In my youth, I was afraid of dozens of things. Things like asteroids, dogs with rabies, catfish fins, water that was over my head, polio or getting caught lying to a nun or priest. (That breach could result in a permanent trip to HE-double hockey sticks.)
Some of these things made me lie awake at night, worrying myself into a restless twilight torture. The older I got, the more I understood the laws of probability and statistics.
Then the kids came along, and I became more terrified than ever. What if they fell? What if they choked? What if they got some type of high fever that impacted them forever? The list of what ifs went on and on until some days it felt like my head might explode.
Because I began my professional life as a teacher, I used to lament the fact that I had virtually no medical knowledge. Little did I know how lucky I was because I’ve been around plenty of medical professionals since then who, when it’s their own child, worry that they have some rare tropical disease like Dengue fever. Too much information.
Of course, after a few close calls, some stitches, and tears, the kids grew up just fine. And then it was time to worry about the new kids, the grandkids and their fevers, falls and scrapes, but you still have to worry about the adult kids, too. That never stops. I once heard an old Hebrew saying that, “A parent can only be as happy as their saddest child.” Now that’s a burden.
I’m pretty sure that this worry wart thing is as deeply embedded in my genetic make-up as my familial hypercholesterolemia. After all, I am part Italian, and, if there were an Olympic competition in worrying, my dad’s mom would have gotten a gold medal in that sport. She said, “Oh, Nicky, Dio mio!” so many times during my youth that I started to think she was trying to get me a spiritual promotion.
Probably the most eye-opening “don’t worry” experience came from a professor at Carnegie Mellon who had written his doctoral dissertation based on a criminal’s actual chances of being caught after committing a crime. I’m not going to tell you how few times criminals are caught, especially petty criminals, because it might lead you into a life of crime, and then I’d spend the rest of my life worrying about you, too.
It was only about 10 years after that class that I also found out the rate of recidivism among criminals, and that was an even greater eye opener. I guess their motto was, “Why stop if you don’t get caught?” In some areas, almost 80 percent of the crimes being committed were being perpetrated by repeat criminals.
As I’ve alluded to many times before, due to the fact that my mom’s ancestors were Quakers, I used to hear phrases like this, “Nicky, don’t laugh so hard. Something bad will happen.” or “Nicky, laughter brings tears.”
This contributed to my deep fear of having too much joy. At first I used to worry that, if I laughed too much, someone might steal my dog, but then I remembered that I didn’t have a dog until I was over 10 years old.
Once again, as I matured and learned more about reality than probability, I went in the complete other direction and nearly laughed my dupa off. In fact, as a 42-year-old hospital administrator, I was almost asked to leave one of my graduate classes because I laughed too much. (For those of you who were wondering, it was my accounting class, and that concept is still funny to me.)
Well, right now, I’m sitting at an airport worrying about my flight, if my car will have a flat tire, and if I’ll be mugged in the parking garage. Thanks, Grandma. You rock!