Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Worry-wart

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Kevin, Holly, Me, Mom

One day when I was about six, my four year old brother Kevin disappeared.

I'm not sure how long he'd been gone when we noticed, but I remember the panic I felt as we tore around the house and yard looking for him - a pit in the bottom of my stomach and a creepy crawly feeling on the back of my neck. It's funny how vividly feelings can stay with you.

Sure he was just hiding, I looked all over the place, carefully checking drawers and cupboards that were far too small for him to fit into - even checking in the silverware drawer, because you just never knew. He was tricky that way.

My mother was doing that thing where you are trying really hard to remain calm, but your anxiety manifests itself in the urgency with which you perform every action - almost slammed doors, clipped words, choppy movements.

In the backyard I yelled out, "STOP HIDING. Come out RIGHT NOW. You are in SO MUCH TROUBLE." And then I burst into tears, because where on earth was he?

We eventually found him around the corner, calmly sitting on a stranger's front lawn, watching with interest as construction workers across the street framed houses. He didn't understand all of the commotion - clearly he'd been right there the entire time. Why would anyone be worried?

I remember giving him a big relieved hug, even as he was struggling away from me. I was very upset by his laissez-faire attitude about the whole thing, and scolded him repeatedly on the way home. "I'm glad you're o.k., but don't you ever do that again, you naughty boy." He made a face at me, because I wasn't his mother, after all.

I don't think I let him out of my sight for days afterward.

When my older sister was fifteen, she ran away. I was in the bathroom getting ready for an early class at school, and when I came out, our bedroom window was open and she was nowhere to be found.

I remember wandering around the house, puzzled, looking outside, looking in the bathroom again, checking our room and our tiny closet. After about thirty minutes, I woke up my parents, who exchanged panicked expressions and sprang into the same quiet, tense, anxious activity I remembered so well.

Over the next few weeks, I repeatedly fought the urge to check silverware drawers and the tiny cupboard under the blue hutch. I remember posting flyers and fighting the urge to yell, "STOP HIDING. Come out RIGHT NOW. You are in SO MUCH TROUBLE." And then crying every night as I went to sleep in the room we were supposed to be sharing, because where on earth was she?

After she came back home for good, I had a hard time letting it go. I know in the after school specials they have that one big discussion about it, and then everyone is happily-ever-after o.k. with everything, but that wasn't what happened. I kept bringing it up, over and over again - "Yeah, well you ran away! For three weeks!" - hitting her over the head with it whenever we had the slightest argument. It seemed much easier to continually scold her for leaving than to tell her - I was so scared. I'm so glad you're back. Please don't leave again.

I wonder if she realized that my obnoxious, self-centered, judgmental behavior was actually poorly expressed worry, fear and love for a sister who I idolized in spite of all of our differences.

These days, when my children do something dangerous or especially foolish, I find myself needing to fight the urge to overreact. I may be absent minded and oblivious in the middle of the day-to-day stuff, but let them do something even slightly risky and it's an entirely different story. The caution signs in my brain start blinking and I let fear and anger completely run the show.

"GET DOWN RIGHT NOW! YOU COULD LOSE AN EYEBALL LIKE THAT! GET DOWN! I SAID NOW!!!!!"

- paired with the always handy -

"whatwereyoudoinguptheredon'tyouknowthatsdangerousdon'teverdoitagain"
"younearlygavemeaheartattacknowgetinyourroomanddon'tcomeouttillIsay."

Faced with anything scary, I totally freak. Unfortunately, any lesson I'd meant to teach about the danger of their behavior is lost, obscured by the dramatic delivery of my message. After all, watching mom's head spin around is way more interesting than thinking about what they've done wrong. A day later, they don't remember that time they almost lost an eyeball - they just remember that mom completely lost it.

I sometimes flash forward a decade, to a time when I'll have a 14 year old, 16 year old and 17 year old. It scares me. Not just the idea of being around so many teenagers (who terrify me on principle), but the idea that I might get stuck in continual worry-wart scolding mode, and that we won't ever be able to talk about anything important because they know mom will totally freak.

