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Yesss! When I heard Osama bin Laden was dead, I smiled as I mentally crossed him off my list of Stuff that Might Kill Us.
Moments later, though, the smile was gone. I had already cooked up dozens of fears to replace him. A renewed fear of travel, for instance. The thought of taking my kids to New York City to visit their grandparents suddenly felt twice as scary. Surely terrorists -- eager to prove themselves America’s Next Top Bogeyman -- would be working overtime to blow us off a bridge. My family’s planned summer trip to the Baltic? Equally alarming as I imagined deadly sarin clouds on planes, trains, and marshrutkas. Even home felt too risky. True, we live in a medium-size, not-a-major-target city (Rochester, NY) -- but countless tragedies have proven that crazy plots can hatch anywhere.
Sound familiar? It does to plenty of moms I know. No matter how relieved something makes us, we manage to feel anxious again in seconds flat.
In moderation, of course, mommy angst remains a good thing. Consider the Insta-Inventory of Danger, known to all moms with a kid in tow. The moment we enter a strange room, we automatically zero in -- bee-bee-beep! -- on every exposed outlet, rickety bookcase, and possibly toxic plant that must be investigated this very minute. Who knows how many electrocutions, squashings and poisonings have been averted as a result?
But unlike scary outlets or potted plants, many threats are impossible to shield our kids from (shark bites, plane crashes, terrorism). And still we worry and worry. Before we know it, we grow so obsessed with potential disaster, it eclipses the very thing we long to protect: happy, peaceful times with our families.
I’m a case in point. Already preoccupied with sudden violence after 9/11, I became downright paranoid after 4/16. That’s the date in 2007 when a deranged student at Virginia Tech shot and killed 33 faculty and students, including himself. My husband taught at Tech. We knew some of the people who died. My main memory of the weeks that followed, besides grief at lives lost, is of sheer jumpiness. At playgrounds and malls, I found myself scanning for places where snipers might hide. Hideous scenes unspooled in my mind -- flying bodies, arcing blood -- and before I knew it, I had missed whole chunks of outings with my two kids. What cute things had they done? What priceless things had they said? I couldn’t remember.
As you might expect, the intervening years have calmed me down. But now and again, like last week, I feel the old paranoia rising. A couple days after bin Laden’s death, I was sitting in a dance studio, watching my daughter’s ballet class, when I noticed how many doorways this room had -- doorways through which any wacko, with any weapon, might enter at any time. Yes, the building was locked and visitors had to punch in a code -- but how often did parents (me included) simply hold the door open for someone? I longed to grand-jeté over to my daughter and drag her home.
Instead I sat on my hands. Get real, I told myself. Chances that something horrible will happen? Smaller than the chance I'll win mega-millions. Just enjoy the dancing, for once! And then I took some breaths and watched my 6-year-old twirl -- joyously, obliviously -- across the floor in her hot-pink tutu.
Now, that’s something to smile about.