When they were small my husband used to say, “With a mother like you, Columbus would never have discovered America.” I knew I was over-anxious and didn’t want to burden them; I could barely contain my anxiety when small boys walked along a pier by the sea peering down at the fish (I couldn’t swim) or stood on a cliff’s edge (I suffer from vertigo) but I could keep quiet about my night vigils when they were growing up.
In their late teens and early twenties (it’s legal from age 18 to drink in British pubs) they sometimes came in drunk and I relied on the hangover to teach them a lesson, which it did eventually. They were happy drunks, mellow after a few beers. Some of their friends were obstreperous in that state, but my boys were more inclined to giggle. The first time one was not home until 2 in the morning, their father and I lay awake, feeling anxious. I have a vivid imagination and suffered the anxiety of any mother hen wondering how and where her chicks are. When they came in, treading softly on the stairs, my husband said “Now don’t let them know you were anxious.” So I didn’t.
Even without a scientific background I can advise any researcher on Anxiety that there is a strong correlation between the delicacy of the endocrine system, a mother’s level of love for her offspring and her vivid imagination.
I found myself in familiar and uncomfortable territory on the last evening when four of my five sons were in the USA to celebrate my 70th birthday. They had come to where I live in Virginia near the youngest, from their distant homes in England, Ireland and Arizona (The one in Australia couldn’t make it). The son from UK had a cold and went to bed early. The others were looking for a few beers and a game of pool in the nearby town to celebrate being together. They borrowed my car, intending to come home by taxi and collect the car in the morning. I went to bed and sleep around 10 p.m. but awoke at midnight. Everything was quiet. I supposed that my second son who was staying with me had crept in and gone to bed, but when I looked, his bed was empty.
Well, they would surely return soon. Harrisonburg must be quiet after midnight. I lay in bed remembering the hundreds of times I’d waited for them to come home at night in their youth. Five boys do a lot of socializing and they were never subject to curfew after the age of 18.
They were good boys but enjoyed fun with their friends. Once they walked through swift water on a weir across the River Cam in Cambridge, for a bet. Another day JP took his younger brother parachute jumping. He was a year under age and needed parental consent, so they exaggerated his age like my father aged 17 when he volunteered to fight in France in 1915. Later they played me a video showing them as specks jumping out of planes, floating down, walking past the camera with armfuls of parachute, mouthing “Sorry, Mum,” with wicked grins.
Years ensued of listening for their safe return.
I trust my boys, but sometimes others are unreliable. In Virginia I pictured my three mature sons, aged 36 to 41, enjoying each other’s company in a pool room, perhaps observed by a local gang with concealed knives, recognizing an easy target in three benign Englishmen. Although tall and sturdy, my boys are no match for the vicious. And there have been two murders in the central car park since I’ve lived here.
Or perhaps they were walking home, having failed to find a taxi service. I knew they would not drive after a drink. It was three miles from town and there are no sidewalks along the 33. I pictured one or more of them being run down by a careless driver as they walked back in the dark. Between them these three had nine offspring and all those fatherless children briefly flashed through my imagination. Get a grip, Eileen!
The day before, I’d spoken to my Australian daughter-in-law on the telephone. She remarked how her husband said recently “We had so much freedom, my mother never worried about us.” I laughed and said, “I worried all the time. I just didn’t let them know.” Let me tell you, nobody raises five boys without some hairy moments.
They sometimes took out canoes on choppy seas, and one of them has been in several car crashes. Once the police phoned me to say that my second son at 17 was in hospital after the car in which he was a passenger had rolled over. He broke his finger in his haste to smash a window in case the fuel ignited, to extricate a girl who was hanging upside down by her seat belt. He had slight concussion and a few bruises, but after a night in hospital he came home safe. Two of his friends however died as a result of car crashes in their teens.
At one o’clock I heard the front door open softly and knew my sons were home. “Thank you, God,” I said, for the several hundredth time, having consulted Him earlier. JP made himself a hot drink and it was 1.30 when he got to bed. He saw my bedroom door ajar and we spoke briefly. I said, “I’m glad you’re home, I was worried in case you were run over walking back, or fell foul of a local gang.”
He said, “That’s funny, you never worried about us when we were young … ”