's toll in the medically fragile community. The last thing we need is a new super bug to contend with.
So now I'm "that mom"; the one that's trying not to overreact and imagine worst case scenarios as Italy shuts down, it's healthcare system completely overwhelmed. Will our hospitals be able to keep up? Will this be the year we lose our battle against a virus? And if not us, which one of my friends will suffer?
It's probably ironic that this is the year I decided to read Give Up Worry for Lent, by Gary Zimak. In fact this week's thought is the St. John Paul II quote, "Do not be afraid. Open wide the doors for Christ!." It's exactly the opposite of the gut response most of us special needs moms are experiencing. We're afraid, we've placed on our own shoulders all the worry and planning of keeping our kids healthy, and we are literally closing doors, and not letting unnecessary people into our lives (plus wiping down all the doorknobs with Clorox).
Thankfully, one of the biggest lessons I've learned since becoming "that mom" is that I am not in control of anything. I can educate myself and make reasonable plans, but at some point I need to step back and hand over the uncertainty and worry to God. It's not easy, especially as I watch a potential crisis unfold. But I know that worry will achieve nothing. It will not protect my children and it won't improve my family. I need to be prudent and not panic. It is reasonable for me to cancel family activities and to take steps other people might not understand, or call "overreacting". It's not reasonable for me to give up hope, throw up my hands and do nothing, or bury my head in the sand and ignore all new information.
I can't control the spread of Coronavirus, but I can control how much I worry about it. We may need to make some temporary changes, but just as my sons' underlying genetic condition does not limit the joy and happiness in our home, even as "that mom" I can choose to not allow the threat of an infection to negatively influence our home more than absolutely necessary. When it becomes hard to do, that is when I must pray all the harder.
I know that even if the worst happens (and God willing it won't) we will get through it. Not because I read it in a book or saw it on an inspirational sign at Hobby Lobby, but because I've experienced true pain and anguish in my life and not only lived to tell the tale, but I've become stronger in every way because of it. It might suck, and it might hurt like hell, but ultimately I know that with God's help, my family and I can get through it, even if things don't go exactly a planned. God's plan is bigger, and even if I don't understand it, I can accept it and move through my life with hope and joy, rather than fear and worry. Thankfully, being "that mom" has taught me that lesson well.
Kelly Mantoan is the founder of Accepting the Gift and blogs every Friday at This Ain't the Lyceum.