Thursday, December 11, 2003

It Takes A Worried Man

To start with, everything’s okay, Willow’s happily chasing the dog down the hallway with her mother, my sleeve is totally soaked and the back of her head doesn’t even look like it’s going to have a bump. But the weird thing is, I feel pretty good about myself as a father right now. And though it’s been increasingly the case that I feel good about Willow, and who she’s becoming, feeling like I’m getting it right wasn’t something I assumed I’d ever have.

Sometimes, when we’re at the beach or on a windowsill or walking around corners or, like tonight, in the bathroom, the baby up to her nipples in bathwater and bubbles while I kneel like a tailor on the folded white towel at tub’s edge, I think about what could happen, and my heart cramps up. It’s just those things that can only happen once, the experiences no one survives to learn from: electrocution from a wall socket, say, or falling or crushing or hitting the back of your head in the bathtub and never coming back up.

I worry; it’s in my nature. It comes, I think, from the Jewish guilt and the special lack of confidence and frustration which can only come from always coming in second, not third or first; it presents like an anxiety disorder, and I’ve always meant to see someone about it, but I’m worried that it might really exist in a clinical sense, or that it won’t and I’ll just turn out to be doomed to be one of those nervous characters that Woody Allen plays in all his movies. From college into early adulthood I had panic attacks on a regular basis, locked in a cycle of concern and powerlessness. The only reason I don’t have them now is I’ve learned not to panic about them when they start, because I’ve always been okay so far.

Add to the total package this: I’ve never been able to trust my reflexes. Something familial, perhaps genetic, runs in the blood. My brother’s friends call him Spilly, a reference to his tendency to spill beer pitchers, reaching across the table just a touch too quickly, but long before drunk. As for myself, I used to go through wristwatch faces every three months, hitting the walls while turning corners; now I wear carbiner watches that clip on the beltloop and hang down snugly along the pocket. I tell people I have low limbic awareness, as if naming it so formally legitimizes what is ultimately just innate clumsiness, as if the allusion of white lab coat will cover a simple tendency to drop and tear.

It’s a poor combination, constant anxiety and innate clumsiness. Fear that you’ll make the right move at a crucial time seeds a constant concern about what could go wrong. It surely contributes to the clumsiness, and the anxiousness.

I worry about lots of things. But some things are worth worrying about, like bumping into things, or knocking them over, or dropping them. When Willow was born it took every ounce of bravery I have to pick her up, so afraid was I that I might drop her and, in trying to catch her, drop her harder.

Now, of course, I pick her up and don’t think about it much anymore – just enough to note how heavy she is, and how long – but there’s always a tiny part of my mind that gnaws on the possibility of dropping her, just enough to keep focused on her while she’s in my arms.

I hardly remember it happening: an off-balanced moment, a flash of panic from her eyes to mine, and then there I was with my arms up to the elbow, crooked around this tiny flesh. So fast I couldn’t have thought of it. So natural I couldn’t have done it.

I think she never noticed the water coming up at her. I know I didn’t see it, like I had behind my eyes so many times. Her face never got wet. Nothing broke; no neurons misfired. I saw only her, and reached, and didn’t think at all.

It’ll fade in a moment, this feeling of trust-in-self. It fades now, as I write about it. But I’ll keep something new from this tiny half a moment in the new and precious life of this girl, this softness, this Willow. I know I love her not just in my head, but in the spinal reflexes, in the whole body. I can trust myself to. And damn if that doesn’t feel great.

posted by boyhowdy | 8:39 PM |

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