I can already see a future version of myself, stuck on repeat, worrying them into silence, and somehow I don't think the fact that I was born this way will be much of a consolation to any of us as they stalk sullenly out of the room.

ACK.

56 comments:

  1. I have lots of moments with my 13yo where he says something crazy but I don't want to teach him never-try-to-discuss-anything-significant-with-mom so I concentrate on slowly saying, "Hmmm" or "Reeeally?"

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  2. My 17 year old daughter and 19 year old son have morphed into 'Lets Look After Mum' teenagers. They make sure that the road is safe to cross, advise on the parts of town that should be avoided, tell me what to wear and protect me from rash decisions. It is pay back time.

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  3. I can see how you would be slightly paranoid about losing people. Especially when it comes to your own kids, and not just siblings. And by losing, I don't just mean physically. There are lots of way to lose people.

    You'll have to fight against your nature, but it will be SO worth it. My own mother never had to worry about me, but did all the time with my brother. And it has put a lot of strain on their relationship - the nagging.

    So not to scare the pee out of you
    (even more than you alreayd did) but start practicing now. The deep relaxing breaths, the "It's-going-to-be-okay" self-talk, the counting to ten before responding sharply, even when it goes against everything that's been ingrained in you.

    BTW, my kids are 2 and 4. So I have I absolutely NO experience behind this unsolicited advice. =D

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  4. Yeah, I am a freakshow also. I tend to freak out rather than calmly asking them to stop playing with knives.
    I also fear the time when I have a 16, 14, and 12 year old -- two of whom are girls. Heaven help me.

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  5. I think my best strategy is to have (make) something in common with each kid. That was we can casually talk while we, shop, bake, or watch The Biggest Loser. If we have something else to do, I don't think it's quite as scary - for them or me - if I freak out. Ok, WHEN I freak out.

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  6. I love it when you say ACK. Because I can tell your imagination is totally running away with you.

    It'll be fine. We all freak out. Kids are pretty forgiving as long as that's not your primary communication with them, and as long as they know they are loved.

    PS: If someone is about to lose an eyeball, a little freaking out is probably warranted.

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  7. The trick to teens? KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT. And then just listen. Make supportive comments when necessary.

    If you haven't taught them well before they become teens, I guarantee it will be too late to teach them anything.

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  8. Whenever my Mother's face pops into my head...it's usually the one with the hideous wrinkled forehead, squinty eyes worried look I have seen half of my life.
    I vowed never to allow myself to do that so much!! Instead of the worried look...I just yell at my kids more.

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  9. Well, don't fret bc there's plenty of other reasons to worry about having a 14, 16, and 17 year old. At least most of it will be over right quick. Mine are so spread out the agony is going to go on forever . .

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  10. Debbie1:45 PM

    How strange. My sister ran away when I was younger too. I still remember that sick feeling when we realized she wasn't coming back. When she did come back three months later, she was a totally different person and I never knew what to say to her. Our family was very physically demonstrative though, and I think that went a long way. From what I've read of you, you're that way too, hang on to that, it will help.

    Here's what I think. You're already pretty aware of the things you need to work on, and you're actually thinking about how you parent, so I think you'll be o.k. Being self aware goes a long way. Lots of people never even think about it, they just react.

    Also, please please please update the Cordy blog. I'm dying to know what happens next. Because I have no life.

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  11. Carrie1:49 PM

    Hey! You finally opened comments back up to us non-blog having folks. Yahoo!

    My little sister got lost once when I was eight and she was three. I still remember how scared I was. You are right, it's funny how vividly it stays with you.

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  12. LOL! My mom was pretty much the opposite; she wouldn't even look up, unless we were being disruptive, and THAT wasn't ok in our house. But my younger sister was so accident-prone that I think my mom got used to it: "Everybody in the car! We have to take Jen to the doctor because her arm is broken." The rest of us: "AGAIN??"

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  13. I don't think there's much that compares to the panic a parent feels upon finding their child has disappeared. I'm glad you found your brother and your sister!

    Bugaboo had this awful habit of running away in the store, thinking it was funny. I was at my wits end, not knowing what to do, so this past year I 'let' him get lost. He ran down a different aisle in the store and we went down another one. With the set of lungs he has I knew he wouldn't be lost for long. Finally he started screaming and crying, and we followed the sound up a few aisles where he was with an employee.

