According to sophisticated population studies, millions of people actually live in the upper Midwest. And the vast majority of those people, despite the bitter cold and all that snow, manage to work and travel and get where they need to go.
But those facts didn’t comfort me when my son has to travel home from college in Wisconsin in the middle of winter for his first Christmas break. When I turned into the neurotic Jewish mother from hell.
Before he is due to head home, I start checking the weather online. I start checking TWO weeks before his trip. Several times a day. And in this way I learn that on the internet, you can check the weather forecast HOURLY. What a godsend for people who really need to know these things—pilots or boat captains or cross country truck drivers. What a nightmare for people like me.
So 10 days before Daniel’s trip, I start checking the hourly forecast in Madison, Wisconsin, where he is. Also in Denver, where he would change planes. And here in Monterey, where he would land.
I know the temperature. I know the wind speed. I know the humidity. I know the probability of precipitation. I know all these things in all 3 places on his route and exactly what problems he could potentially encounter.
This behavior is far more hazardous than the weather itself.
I mention to V that Daniel is also checking the weather beforehand. He is surprised that I have indoctrinated Daniel into my neurotic patterns. And he gives me a look—like, How do you get through the day?
“I think it’s normal to check the weather reports,” I say. “What would you do?”
“I’d just go out to the airport.”
I live with V so I know this is absolutely true. When V travels, he doesn’t check the weather where he starts or where he’s going. He doesn’t check if his flight is on time. He just goes. Can life really be that simple??
Not for me. Although I admit— sometimes I wonder if worrying sends messages out into the universe. Could my worrying be powerful enough to change weather patterns?
Apparently it is.
Daniel gets to the airport in Madison and finds out all flights are cancelled. All day.
Of course I’m prepared for this–which is the payoff for being neurotic. While Daniel was taking his final that morning, unaware that his mother had interfered with atmospheric conditions, I spent the morning working on a backup plan. And I got the last ticket on the last flight out of Chicago to the west coast.
This new route involves Daniel taking a short taxi ride from the airport back into Madison. Then he would get a bus ticket, and take a 3-hour bus trip into O’Hare. Simple. He has plenty of time.
Daniel is a sophisticated kid, and extremely responsible. My part was done. Now I could sit back and relax, and pick him up at the airport in San Jose late that night. Like a “normal” mother would.
I wish I could report that is what I did.
An hour or so goes by. I don’t hear from Daniel. I really make an effort NOT to drive them crazy call my kids. So I don’t. I know his phone battery is low. I figure he is on the bus or waiting in his dorm to take the bus. I think a normal mother would assume that, too. So far, so good.
But then I start to cave. The internet is a minefield for the neurotic.
There’s so much information, just a click away. The weather in Madison. The weather in Chicago. The earlier flights from Chicago to San Jose.
Now I see weather warnings about the fog. Some flights in Chicago are delayed. And I think, maybe the fog would be a problem not only at the airport, but on the highways–and that means Daniel’s bus headed for Chicago. There could be heavy holiday traffic on the roads, plus fog–and that combination spells a-c-c-i-d-e-n-t-s. (You can’t verbalize these things. Not if you’re a neurotic Jewish mother.) Maybe Daniel should wait another day till the weather clears up. I don’t even know if he is on the bus yet. Probably he is. But maybe not. And that means there is a possibility that he can stay in Madison, and avoid the potential c-r-a-s-h awaiting his bus on the highway to Chicago.
(Thank god I don’t live in a snowy climate. The mental activity would be exhausting.)
Usually I manage to restrain myself from allowing my neurotic thoughts to leach out of my own brain. Especially not onto my kids. But sometimes there are setbacks.
I decide my fear of the highway outweighs my self-control and self-imposed vow of silence. I text Daniel: How about waiting in Madison till the fog lifts? Skip Chicago and come home tomorrow. No answer. Did that mean he is still in Madison? Is he on the bus? Is he already involved in an accident on the way from Madison to Chicago?
I wait another hour. I switch into a higher gear and try to phrase it like a normal mother would: Just want to know where you are and what’s happening.
Another half hour, the text sounds more like the real me: I am not panicked….yet.
Meanwhile I’m still clicking. Checking the weather. Checking his flight. I haven’t yet checked with the Wisconsin Highway Patrol for accident scenes–but it does cross my mind.
Finally Daniel texts me back. He got a seat on the bus. His phone battery was low. He didn’t think I would worry. He fell asleep and didn’t notice my text messages until he woke up. He is already in Chicago waiting to board the plane home. He did what a normal kid would do.
And finally I do what a normal mother would do. I act casual, and tell him I’ll see him at San Jose airport later that night.
This post is part of a sporadic series I call “Uncontrollable Mothering.” For other examples, click here.