Letting Go of “What If”: Our Parenting Story

“What if” questions, especially for parents, can be terrifying. Children’s books can help.

“What If…”

When my wife and I were informed by the fertility clinic that she was pregnant, we spent several months in expectant bliss. What colors should we paint the nursery? Should we use cloth diapers? Which children’s stories should fill his bookshelf?

But as the due date crept closer, “what if” questions – as insidious as Voldemort’s Nagini – slithered their way into our consciousnesses. What if our baby boy grows up to become a serial killer? A psychopath? A cult leader?

To fend off these questions as valorously as Round Table Knights, we started preparing the only ways we knew how: researching, collecting data, and analyzing. Being two highly educated women working in the field of education, we were certain that this methodology would squelch the siege of “what if’s.”

I watched TedTalks on child psychology. I listened to podcasts on parenting. I read Bringing up Bebe, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, Positive Discipline. I read magazines, studies, and citations of citations. My wife collected data on the safest cribs, strollers, and car seats. She crunched numbers on the prices of Diaper Genies, wipe warmers, and Boppys. She created a spreadsheet of questions to ask pre-schools.

At the same time that we were waging war against an imaginary future, my wife was struggling with pre-eclampsia, nine months of all-day “morning” sickness, and (what we’ll euphemistically call) hormonal imbalance. The Giving Tree was already giving its leaves away.

But… the moment Harper entered this world as a 9-pound, round-headed, pink-faced baby, our lives immeasurably improved. Elated is too weak of a word to describe the feeling in that delivery room.

Some Hurdles

As the hours that our newborn son spent with us turned into days and then weeks and then months, the initial “what if” questions took a back seat to new “what if’s” as we encountered some hurdles.

Harper wouldn’t latch. “What if he loses weight and becomes malnourished?” my wife asked me. We dreamt of having a Winnie the Pooh sized baby, not a piglet sized one. Our pediatrician advised us to find an over-the-counter organic, non-GMO formula. Harper took his bottle voraciously! We found the honey pot!

But then, Harper became “colicky.” He never seemed to be comfortable. He was always stiff, as if every muscle were flexing. “What if his distress leads to more serious health problems?” I wondered. If You Give a Moose a Muffin proves how one thing will lead to another, so, we consulted a gastroenterologist and an allergist who discovered that he was lactose intolerant. The dairy ingredients in the formula gave him acid-reflux and bloated his stomach and intestines. The doctors gave us a brochure featuring the Rolls Royces of nutrient blends. We chose bi-weekly delivery of a non-dairy, hypoallergenic, scientifically-proven, powdered formula that had a monthly price tag that put our Prius payment to shame. Harper’s inflammation reduced, and we added an exercise regimen of leg peddling that massaged the explosive excess air out of his intestines. He could finally sleep horizontally!

Ear infections were the next hurdle. Harper suffered from 11 ear infections before turning 3 years old. During many sleepless nights, I wondered, “What if he loses his hearing permanently?” The ENT prescribed him a teal-colored, neoprene headband to cover gummy, orange ear plugs that Harper was directed to wear at bath times. I was as confident as Sheila the Great that this magical headband would work. Unfortunately, it didn’t. Evidently, ear infections are as persistent as Thomas the Tank Engine. But, ear tube surgery proved a success!

Then, we noticed that Harper’s right eye was not always aligned with his left eye; he had intermittent exotropia. “What if he grows up and has no depth perception? How will he drive? Catch a frisbee? Avoid walking into doors?” I was as filled with worry, just like little Clementine. An optometrist tried to train the eye with glasses and strengthen it with a Captain Hook patch, but that wildly loose peeper stayed as untamed as the Lost Boys. What worked was an ophthalmologist surgically tightened the muscles around his!

And… since we don’t share the Hardy Boys’ cunning powers of observation, we didn’t notice the correlation between Harper’s fears of the future and his incredibly inconvenient irritable bowel syndrome. As it turned out, he began manifesting generalized anxiety disorder at 4 years old. We bought him a calendar. We lengthened transition time. At this point, we felt like the Boxcar Children, in a perpetual state of overcoming challenges.

Coupled with GAD, Harper was showing signs of having Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. We called a psychiatrist. We took tests. The Vanderbilt Assessment Scale. The Child Attention Profile. The Conners Rating Scale. Harper’s inattention, hyperactivity, hyperfocus, impulse control, lack of time management, difficulty with social cues, and delayed development of fine motor skills were explained with a diagnosis of ADHD. We wondered, “What if Harper’s difficulty focusing causes him to fail out of school?” I imagined being stuck inside a No David! book for eighteen years.

As It Turns Out…

As it turns out, all my “what if” questions were the clinging shadows of Chiro’s world in Night Song. Had I seen them for what they were – as controllable products of anxiety – perhaps I could have tamed my emotional stress earlier. Focusing on what was immediately before me would have been enough.

Today, our beautiful, spirited 11-year-old boy has now danced in his 7th Nutcracker. He has an impressive English and Chinese vocabulary, and he loves taking guitar lessons. The confines of the public-school environment are a challenge for him. For the majority of days, his antics mirror those of Junie B. Jones. But, more importantly to us, he loves, he explores, he laughs, he inquires, and he gives. That’s a story worth writing – and reading.

Cynthia Damon is a freelance writer, editor, and teacher. She lives in Southern California with her wonderful wife, loving son, and loyal Labrador. https://cynthiadamon01.wixsite.com/home/writing