    People may judge, but he hasn't done it since. I had tried everything I could think of prior to that. Spanking, taking things away, timeouts right there in the store. He has had a rough time with his developmental delays, but he is now a pretty normal six-year-old. I was more terrified of having to leave my other kids alone to chase him. Now he knows better. He may be scarred for life, but at least he's still with me!

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  14. I read. I loved. I had too little time to write an insightful or sweet comment and left you this ridiculous cut and paste thingy instead. Mwah!

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  15. I'm the worrying mom. And the mom that freaks out.

    My 16 year old DID disapear on me (only for a few hours, she is ok) a while ago, and while I handled it not great, I was totaly honest with her about my feelings and why I freaked out and I think it helped.

    So maybe sharing this post, right here, with them, might help a little.

    Maybe I have a resilient teen, but she warns me "mom, this is going to freak you out, but just listen" and tells me stuff anyway.

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  16. What a perfect day for me to find your blog!! I am totally this way, and I hate it! My friends, who are completely level-headed, think I'm nuts, and my kids already think it's funny to watch me freak out, and they're only 3 1/2. I've even heard them telling their dolls, "don't flip out!" Is there some sort of therapy for this?

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  17. I was in Sports Authority one time (because trust me, if I need to find an authority on sports it's going to have to be in a store) and my son would NOT stay within eyesight. I finally took him aside and explained that I was not just trying to be mean, but that once upon a time there was a boy named Adam in a department store and when his parent turned their back for ONE SECOND he was gone and later found dead. I don't think he remembers the part about the kidnapping, but I'm pretty sure he remembers the day mom lost it at Sports authority. ACK is right.

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  18. Here's what I learned about this from my 4 year old: When my 3 year old got lost at the mall (and another time at the zoo, and another time... ok, you get it), I panicked. I KNEW he was gone, not just hiding in a rack of clothes. I started running around frantically talking to employees and shoppers, half coherent, half frozen. My four year old did this: "Dear Heavenly Father, please help us find Clark. We don't know where he is, please help us find him." And within moments, problem solved. He had slipped into the elevator and pushed buttons and disappeared to another floor in the mall. Some God-sent angel brought him down the escalator back to us. I learned pray first, react later. But believe me I understand the immediate mind-numbing reaction.

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  19. Oh, me too! Whenever I'm scared, anger is my go-to secondary emotion (not that it does any good). And I hate that about myself. I grew up in a house where you just never knew the next thing that would set Dad off and the raging monster inside would come out.

    I don't want to be that person.

    I work hard at just saying, wow, I was scared!

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  20. Oh, I can SO relate. Mostly because I am the designated disciplinarian in the family. And because I actually CARE about my kids' safety, unlike their father. So I worry too that they won't come to me when they are teenagers, or that I'll be a nag. But if they're safe and self-disciplined and successful kids, won't it all have been worth it?

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  21. I used to think my mom was such a worry-wart (still do, actually), and now I find myself doing and saying the same things she did.

    Sigh.

    And sometimes I find myself gasping out loud when my husband and son are roughhousing in a way that I wouldn't do.

    I gotta get a grip.

    Prayer does help.

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  22. Well said.

    I think we can all relate, I know I can.

    You'll get through it, as we all will, one day at a time.

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  23. Some days, I wonder when the mom is going to come and get her kids. Then I realize I AM the mom...

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  24. Maddison4:51 PM

    Excellent post. I loved your honesty and clarity in both recalling your past and considering your future. I think it's so true that many times we as mothers (and just people in general) have the best intentions, really want our TRUE feelings to come across, and yet we muddy it with things that do just the opposite (fear, worry, anger, etc.)

    Thank you, great post.

