The other shoe

There are nuances of conversation I have grown to hate, comments that mean no harm but leave me wishing I had said something in response.

Among them is that thing everyone (but me) can do. Where the kids run off and I gasp over a cord or a tall slide or a barely missed corner and someone waves their hand at my worries, “they’ll be fine” they say and take another sip of coffee or continue a conversation that I can’t hear anymore.

Because all I am thinking is how badly I want to say “How do you know they will be fine? What if they aren’t fine? What if the moment I think they are fine, they aren’t? Then what?”

I thought they were fine before, I thought we had been through enough and I had made it so far and there was no way anything else could go wrong. And it did and yes my mind still feels like it was yesterday even though it was five years ago.


Sunday we went to a Christmas village with family, three adults to six small kids. The giant Christmas store is nearby and we go there year-round because we are crazy like that. Our kids wander the rooms and we hang back a bit, letting them lead us to The Nutcracker Room and The Dancing Elves.

In search of The Train Spot, we all piled into the elevator, little shoulders to our waists, and in between floor one and two I said in that voice that you are not really sure is even yours “where’s McKenna?” because I already knew she wasn’t there. Mark jumped out to run down the stairs and I took the elevator back down, hoping we would be there before she noticed we were gone.

But we weren’t.

We barely spoke afterwards, we played with the kids and shopped for the week but we didn’t say anything. That touchable fear of loss had risen to the surface for us both. Letting our guard down for a second, we had enjoyed a moment and moved with life and not counted heads. And we left her.

That night we sat in bed and discussed the state of our still-nervous stomachs and attempted to restitch un-mendable wounds.

I closed my eyes knowing there will always be that other shoe. We will always be waiting for it to drop.

Some days I want to be that mom that waves the kids off, sure the world will keep them safe but most days I’m okay right here, although I would prefer a window seat with less fear.

Pretty soon they will be waving me away and wiping off my kisses so until then I will keep them within hand-holding grasp. I don’t think they will grow up to regret flying high on swings pushed by their Daddy and dressing Barbie in the outfit I velcroed on ten million times.

I’m just not sure how to hold all these hands and catch the other shoe long before it ever falls.

making a heart

How do you push past your parenting fears?



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  1. says

    I cannot tell my girls, “Mommy will never let anything bad happen to you.” I can tell them that certain things (i.e., Santa Claus and little kids in Halloween masks) won’t hurt them, and that I wouldn’t bring them any place where they would see those scary things if it would hurt them. But to promise that I will never let anything bad happen to them? I can’t promise them that – I couldn’t protect Caitlin from getting a brain defect and dying, I couldn’t protect Julia from getting a brain bleed that led to cerebral palsy – I let something bad happen to them before they were even born. And I wish I could say that, and there’s always a catch in my throat and my mind shoots to Caitlin when a normal mom would be saying it, but I never can.

  2. says

    I’m so glad she was OK.

    You know, I’m kind of known as the mom who hovers. I don’t mean to. I truly want her to have her independence. But I worry about things too. This is our precious cargo. I don’t think I should have to apologize or be embarrassed about it.
    Rach (DonutsMama) recently posted..A Thanksgiving Thank You

  3. says

    I know that feeling… I worry about Tiny every day… that one day she won’t wake up from her nap, or something will happen. And I am horribly paranoid about losing one of my children, or worse, having them snatched. I understand exactly what you mean.

    • says

      Sometimes I think that if the every day person knew the fears that go through my head on a normal basis they would think I was nuts. I think that is just what happens though after you experience loss, you already know what there is to fear.

  4. says

    While I know this is a normal fear to have, yours is of course compounded by your loss. That feeling of an uncontrollable thing happening, an unfathomable, life altering, forever changing thing happening. My fears, I think, pale in comparison to why yours are so strong because I haven’t lost a child (other than the figurative zoo loss where you do that out of body call of the name, that frantic look around, pleading eyes to strangers who don’t seem to understand MOVE, I CAN’T FIND MY KID.)

