Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Nationwide-induced anxiety

Okay, so I know I'm a few days behind in this.  Which in the world of news and social media, may as well be a lifetime.  I'm sure it's been done and overdone by now.

But people... my toddler doesn't nap anymore!  Or rarely naps, I should say.  Which means I don't have a chance to think until bedtime.  Bedtime!  And we all know after bedtime my brain can only process trash TV and that no coherent output can be expected from it.

But I'm aware that the Super Bowl occurred a few days back.

I have a strange kind of detachment to these American events now.  I remember them being very important.  I don't recall caring very much, personally, but I know that many people did.  And even if you didn't care, you still sat in front of the TV and ate fattening snacks and tried your best to pick one team or the other for fear of succumbing to mind-numbing boredom.

But now I follow these events via Facebook, as I can't be bothered to read actual full-length articles about football.

I'm not sure I know who won.  Or who played, for that matter.

But I know one thing.

Nationwide really pissed some people off.

I am, admittedly, naive about marketing, and a sucker for good advertising.  Really, I'm pretty sure I bought ketchup every week during Heinz's "talking label" campaign.  I'm not certain I ever watched a Wendy's commercial without the oftentimes uncontrollable urge for a chicken sandwich and Frosty.  And just forget it when Starbucks offered its gold card.  Free birthday drink?  I'm totally in.

But from what I do know about marketing, people talking is always better than people not talking.  So I'm sure Nationwide knew this commercial would cause quite a stir.  I'm sure they were ready for it.  I'm sure some executive somewhere is smiling as he watches "Nationwide Super Bowl Commercial" soar on the list of social media trending topics (if such a list exists).

Honestly, I'm not bothered by sad.  In some ways, I'm even drawn to it.  There's something about grief and true, true sad that makes sense to me.  The people most affected by it seem to possess a holy kind of reverence for life, and I think, perhaps, they understand things that I don't.  That I can't.

So it didn't bother me.  The sad.

What did bother me... the fear.

Before we could leave the hospital with baby Aiden we were made to watch two videos.  One on SIDS.  One on shaken baby syndrome.  Afterwards, I was fairly certain I would never sleep again.

And for a while, I didn't.  I'd check his breathing obsessively, any time he slept.  If he wasn't getting up at night, I was.  Tiptoeing into his room, lying my hand on his tiny stomach and waiting with baited breath for its slow inflation.  If someone so much as jostled his small body, my heart would jump into my throat.

Later I heard of a child breaking his leg on a slide.  And so I became obsessive at the playground.  I followed his every move, shuddered at the height of the playground equipment, guided him slowly and safely down treacherous slides.

And, just as Nationwide so aptly reminded us, I knew too well what could happen in the bathtub.  And so Aiden bathed in our miniature, baby bath until he was nearly three years old.  He could barely squeeze his giant body into the blue, padded basin by the end, but he didn't know any different.

Do you remember senior superlatives?  The section of high school yearbooks everywhere (or just in the States?) depicting the best dressed guy and girl.  The best looking.  The most likely to succeed.

When I was a senior, I was voted Most Laid Back.

It comes up every now and then.  When Joel and I need a good laugh.

Because motherhood changed me.  I stopped taking things in stride and hoping for the best.  And I started planning.  Controlling.  Protecting.

I thought, nearly a hundred times a day, I would rather play it obsessively safe, than live to regret not.

I could picture the worst case scenario in any and every situation.  I saw my child falling down the side of a mountain.  Choking on a grape.  Reaching for a knife on the counter.

It was terrifying.  And I'm sure I never really relaxed when Aiden was young.  How could I?  With threats to his safety everywhere.

I'm still a bit compulsive and anxious when it comes to my kids.  But I'm better.  Finally.

Three kids will do that.  And a move overseas.  And the absolute inability to control every situation, no matter how badly I wanted to.

But I think more parents, particularly American parents, are like anxious me than are not.  I think parents today are hyper aware of all the trouble that can befall their child.  I think they know, too well, deep in their gut, that accidents happen.  I don't think Nationwide needed to remind them.

It is unendingly sad to me that children die.  That parents lose their babies.

