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The Meaning of Fear

Last night, I learned the meaning of fear. My 10-month-old son was sitting on the floor, playing when he lost his balance and fell backwards, hitting his head. I was immediately seized by heart-stopping terror. He cried and I picked him up and kissed him and held him. He was fine. I was not. For the next 30 minutes or so, I couldn’t stop shaking. I couldn’t smile. I couldn’t laugh at my husband’s attempts to cheer me up. All I could do was think about the what ifs. What if he had hit that sweet spot on his head that my cousin hit when she fell off her horse – a fall that resulted in her death? What if he threw up in his sleep as a result of the bump and choked? What if he didn’t wake up? 

My mind kept whirring around these horrible questions and the terror closed in on me like a fire blanket, putting out all optimism and hope I had. After half an hour, I was finally able to explain (poorly) to my husband what was the matter with me. We talked about it. He didn’t totally get it but he listened and respected it. I said that the word terror didn’t begin to explain what I felt. I said that I knew this was just the beginning. After all, everyone knows boys spend a signifiant amount of their youth getting scars, broken bones and war wounds. I said I would be ok. I think I was. Then.

Today, I keep getting AP updates on my phone about this unspeakable tragedy in Newton, CT. 30 people dead. Most of those children. I have again spent today gripped in the iron claws of terror. What if that had been my baby’s daycare? What if he had been hurt? What if he had been killed? I find myself, for the first time in my life, unable to stay in the present. Unable to push aside fears of what ifs. I find myself, once again, seized by fear, unable to break free. No one told me about this part of being a parent. If they had, if I could have truly understood, I might have thought a little harder about it.

At the end of the day, I know that I still would have wanted children and I know that my husband and I would still have decided to two-legged children to our existing four-legged ones. I also know that no matter how much someone had tried to explain to me the true meaning of fear, that as felt by a parent, I could never have understood. The same is true for the true meaning of love. If someone had tried to explain that to me before I had a son, I could never have understood. I do now. I also understand that fear is the price you pay for love. It’s not fair and it’s not pretty but it’s true.  

As I sit here struggling to think positive thoughts so that I don’t burst into tears when I pick up my son from daycare, I’ll try to remember that this panic inducing fear is a part of the intense love I was awakened to the moment my son was born. Without my son, I wouldn’t know the meaning of fear. Without my son, I wouldn’t know the meaning of love. I’ll take the fear any day.