    I don’t think it’s a disservice to have a hand on them. Maybe you’ll be able to step back as they age, maybe not. But I’ll tell you this: I doubt any of your children will lament childhood or be able to say that protection (or overprotection) is the same as thwarting.
    Arnebya recently posted..NaBloPoMo No Mo

    • says

      I tell my husband that all the time, when we try to make each other feel better about our paranoia… that there are much worse things we could be than over-protective parents.

  5. says

    I can (as usual) relate completely. I like to think that one shoe dropped when Jake died and the other dropped when Sawyer died but somehow I am convinced there is another shoe out there waiting to drop. Bubble wrap would be great. Sending hope, hugs and wishes for a happy Thanksgiving. xo
    Lanie recently posted..Remembering Miracles

  6. Ninja Mom says

    This is lovely writing, Jess. A perfect vignette capturing a frightening, raw feeling.

    I haven’t experienced your sorrow. But I have a touchstone for waiting for the other shoe to drop. My father passed when I was 20. I am his only daughter, so his burial and related arrangements fell to me.

    It was a mixed bag of emotions. We had a strained relationship, but that only served to make my grief muddy.

    In any event, it’s been 16 years. For 12 years I’d been putting distance between myself and the anxiety. I was getting comfortable that the other shoe wasn’t going to drop. And then my husband’s father became ill.

    I was pregnant with our twins, my second pregnancy, when he became ill. He died before our son was born, my third pregnancy.

    I watched my husband start to process what was happening. I watched him get to the places I’d already visited. I called my mother and vented about my fears for my husband. “I don’t think he realizes his father’s dying, mom.”

    Eventually, the shoe did drop. Nothing I said or did or fretted over prevented it.

    But everything I’d lived helped me soften the impact.

    I hope and pray that the particular shoe you’re looking for is nothing more than a reaction to your past. A shadow that makes you flinch. Because, truly, nothing you say or do or fret over can prevent falling objects. But, as you’ve said so eloquently so many times, they can make you appreciate a shoe-free forecast.
    Ninja Mom recently posted..Baby Mania and a wrap-up.

    • says

      This is such a thoughtful comment Nicole and I know some where in my psyche I know this, that no matter what I do, nothing can prevent me from going through life as it happens. I can only imagine losing a parent at a young age. My husband did as well and he has such a different outlook on adulthood after he watched his mom pass in her thirties. My heart goes out to you and your husband for having to live without a parent. I’m pretty sure I still think mine are living forever.

  7. says

    “I thought they were fine before, I thought we had been through enough and I had made it so far and there was no way anything else could go wrong.”

    Oh Jessica, I live in constant fear of the other shoe not only dropping, but smacking me upside the head. Ever since we lost our precious Joey to cancer, I think, ‘Okay, what else? What else will happen?’ My seven year old has been sick with a sore throat and a fever, and the other morning he slept much later than everyone else. I was seized with panic all of a sudden because on the day Joey was diagnosed, he couldn’t get out of bed, and I didn’t realize what was going on. I so understand what you are talking about here. We know that something else can happen, and we have a heigtened sense of fear about even the smallest things.

    Hugs to you. I get it.
    Kathy at kssing the frog recently posted..Leave the Baby, Take the Pie

    • says

      I’m so sorry you get it Kathy but I know that you do. My daughter was diagnosed with a mitochondrial disorder last year and, in describing it, the doctor said “it can be degenerative.” I was so stuck on that phrase that I could barely function for weeks. I could not fathom losing another child and the fear was paralyzing. I can only imagine what you went through as you lost Joey. The only thing that seems to help me is time and getting through the days without disaster striking again.

  8. says

    The thing that finally helped me stop panicking about everything was, strangely, a story about a kid getting hit by a drunk driver while he was HOLDING his mom’s hand. It was so tragic and senseless, and then it hit me that his mom had done everything right. Horrible stuff happens, and we can’t prevent it. We can’t be everywhere and see everything and even if we could, bad stuff would still happen. The universe is so much bigger than us.
    I’m not advocating carelessness, but I am advocating letting kids be carefree. I blame the news for making parents so nervous. It isn’t fair that we hear about every crime in detail, even when it’s halfway across the world. It wasn’t like that when we were young. Our parents mostly only ever heard about local tragedies.