But before, when I'd walk around with a constant knot in my stomach and want nothing more than to bubble-fy my baby... he was losing his childhood.  And I was losing my mind.

Even today, my eldest is scared of things he shouldn't be scared of.  Things that he wasn't scared of as a daring, full-of-life toddler.  Things that his friends aren't scared of now.

I thought it was better to make him paranoid, than allow him to get hurt.

So now, he is.  About some things, at least.

I forgive myself.  I understand that I was adjusting to motherhood and to the responsibility of keeping this precious life as safe as possible.  I'm fairly sure I didn't permanently scar him.

But I didn't need someone, marketing or not, playing into my deep anxiety during that time.  Not to mention the dear parents who have lost.  Who know all too well that accidents happen.  That children can die.  I wonder what it was like for those brave souls, watching their loss touted about for the sake of insurance sales.

Perhaps I'd give Nationwide more credit, had they made the commercial more factual and less emotional.  Had they given parents tips instead of paranoia, guidance instead of fear.

I'm all for informing parents on safety guidelines. In fact, I'm particularly fond of safety rules.  As a grade schooler, I was devastated every year when the safety patrol was announced... and I never made the list.  I watched wistfully as they enforced order in the hallway, their yellow sashes gleaming like the sun.  I longed for a sash of my own.

But I don't think parents need to be baited with guilt and fear to do what's best for their child.  What's safest.  They don't need to be informed that their child can die.  They know.  Believe me, they know.

I'm sure Nationwide doesn't care much what we have to say.  Particularly if insurance sales rise.  Which I imagine they will.

But if they did, I'd say this.

You don't have to tell us that accidents happen.  We know it from the second our children are born.  We carry around this knowledge in every fiber of our being, all day long.

But we're also trying to live our lives with them.  To enjoy their childhood.  To put off fear and anxiety and love them right now.

You want to give us some tips?  Some actual facts?  Something we can do?  Please... bring them on.

But don't play with our fear.  Don't toy with our imaginings of future guilt.

Don't think we haven't thought about these things.  We've been worrying these worries since the day our children were born.  And you know what... it hasn't changed a thing.

And so we're trying to let go.  Some of us.  Of the anxiety and the fear.  Of the worst case scenarios.

We're doing what we can to keep our kids safe, but we're realizing that we can't, in fact, place them in a bubble.

And we wouldn't really want to.  Because if nothing bad can touch them, then neither can anything good.


  1. Kim- I was just reading over some of the comments on my blog and was happy to read some of yours. This post resonates DEEPLY with me. Especially after losing my husband in an accident, I have worried about my child. Sometimes it wasn't so much because I feared her death, but because I knew I just didn't have it in me to go through any more trauma or take her to the ER, etc. So, I knew I was stifling her a bit, but I knew I just had to prevent any more trauma. I read about the slides too- always told her point blank lots of kids go to the ER with broken legs from that. On a recent trip to the city, I told her to stand back from the trains and subways because some people fall on. I used the fear tactic myself to get her to listen. She wound up with nightmares I'm ashamed to say- about someone falling on the track and me racing to save them. I barely caught a moment of the Super Bowl, though I was at a party and did happen to catch that one commercial. I had to leave the room. You said it so well- once we have a child- we don't need to be reminded of that at all! Today I took Audrey iceskating and it's so hard for me not to imagine the worst case scenarios- that's just where my mind jumps to. A few weeks ago in the town nearby, a cafeteria table fell on a seven year old and killed him. Last week a teenager died sledding. I too want to tackle this topic in my writing- sorry for the long comment- it just really resonated.

  2. Thanks so much for your comment, Julia. It really is hard to find the line between protecting and scaring. And even more so, I'm sure, after losing your husband. When we first moved here the kids would walk up to gates and wrap their fingers around the posts. Meanwhile ferocious-sounding dogs barked from so many of the yards, and I told Aiden that they could bite his fingers if he did that. Since then he's been super afraid of dogs, especially if they bark. But my mind told me it was better than actually having his fingers bitten. I don't know. We're trying our best though, and I think we'll keep learning as we go. And, hopefully, forgiving ourselves as we go as well. Thanks for stopping by. I love your blog and am so moved by your beautiful writing!