I used to be a daredevil. A thrill-seeker. I jumped in before I knew the water was safe—literally; I loved bridge jumping! I went new places and met new people without fear.
All that changed after my kids were born.
It didn’t happen all at once. During the first year of my twins’ life, I took what little thrills I could find where I could find them. Three days a week, I drove our car alone to and from my part-time college courses, and during each drive, I revved the engine over bridge that led to my home—just enough so that as I flew over it my stomach leapt and I got that tiny shot of adrenaline.
But by the time my third child was 6 months old, even stepping foot onto an airplane terrified me. Walking on the curb when a bus drove by became nerve wracking. I became hyper-vigilant about spoiled food, minor medical ailments, and trips to the beach. Even going on carnival rides became too much for me.
If there was any chance, no matter how minute, that I or my children might die, I started freaking out.
Of course, small children never stop finding ways to rub salt in these kinds of open emotional sores. I’ll never forget the night I was making dinner and my downstairs neighbor called me to let me know my 5-year-old had figured out how to unlock our third-floor windows and was helping our 2-year-old dangle toys and garbage out, dropping it on the ground below.
I tell myself that nothing has changed, but obviously it’s not true. Motherhood has reinvented me, has made me see my life as essential in a way I never did before. Before kids, I lived for me. Now I see my death as a catastrophe, something that would derail their lives forever. Being a mother has given me a sense that my life matters in a way I never contemplated before, and the weight of being truly, quintessentially irreplaceable is terrifying. The stakes are sometimes too high for my brain to handle, and I have to double up on Xanax to get through a simple commuter flight instead of happily looking out the window as the ground shrinks beneath me.
I was a thrill-seeker, and now I’m a complete neurotic, constantly counting whenever I’m in public (one, two, three, one, two, three, one, two, three children, one, two, three…).
I know it’s ridiculous. I know it’s pretty much all in my head. But motherhood does these things to you.
I hope that someday, when my children are older, my neurotic fear of ruining their lives by accidentally killing one of us disappears. I’d like to be the mom who rides the roller coasters with my teenagers. I’d like to be the mom who climbs to Machu Picchu when my kids are all off at college. I’d like to take advantage of all the reasons I had kids young, and go do fun and exciting things when they’re off on their own.
But unless this new, terrified bit of my psyche fades like my kids’ baby fat, I might never be that mom. I might always be the woman triple-checking the expiration date on the milk, the locks on the windows, nervously watching the ferris wheel with both my feet on the ground. I might have to spend an extra decade or two of my life freaking out over little things, instead of going out and living.
In 15 years, I’ll know. If I drop everything and run off to Prague for a month without understanding a word of Czech, or jump out of a perfectly good airplane, or start building a cob house by hand, I’ll know I’ve outlived my maternal neuroses. Until then, I’ll bite my nails to the nub and add another deadbolt to the front door.