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  25. That made me cry, I'm not sure why. I do freak out when someone goes missing too. I come from a long line of worry warts, at least 4 generations that I know of. I would NEVER tell my mom anything concerning, NEVER let her in on anything I thought would make her worry, so she wouldn't freak out. I would have been the same, but one day the light just dawned and I changed my perspective. Most of the time, my teen does tell what's going on, and sometimes when she keeps a secret, but lets me know later what went down, she's surprised that I handle it calmly and rationally. Not that I'm not sort of freaking out inside.
    I still do the snappy stuff over things that need to stop immediately, like you're about to see an eye get poked out, but I do explain later. Maybe you just need to start with the filling them in later part?

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  26. You will learn more from those interactions with your eventual teenagers than from any other experience/relationship in your life. At least, I did. True, it was hair-raising at times. But it was all worth it. Amazingly, we all managed to come out in one piece, and they are even responsible and loving adults! (I have to admit I'm happy to be on the other side of it. Only one of my four was even close to easy.)

    You'll manage, though. You've got a good head on your shoulders, which is good because you'll need it!

    BTW, I agree with an earlier poster that it doesn't matter so much if you freak out in the moment. The main thing is to explain/apologize/listen later, while still being firm (in a more neutral way, of course). Fun, fun, fun.

    =)

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  27. I remember all too well when my two-year-old vanished at a hotel. I woke up to find the door open - and we were right in front of the beach. I did NOT handle it well. Slumped to a puddle on the floor and lost myself to visions of him being carried out to sea. Oh, and I screamed. A lot. An hour later, we found him underneath his bed - fast asleep. Apparently he'd fallen off and never woke up.

    Stinker. I STILL break out into a cold sweat just thinking about it.

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  28. Those stories sound scary. I hope you overcome the overreaction or at least temper it, it can be learned. ;) You can do it!

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  29. (This is the evil older sister posting) Hey Sis, I always knew you meant well! I think I felt so awful about causing my family such pain that I had a hard time dealing with any type of response to it all. Love you!

    On a funny note, I'll share a little story with you. This past year I had friends living with us. They have a little 4 year old bold who was one smart little cookie. Well, one day while the mom is home alone with him, she decides to take a little snooze on the couch. She wakes up a few minutes later and couldn't find him anywhere. Now, getting out of our house is a little bit difficult for a 4 year old because we have the heavy security bars and doors, and the locks on the door can be a bit of an effort to open. And, the doors were still locked. She called me hysterical, so I rushed home to help with the search. We live right next to a school, so I thought he might have headed over there to go play with the kids. And sure enough he had. But the police had also been called. The police came over and called Child Protective Services and made her feel like a terrible mother. They didn't believe her that all the doors were still locked and that she hadn't been neglecting her child. So after the police left, we stuck Ethan (the little boy) back in the house and locked the doors to see just how he was escaping. I'm not going to give it away, but you can see for yourself here if you'd like a little chuckle. Needless to say we saved the video for CPS. They dropped the case!

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  30. Well that should be 4 year old boy, not bold. Well, he was bold....ummm yea.

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  31. I worry that I am doing this to our kids, too. I fly off the handle about things and have such a reaction (in an attempt to just get them to stop whatever it is they are doing) that I often worry that I am not really teaching them anything from the experience. Well, except that Mom will freak out and yell and over-react. It really isn't fair to my kids to have a Mom who selfishly indulges that side of her personality, huh?

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  32. heehee I posted my comment right after Holly Kay. This one and the last one are Holly Marie. :)

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  33. I remember the first post you ever commented on of mine was where I talked about the Tao of Three. The three of us - the three of you. It's a delicate balance.

    Of course, Shortman is 1 for me. But there are three for Mr. Hot. And it's such a delicate balance that we maintain between scaring them from ever talking to us to ensuring their safety and success.

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  34. Wow, your mom is gorgeous.

    I've lost children temporarily before. Once a little toddler climbed between the bed and the wall and snuggled up all cozy-like. She slept right through the screaming/flipping out/chaos but woke up for the laughing/crying/hugging part.

    Yeah. Teens. Love 'em. Great conversation when they deign to speak to me. And they're cute in their own biggish way.

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  35. My 9-year-old will look at me with concern and ask me whether I'm going to be alright.

    Sheesh.

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  36. Don't worry. They'll stalk sullenly to their rooms no matter how you act. Unless, of course, you give them absolutely everything they want.

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  37. I agree with "hhmmmm...." and "really..."

