Performance Anxiety

Before I became a parent, I didn’t know if I could handle it.

I had never even held a child, let alone changed a diaper, and I honestly wasn’t sure if I had what it takes. Was there a switch that would flip when I saw his face for the first time? Was the ability to care for a child something hard-coded in my biology that would suddenly materialize when my son was born?

Yes and no. I was lucky to love Detective Munch right from the start (though I can totally understand the adjustment period some new parents weather; there’s not much there there at the beginning!), but Morpheus wasn’t around to instantly upload the Parenting program into my skull. I just took it one day at a time – I still do – and slowly but surely adapted to my new role, and my new reality.

There are still plenty of aspects of parenting that I’m insecure about, plenty of situations I have yet to experience, and I have no real idea how I’ll react when confronted with them.

fear, always scared, parenting, dad and buried, fatherhood, motherhood, anxiety, stress, lifestyle, fear, love, moms, dads, children, familyFour years into being a father and I still have performance anxiety. Do I have what it takes?

On Sunday, we got together with some friends who have a son the same age as Detective Munch. They have a shared interest in superheroes and also in being loud and annoying, so they get along famously, despite the fact that our little guy is a bit less adventurous than theirs. I’m sure his parents are used to it, judging by how well they dealt with what happened this weekend. When the going gets tough, will I perform as well as they did?

Their son is fearless, and he spent most of the afternoon hiking up, hopping onto and climbing over rocks and tree stumps and hills. Detective Munch is… less intrepid, so while he tried to keep pace with his friend, he often called for my help to get up or down various rocks. I was in the midst of helping him when our friend’s bad-ass son attempted one jump too many, fell and hit his head. The resulting cut was not insignificant, and there was a lot of blood.

Upon seeing him fall, his mom and dad immediately sprang into action. Mom and Buried grabbed Evel Kneivel’s little brother (who’s only two but does a pretty good job of keeping pace with the older kids) and I scooped up Detective Munch. We did our best to keep them both distracted and occupied while our friends tended to their little boy.

Parents aren’t supposed to panic. Parents are supposed to know what to do in situations like that, though unless you’re a doctor, I’m not entirely sure how you gain that knowledge. But either my friends already knew or the mythical parental instinct kicked in or both, because they stayed calm, and they kept their injured son calm while they quickly assessed the cut and determined next steps.

They had the situation under control with nary a nerve exposed, despite the fact that they had to have been FREAKING OUT on the inside. I know I would have been. I was unsettled – both by the lack of clarity around the severity of the injury and by the sheer amount of blood on display – and I was only standing on the sidelines. I didn’t panic either, but that was because I was basically catatonic. If it had been my son, I’m not so sure I would have been so even-keeled and in control.

Staying calm in those situations is important. Children take their cues from adults, and the best way to cause kids to panic is to panic on front of them. Neither of them did, which greatly reduced the hysteria of both of their sons (in fact, their youngest was entirely nonplussed; he’s likely seen his big brother take a licking and keep on ticking plenty of times before) and made for a much more manageable situation. Soon, they whisked their little daredevil off to the ER (he got some stitches and is doing A-OK!) while Mom and Buried and I drove The Detective home.

Let’s face it, raising newborns and toddlers and preschoolers and whatever comes next has its challenges, but the real stuff comes later, when it’s less about keeping them alive and more about actually raising them into decent people who can survive parenting, dads, anxiety, fear, kids, boys, health, reckless, ice skating, injuryout in the world. But when they’re still young enough to need to be taken care of, situations like this one will occasionally arise, especially when you’re raising reckless little boys! And with such situations come chances to test your parenting mettle.

Our friends passed with flying colors, while I mostly stood there going green. I don’t know how I would have reacted if I were in their shoes, if it were my son who had gotten hurt and needed help. I’d like to think that my love for him would prevail, that my anxiety, my fear, my occasional queasiness would fade to the background and that I’d react as quickly, confidently and calmly as they did.

Maybe I will. Maybe I’m worrying over nothing and parental instinct and adrenaline would help me step up in the name of protecting my child. But until it happens, I can’t be totally sure.

I want to know. And yet I hope I never find out.


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11 thoughts on “Performance Anxiety

  1. You would have done what you had to do. I do think it would kick in. Sure for some it might be smoother and do it better but you would have done the best you could.

  2. You’re not alone. I’m intimidated by fatherhood on a weekly basis. And I’ve got 3 of these adorable wrecking balls. Just keep showing up.

  3. If you can handle a warzone! no it’s awful when your kids hurts themselves. I flapped like a chicken for about five whole minutes when 18 month old Jonah tried to climb a tallboy cabinet in search of his dummy only to have it land on top of him – I was scared what I would find underneath.

    In the end the ambulance treated me for shock – he was fine. But that said, when he broke his collarbone in the middle of the park, I was the picture of calm and control despite the fact you could see his collarbone jutting at an angle. My other half, who’s normally good at sorting stuff out, in contrast, was hopping around like a lunatic being indecisive and getting in the way. Just goes to show, you never know how you will react.

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  5. I think we all hope to have it together in the event off a crisis with our child. Having followed you for some time now, I’m pretty confident that if something like this were to happen to one of your children, you would handle it – take care of the kid – do what you need to do – before saying HOLY S***!!!!!!! and allowing yourself the luxury of panicking!

  6. Yup. That pediatric medical training definitely comes in handy raising 2 boys. Best 200K I ever spent.
    In medicine, we have a saying, “See one, do one, teach one.” You just had your “See one.” Hope you never have to “Do one” but if the time arises, you will draw from this experience and, likely, call your friends to thank them for their good example.

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