“I was scared all the time.”
As “Station Eleven” ambled to its closing, one of the most real couplets of dialogue closed the show and absolutely stopped me … and has also been haunting my thoughts since I saw it.
It comes after Kirsten and Jeevan have reunited, something we almost didn’t get from the show. In a show about a pandemic that nearly wipes out humanity, comes a moment of pure joy and love and encapsulates in two lines my experience of being a parent.
Kirsten: “I was never scared with you.”
Jeevan: “I was scared all the time.”
I don’t say this as an overdramatization. Aside from those first couple days in the hospital when you have all that help and the glow of being a new parent, in the 16-plus years, I’ve been a parent, a lot of it is spent scared, in some way.
Don’t think I’ve spent the minutes and hours since Dec. 1, 2005, came along shivering in fear of what life will bring my children. Far from it, since my son was born, life have been amazing with him and his sister in it.
The scary part of being a parent is that that fear is always just sort of lurking in the background, waiting to make your waking hours filled with worry and make the hours you’re supposed to be sleeping filled with … well, more worry.
For me, the fear began in full force when we brought him home and I went back to work. I was terrified to come home. I didn’t know how to care for this child. Whatever knowledge my wife possessed in excess, I was the opposite. I couldn’t change a diaper. Or feed him. He wouldn’t sleep more than a couple hours (this lasted for the first three months because of acute acid reflux) at a pop. He always needed something. I reacted by staying at work later than usual. Not my shining moment as a father.
And with kids, it seems like you’re always searching to find a routine. A bedtime routine, a nap routine, an eating routine, a get-ready-for-school routine. And just when things begin to click on the routine, everything changes for that routine. I try to live in the moment and be spontaneous where I can, but I’ve come to rely on those routines, not only for my children’s well-being, but for mine.
There are the obvious moments of being scared as well. When my son was about six months old, he got really sick and really dehydrated, so much so we had to take him to the hospital because he wouldn’t keep anything down. I remember the nurses looking for all over his body trying to insert an IV, trying in six different places before they were able to get one to stick in his foot. I don’t think I’ve ever cried more about his health.
My daughter used to get awful ear infections. Tons of them. They’d present like a bit of a cold with a fever, but then the next day her ear drums would rupture. Things got better once she had tubes put in, but it was quite a long period of just being scared for her. Did she have come sort of condition? What was wrong? How do we fix this?
Of course, this isn’t just limited to health. Can they read? Can they write? Are they growing up to be a good person? When should they have a phone? When shouldn’t they have a phone? Is their school safe? Are they choosing good friends? Are they respectful? Are they working hard in school.
And sweet Jesus, driving. My son is licensed now and during his tenure with a driver’s permit, I think I grew more bald (and I’m already pretty bald). And it’s not that my son is a bad driver. He’s like Rain Man. But just putting your life in the hands of a new driver will send the blood pressure way the hell up, let’s just say.
When I say scared, I’m speaking of being scared from a positive place. I use the fear I write of here as motivation to be a better parent and someone they can look up to and, hopefully, model their lives on. Being a parent is the the most difficult thing any human does. It sucks to have to be a parent a lot of the time. But we really need more humans to be just a little bit better parents these days. It’s hard to limit their access to phones or social media. It’s scary and awkward to have discussions about sex and death and the world in general. But it’s our job. We’ve got to be scared into being better at it.
Circling back to the scene from “Station Eleven,” isn’t this the way it’s supposed to be, though? In my life, pre-parenting, I can’t say I gave much, if any, thought of what it was like to be a parent to me and my siblings. What my parents went through, the ups, the downs. When I brought them joy and when I brought them shame. It never crossed my mind. And I suppose that’s the point of being a child. You get to focus on the best things about being a child, even when living through a pandemic, as Kirsten and my two children have done. You get to focus on your friends and video games and fashion and soccer and swimming and water polo and baseball. Some days, all you need to be happy is to spend some time taking the dogs for a walk, like my kids do. Or putting on a play, like Kirsten did.
But I know this: I’ll never stop being scared for my kids. I’m pretty convinced it is what makes me a passable father.