    My little brother was kidnapped from a neighbors yard when I was 6 (he was 5).
    Don't think THAT didn't come up in therapy!

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  38. Jami - Thank you. You made my day!
    Sue- the incident with your brother, in reflection, makes me laugh. I'll never forget seeing you searching in tiny drawers about four inches high for the younger brother who was bigger than you! As for the disappearing older sister...that was, without exception, the most terrifying, horrific, experience of my life - the weeks of "not knowing". Just keep loving those kids of yours and let them know you only freak out because you love them so much that you can't handle the thought of losing them or having them hurt.
    I probably should have "freaked out" a whole lot more than I have.

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  39. I am damaging my DD in a different way. I threaten her with my leaving. "I am so out of here" then you'll wish I was yelling at you. Yeah. We will be on Dr Phil in 8 years. Scheduled and booked.

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  40. So far, my oldest isn't much of a risk taker and my little one is too small to wander far enough to scare me, but I remember my older one wandering away from me in an airport in the few seconds I took a drink of water, and that sixty seconds of abject terror still sticks with me. I refuse to even think about how that's going to feel when they're teenagers!

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  41. Reading that just about gave me a panic attack! I do that too and now I'm thinking of them as teenagers...ugh. I was a teenager once and I'm sure I gave the rents a run for thier money!

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  42. b., was your brother brought back safely? Please tell us the story has a happy ending.

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  43. It'll come.

    I think.

    What do I know, my oldest is only 8?

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  44. Just recognizing this will go a long way in helping you deal with it. And posting about it helps the rest of us look at ourselves, too.

    I even love you when your serious.

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  45. I have made it very well so far with my sixteen-year-old...but then she is my rational, responsible one. Coming up in a few years is the child that, as my older daughter puts it, is going to be a "normal" teenager. I'm not sure that I will survive. :o)

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  46. My children are 18, 16, 14, 13 and 9. I say that to tell you that I have a little experience in this area. I was raised by a very paranoid father. We did nothing risky at all as children. When I had my kids I vowed not to pass on my fears and anxieties about their curiosities on to them. Don't get me wrong, we don't run with scissors on a regular basis, at least not without the protective eye gear, but I watch my kids grow...growth means re-potting to a bigger pot, giving more ground to spread the roots. Growth. You will do beautifully! God Bless your every moment!

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  47. I am totally afraid of being a worry wort mom.

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  48. I find it funny that Kevin hid from the family when he was little AND when he grew up.

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  49. Rebecca, I did the same thing with PW--letting her get lost for a minute so she'd quit running away. All that did was make her scream, "MOMMY, DON'T LEAVE ME! DON'T LEAVE ME HERE!!!" Little brat made me look horrible. She still runs away from me in the store.

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  50. It's truly terrifying...

    I have a 16 & 18yr old.

    I pray a lot. That's all I can do!

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  51. OH MY GOSH - I am probably the same age as your mom because I so recognize the dress she has on --I am sure I owned one very similar, the dreaded (but at the time infamous) POLYESTER-----yikes!!
    Found you blog through my neice. good stories.
    wendy-ericgunderson.blogspot.com

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  52. Anonymous2:59 PM

    http://movies.msn.com/movies/galleryfeature/lost-twilight-script/?photoidx=1

    Thought you'd like this. By the way.

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  53. Oh my goodness- you sound just like me sometimes (only funnier). Have you heard of Parenting With Love and Logic? It is SO awesome. We just finished up the course, and I'm going to recommend it to everyone I know.

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  54. Holy cats, Sue. Commenting on you is about as futile as commenting on Pioneer Woman. Let me tell you, from the standpoint of someone who has raised 'em up and sent 'em out: the worst times were the ones when I finally succumbed to those snotty semaphores in the great and spacious "You're so overPROTECTIVE" motel, and cast my eyes about and actually chose to loosen the apron strings momentarily.

    Yeah. EVERY DARN TIME something TERRIBLE happened. So I'm all for over-reaction, hovering and spying - as long as you let them know that's what you're doing. Let the feckless mothers of the earth have their opinions, but you only get two eyeballs, and they don't work well as a single.

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