03/31/2016 03:18 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Becoming That Neurotic Mother

Stuart Jenner via Getty Images

It's been a few months since my son's brain surgery. A few months since words like "resection" and "craniotomy" and "temporal lobe" became part of my almost daily vocabulary. I went from someone who took her kid to the doctor once a year, to someone who has an entire team of doctors to choose from when something goes wrong.

Side effects from the meds? Call the neurologist.

Blurry vision? Call the neurosurgeon.

Another MRI? Call the radiologist for a second opinion.

School issues? Call the neuropsychologist.

There's a person to call for every possible new symptom and every possible new worry. In some sense, it's comforting. But it has also turned me into one of those neurotic mothers I used to scoff at on the playground.

Once you've become everyone else's worst-case scenario, it's hard to separate the day-to-day childhood ailments with the looming, oh-my-God-this-could-be-the-end scenarios. My son gets a headache and I'm running to the phone. He trips on the stairs and I'm rushing to check his vision. He says he's tired and I quickly check to see if he took his meds that morning. And if he did, I'm checking out side effects on Google.

On the other side of the spectrum, I've lost the ability to empathize with other mothers bemoaning their kid's colds. Or their sprained ankles. Or their root canals. I listen to them freaking out and a part of me wants to just slap them and say, "Do you know who you are talking to?" Because as nerve racking as your kid's 10 minute adenoid procedure might have been, I have vivid memories of being the first person in the Pediatric Surgical Waiting Room and the very last, watching parents come in and sit for 15 minutes until their doctors came out to tell them they can come and see their kid.

We waited 9 hours.


It isn't fair of me, really. Because I also know that as much as I am many people's horror story, I am also a lot of other people's best case. And so my neuroses over my kid's headache pale in comparison to the mom's of my son's roommate on the neurosurgery floor who was moved to the oncology floor before we even knew his name.

It's all perspective. I can vaguely remember when my oldest daughter had to have a small mole removed from her scalp when she was three years old. My husband and I cried as they wheeled her in to the operating room for a procedure that probably lasted the same amount of time it took us to walk back to our chairs. At the time it was frightening. The anesthesia! The medication! The tiny scar on her perfect scalp!

And I guess for us, it was the worst case scenario in our young parental lives.

I try to think back to that moment when someone cries to me about their own worst cases. I have to remind myself that whatever it is that they are dealing with, as insignificant and trite as I think it might be, is their worst nightmare. At the same time, I have to remember that my current heightened state of alert is probably just as baffling to them. My worry over my son sleeping too long would more than likely be met with exasperated, "Dude, be glad he's sleeping!" without understanding the all too tragic and dramatic scenarios that instantly run through my head and send me to DefCon 2.

So I respond to the frantic moms fretting over splinters and stitches the way I always do: "This must be very hard for you." Because if there is one thing I also know, it's that when you're in it, pain is pain. And a child's pain, anywhere on the scale, is everyone's worst case. It's everyone's pain.

But secretly, I slap them.