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Choices

Parents often struggle with letting go.

Our 17-year-old son informed us the other night that we treat him like a toddler. He is quite disgusted with us. Here's what happened.

Last week, Taylor began showing symptoms of a head cold. He went to school in the morning, but called me right before noon and asked that I check him out because he wasn't feeling well. I called the school and gave my approval for him to drive home.

Taylor spent the afternoon in his room, resting and drinking the fluids I forced upon him. He quickly devoured the soup and grilled cheese sandwich I prepared for lunch. Comfort food from my own childhood, and a heartfelt offering to my ailing boy. I was delighted with this opportunity to play nurse because I happened to be working from home that day. Over the years, I have too often been out of town or at my downtown office when Taylor got sick. Know that nothing is harder for a mother than being apart from her child in times of illness. 

I recall a weeklong trip to Seattle and the phone call from home in which I was informed that Taylor was having an allergic reaction to ant bites. Forward to the time the phone rang in my Paris hotel, and I learned that our son was running a high fever. Skip to any number of my trips to Washington, DC during which I would say a quick prayer before calling home in anticipation of hearing that Taylor had taken a tumble at pre-school or suffered an ugly injury during varsity practice. Friends, I have worried myself sick for 17 years.   

Taylor does not remember that as a result of severe allergies, he had pneumonia four times before the age of 10. He does not recall the years of nebulizer treatments administered every four hours–often in Walmart bathrooms, airport lounges and various parking lots. He is not aware of the sleepless nights his mom and dad spent watching over him, measuring his every breath to ensure that he was safe. Indeed, we do not need him to dwell on these aspects of his childhood. It is more important that he recollect the many homeruns, sleepovers and fun-filled travels of his youth.   

Nevertheless, allow me to be a tad bit protective of my son. That night he headed out to play a flag football game at , and I hit the roof.

"No way are you going to play football with a cold."

"Mom! Are you crazy? I'm not the first one on my team to have the sniffles."

The sniffles? What about the fever and coughing? Does this kid understand the inevitable progression from sniffles to pneumonia?  

Dear friends, my son believes he is invincible. Truth be told, I felt the same way prior to his birth. Now, as a parent, I feel completely vulnerable. Viruses matter to me. Maybe too much.

How do we choose? Parents are constantly faced with choices regarding their children's well-being. These choices are not always easy. Taylor's flag football game did not represent a significant character-building opportunity, and the health risks seemed clear to me that night. Thus, my insistence that he stay home. But keep in mind that this could have been a varsity lacrosse game–something that matters a great deal to Taylor and to us as we consider his college options. When do I let go? Remembering my own poor choices at his age, how do I learn to trust my son to make consistently wise choices?

I watch as other parents scoff at the dangers. Mothers of football players treat a concussion as a mere annoyance. Gymnasts' moms wrap the sprains and send their tumblers right back to the mat.

Understand that I am not criticizing these women. Rather, I envy their ability to treat these incidents as the normal stuff of life. They make seemingly rational choices, and their kids appear to be just fine. I wished many times over the years to be this confident, this courageous.

I am learning to let go, but probably at a much slower pace than Taylor wants. Most days, we manage to choose well along some mental continuum ranging from invincible to vulnerable. That night, however, I was overtaken by my virus phobia. But at least my son stayed warm and dry. 

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