  9. says

    I have lost my daughter twice and am deeply scarred by both events. Once I lost her at the farmers market and it took five minutes of my husband and I running around screaming for her before we found her in the middle of the market. An older lady was holding her hand, waiting for us to turn up. The other time was at Target and she was actually hiding from me.

    I have another little guy who I know will be even worse. We haven’t lost him yet simply because he’s always in the stroller or on a leash. But it will happen eventually and I probably won’t ever be able to shake that horrible feeling when it does.
    hilljean recently posted..HillJean’s Holiday Handbook: Improving Time With Family

  10. says

    Stop scaring the hell out of me! You brought up a memory, of losing 2 year old Johnny at Lowes, that I’d rather forget. Now, he’s always away. It goes fast. Well, you know, you have a Teen yourself.
    Listen, have a wonderful Thanksgiving. And keep those babies close!
    Your Friend, m.

  11. says

    I am very much so that mom that waves things off. Sometimes I know I’m possibly too lax, too carefree and it will likely eventually catch up to me if it wasn’t for my husband who is the exact opposite and hovers around them every moment. My parenting fears are very much so ingrained in the feeling of being good enough. Of doing enough, being enough, this strange concept of measurement of what makes a good mother and a poor one.
    Marta recently posted..The Unexpected Gesture.

  12. says

    A few weeks ago, I took the kids to a fair with some friends. Normally, I’m loathe to be the “only parent” at a place like that — I, simply, don’t like being outnumbered by my own kids.

    At some point, we rode some rides and we played a game to win some goldfish. While I was negotiating with the game operator, CJ made his way over to a ride. I thought I had a good grasp of where he was, but I lost him for a second in the crowd, he turned a way that I didn’t think he’d think to turn, and, once I realized he wasn’t in my line of sight, my thoughts to “where he might be” were nowhere close to where he actually was.

    Fortunately, there were lots of other parents, all of whom saw a toddler wandering toward a ride on his own and started looking for a parent who was frantically searching about. All in total, he wasn’t lost for more than 30 seconds, but I still panic over the situation (seriously, I’m having trouble writing this, two months after the fact, while sitting at my office).

    We’ve been there . . . and while I know there will come a day that i won’t need to worry about him . . . well, I always will worry about him.
    John (Daddy Runs a Lot) recently posted..Where I attempt to make my own vanilla extract

    • says

      I know exactly what you mean, that physical panic you feel, it’s hard to let go of. I don’t even like to think about the moments before we got to McKenna and the terrified look on her face.

  13. says

    I get it! My heart had forever been scarred after the death of my baby, and then years afterwards, I have a daughter born prematurely and that altered me… I attempt to “restitch un-mendable wounds” sometimes I’m better and then sometimes, not so much.

    When my daughter turned school age I was absolutely PETRIFIED to send her off to school, somehow she was five, I’m not exactly sure how she reached it so quickly, but my brain… my heart… hadn’t caught up, yet.

    Until I read your words “I closed my eyes knowing there will always be that other shoe. We will always be waiting for it to drop.” I hadn’t thought about it like that, but it is exactly how I feel. Even though, she is no longer that medically fragile baby; I feel as if I can never let my “guard down”.

    I tried every day for 6 months to drop her off at school, but the worry was too much for me to handle. I worried if the doors were to heavy for her to open, would she be able to move about as quickly as the other kids, what if she wandered off the playground during recess (yes, it was fenced in)… reason does not matter. I withdrew her and decided to home-school; it works for us. I am grateful that we live in an area that supports home-school and offers many different programs; she attends art, science, music PE and foreign language outside of the home, which, is nice, It gives me a break for shorter periods of time and it gives her an opportunity to learn from others and she gets some social interaction.
    Amy @mommetime recently posted..The Broken Pieces

    • says

      Okay will it freak you out if I say I think we share a brain? I am going through this exact thing with sending my kids off to preschool this year and I have already decided to keep one of them home because the stress of sending her was too much for both of us. Do you mind if I email you so we can chat more about this? I’m so torn on making the decision you have already made.

