Parents are all too familiar with the sort of anxiety that can subconsciously nag at you all day long, before really kicking in at night.
While we’re up and about and keeping busy, it’s possible to shush the parental panic that ever resides just below our breastbones — that is implanted within us at our children’s births. It begins as a seed that we water and over-water with our worst fears and deepest imaginings of all the ways they are vulnerable, all the ways kids can be hurt either physically or emotionally or in the psyche. Hurt by the world in all its vagaries. Hurt by us, too, no matter how perfect we try to be.
These anxieties burst fully into flower once you’ve crawled into bed, when every distant siren pulls at the gut, and every unanswered text indicates catastrophe, until you finally hear your new driver pull into the driveway, or your nearly 40-year-old one texts you that he is safely home.
I wish I could tell you that the worries and the angst go away once your kids have made it into adulthood and proved themselves to be responsible, mostly-sane people. I once knew a woman — a very smart, balanced college professor and social worker — who, after a family gathering, instructed her five grown children to call her when they’d arrived safely home. “Not just home,” she admitted to me, once. “I made them promise to call me when they were in their pajamas and tucked into their beds. And that’s exactly what they did. Five phone calls, one after the other, all making fun of me, but I slept well that night!”
When I wondered if bad weather had caused her to make such an explicit demand of her middle-aged children she said, “No. I just always need to know they’re safe.”
That’s all any of us ever really want to know: that our kids are safe. And happy. But mostly safe, because if they’re not safe, they’re not happy.
There was one night when my quite-responsible eldest was at college and too busy to text reassurances to his over-anxious mother; the younger one, also quite responsible, was driving. It was only lightly raining out. But a light rain in autumn means there’s just enough water to loosen the oils on the road, and make them slippery. There are just enough wet leaves on the road to create sliding conditions on corners taken too fast.
And so as I settled into bed and looked at my phone — with no eye-rolling emoticon coming via a campus text, and the lone peal of a siren sounding from about three miles away, my concern went through the roof and so did my prayers. I went to the top — the head guy, Michael the Archangel — asking him to send angels out to wherever my sons were, and whomever they were with, to keep them safe, to protect them from evil or injury.
Then I talked to Raphael for a while, asking his prayers in case either of my kids happened to be injured or ill, and also directing that famously healing angel toward a few people I knew who needed help. Finally I nagged Gabriel — God’s messenger, no less, but yes I am that presumptuous — to nag my sons into texting me or otherwise letting me know they were all right.
Then of course, I started in on my own guardian angel, nudging her (I am convinced my guardian angel manifests in my life as a Black woman of varying ages, always giving me the best advice and then disappearing before I can say thank you) to bother the guardian angels of my sons — to make sure they were on duty.
Since it was raining, after all, I also harangued Michael about sending angels of protection to our house, to guard all of our exits and entrances, chimneys and cracks, against damage, flooding, and so forth.
I bothered many tiers of angels until, suddenly, my bedroom seemed alive with weird lights dancing upon my ceiling. They seemed to come out of nowhere. My husband, who had been fast asleep, was suddenly awake, his eyes wide as he looked straight up. “What’s going on,” he wondered.
“I think it’s angels,” I told him.
He was silent for a moment, just watching, and then asked, “Why are they here?”
“I sort of called them,” I admitted. “I asked a lot of favors, including that they come and protect us and the house.”
“I wish you’d cut that out,” he said, turning over and pulling the blankets. “I’m trying to sleep, and that’s weird!”
Feeling a little like the rich lady in “My Man Godfrey” who shooed away the pixies each morning, I thanked the angels for their attention to all my prayers, and for the new consolation I felt in that tender spot under the breast. Instantly, I heard the teenager pull into the driveway. A second later, the phone pinged, and the college student texted, “I was in the library. I’m FINE!”
And like my friend the professor, I slept well that night. It is good to call on angels.
Elizabeth Scalia is culture editor for OSV News.