At the time, I felt like a rock star mom.
It was winter and both of my boys (ages 6 and 8) had chest colds. I had bathed them, cleaned out their noses, rubbed Vicks Vapo Rub on their chests and on the bottoms of their feet, put Kleenex next to their beds and put some drops of Eucalyptus in their humidifier. Kissing their foreheads goodnight, I felt assured that I had done all I could to make them feel their most comfortable while they slept. Their whole room smelled pure and fresh from the eucalyptus and I felt at ease knowing they might breathe a little better, and sleep more soundly, as I shut their bedroom door 3/4 of the way–enough for some quiet, but also enough so that I could hear them during the night.
I felt like a good mom. A good mom who had taken all the right steps to help them feel better. And so, every time they had colds, that is what I did: bathed them, smeared Vicks Vapo Rub all over their chest and feet and infused their room with the purifying aroma of Eucalyptus.
Until of course, I ran across an article 6 months later, explaining that using Eucalyptus for children under the age of 10 was “dangerous”. A hazard to their health. Something to be avoided. That if you had essential oils just lying haphazardly around the house, that you should promptly lock them up to protect your children from accidental poisoning.
Are they essential oils, or used heroin needles?
On a dime, the comforting memories I had of a constant mist of healing Eucalyptus filling up my boys’ bedroom, morphed into the horrifying realization that I was actually slowly and repetitively poisoning them every time they were sick. Kicking them when they were down. That, in actuality, I was forcing them to inhale deadly toxins as I stood there, over their beds, smiling and patting myself on the back as my two sweet, innocent boys lay there oblivious to the fact that their mother was slowly killing them.
How on earth can Eucalyptus be dangerous? It’s an oil. It’s an herb. It’s a plant. I closed out the article on my computer and became flooded with all of the other thousands of decisions I had made in the past that haunted me:
I vaccinated my kids.
I fed them strawberries from the supermarket. The one fruit that contains the highest levels of pesticides out of ALL fruits. What moron of a mother would do that to their kids?
I put sunscreen on them too. Sunscreen that causes cancer.
And then some days, out of fear of giving them cancer from the sunscreen, I didn’t put it on, exposing them to the deadly UV rays. That cause cancer.
Did I scold Sam too harshly when he antagonized his brother?
Crap, I let them both eat raw cookie dough the other day.
The boys forgot to wash their hands the other day when they picked up the chickens.
Should I hold my son back a grade or push him forward?
I let my kids have fluoride treatments!!??
Are they traumatized from hearing me and my husband argue about lacrosse practice?
What about that time Sam got a tick at lacrosse practice? Should I have demanded an antibiotic at the time? What if has Lyme disease now?
Should I stop buying strawberries? I could just give them fruit cups in their lunches. But wait no, fruit cups contain High Fructose Corn Syrup. I can’t do that. Maybe I’ll just pack them some water and crackers. But wait no, crackers are carbs. Oh, and maybe I should stop making sandwiches because they eat sandwiches everyday. That’s a lot of bread. That’s a lot of carbs. Carbs are bad. My kids are going to be overweight. They’re going to grow up overweight and get diabetes and it will be all of my fault because I didn’t listen and I let them eat carbs and fruit cups!!
Is it any wonder we parents have so much anxiety? Everywhere I turn, I’ve done something wrong to cause harm to my kids. I am so exhausted from worrying about how I may be inadvertently causing my boys’ premature death. Will it have been from the strawberries, or the sunscreen, or the chickens or the vaccines? I’m living in a cesspool of fear where everyone thinks they are right and have ample studies to show me to back up their claims. Was it always like this? During The Great Depression, as families traveled miles upon miles in their jalopies, did they worry about these kinds of things? Or, are many of us so privileged in our current times that we’re able to focus all of our energy into these ridiculous antics?
I try so hard to radiate a sense of knowing and steadiness for my boys. I want to be someone they can rely on and depend on and have faith in, especially when they’re shaky. But I fear that my incessant worries about the Deet in the bug spray I just sprayed on them are betraying me, and that they will grow up to feel just as afraid and unsure as I do.
Three nights ago, on a muggy Saturday evening, I told the boys that because it wasn’t a school night, we could have a slumber party in my room, and watch a little Gilligan’s Island and stay up a little later than usual. We all got into our summer jammies and huddled in my bed. The box fan we bought at Wal-Mart (what am I teaching them buying from Wal-Mart? Should I stop buying from Wal-Mart?) provided a cool breeze for us as we lay on top of the covers. I had each one of my arms wrapped around each one of my boys as we laid there, with the windows open and the fan gently blowing over our bare legs and arms, and talked about our Favorite Part of the Day and our Hard Part of the Day. In these rare moments, with both of them in my arms and the three of us murmuring about our days, I get a reprieve from all of the fear and anxiety that so often fills my days. It’s almost always My Favorite Part of the Day.
We quieted after a while and in the middle of the quiet, Sam my younger son said to me:
“Mama, I feel so safe with you. It feels like nothing can get to me. It’s kind of like you’re my Force Field”.
I’m not sure I have ever heard sweeter words than those in my whole life as a mother. I squeezed him a little bit closer to me and kissed his forehead, telling him how happy it makes me that he feels safe with me, repressing the part of me that feels as if maybe I’ve fooled him somehow. How could he feel so safe with me when it feels like, so often, I question everything I do? Every decision I make?
It is not easy living in a culture, where at every corner you turn, there is an Expert waiting for you, arms crossed, shaking their head at the Pop-Tart you just gave your son on a Sunday morning while he watches “Teen Titans Go!” as they “tsk, tsk, tsk” you for your horrible decision-making.
“Teen Titans Go!” AND Pop-Tarts? I may as well enroll them in military school now since I have already started them on the path of self-destruction.
It’s not easy living in a culture where you’re told if you vaccinate your kids you could very likely do them harm, and if you don’t vaccinate your kids you’ll very likely do them harm. It’s not easy living in a culture that so blatantly deters you from using your intuition as a parent, which is our most invaluable asset above everything else.
I know that one day soon, my cape and mask will fall away, my superhero status will dissipate, and my sons will both see that I’m merely another flawed human trying her best, and not the indestructible Force Field they see me as today.
To all you parents out there who are doing their best to do right by their kids in this fear-mongering world in which we live, keep fighting the good fight.
And may The Force be with you.