  14. says

    My kids are 10, 13, and 16. I’d like to tell you that it gets easier, and in some ways, it does. But my son does things like play football, and my daughter does things like drive, and it’s just about all I do take not to wrap them in bubble wrap.
    Shannon recently posted..The Books That Built Me

    • says

      Oh bubble wrap, we all need rolls and rolls of it. And thinking about them growing up and all the ways I will have to let them go is so scary! Could you start a support group :)?

  15. says

    I know exactly how you feel. I try to “live my life”, but there’s always a fear in the back of my mind. I’ve been there, where I thought I had filled my quota of bad stuff. And then more bad stuff happened. I’m not sure you can ever get totally past that.
    Greta recently posted..Great Expectations: nerdmommathfun

  16. says

    My heart raced for you when reading this. I almost lost Dylan once. I was pouring cider for a group and he wandered away with one of the other moms. But I didn’t KNOW he was with her, so I was freaking the eff out. The whole thing was maybe three minutes but it felt like three hours.

    I am fairly lenient in terms of, “Go ahead, jump off the couch if you need to do that,” but I am nervous about things out of the house.
    angela recently posted..Around the Corner

  17. says

    Since I worked as a pediatric ER nurse, I am not fearful of injuries. I do say “Oh you’ll be fine” a lot but that doesn’t mean that I don’t attend to him and squish him to make him feel that he is ok. Now my fear is sending him to school. He has made leaps and bounds since school started but there are days. And on those days I want to scoop him up and run from that school as fast as we can, but I know he needs to be there. Learning. Growing. and hopefully he knows that when that proverbial shoe dropsl, Mom will be here.

  18. says

    I have to admit, that I am the mom that doesn’t worry too much about them getting hurt. Like at the playground. But…if we are out of the house, even in front of the house or at a friends house or somewhere “safe” I freak if they are out of my sight. It’s my worst fear that someone will snatch them or I’ll lose them. Just yesterday we were in Target and they chased each other around a corner and I yelled so loud, I’m sure the other shoppers thought I was insane. And I know people who let their kids wander and they say the same thing “She’ll scream if someone comes near her,” “He’ll be fine.”

    But exactly…what if I let my guard down and they aren’t fine or they don’t scream?
    Jaime recently posted..13.1

  19. Holly M. says


    I loved what you wrote and can really relate to waiting for the other shoe to fall! When we made it through infertifity, a difficult multiple pregnancy and an international adoption I was told to relax you have had your share of hard times. At that time i still could not shake the feeling that something else was coming. When two out of the three of triplets were diagnoised with autism people would tell me the other shoe fell, now you can relax. While I hope this is true, even at 14 and 15 I want to wrap my kids in bubble wrap and don’t feel at ease when they aren’t with me. We know what we have and have went through such a long journey to get here and I think because of that fact the fear of something happening will always take our breath away.

    • says

      I feel the same Holly, I think the NICU and all we went through to have our kids and then everything that came after just leaves us with an uneasy feeling because there has always been “one more thing” when we thought there couldn’t be.

  20. says

    I haven’t been able to push away my parenting fears at all, and I don’t have that “they’ll be fine attitude”. I keep thinking that I’ll outgrow this stage as they get older but now I’m not so sure.
    Barbara recently posted..Mama Monday!

  21. says

    Jessica, I don’t push past my fears. I am a catastrophist with a vivid imagination. I like to think I’m crazy, but then I read something or see something on the news that shows me I am lucky. I try to remind myself that most likely things will be fine. I wrote a post when I first started called Angels over My Angels. I’m not religious but I believe…
    Keesha recently posted..Bedtime: Only Curing Cancer is More Impossible

    • says

      I may borrow that description for myself and it is true, I think I’m overreacting and then I see the stories on the news and really we can’t be careful enough.

  22. says

    Wow. Powerful. I agree… I have never really been a “they’ll be fine” parent. I am a little flippant with my kids injuries now… as they have reached the age where I can usually tell how hurt they are right away… 7 and 9… so many good things in this post. Visiting from a FB follow… :)