Confessions of a Weather-Beaten Helicopter Mom

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“I don’t want you on the road in a snowstorm,” I told my 18-year-old son, Noah. It was Wednesday, two days before his scheduled departure, even before forecasts were dire.

“It’s fine,” he said. Translation: “If the bus leaves, I plan to be on it.”

He and 56 of his high school classmates had arranged a group trip to Killington, Vt., from our New Jersey suburb for a weekend of skiing. He’d asked if he could go months earlier, saying he’d pay for it himself with his earnings from his tutoring job. I’d nodded at the time, giving weather no thought at all.

I never imagined I’d be an overprotective mother. Pregnant for the first time at 34, I envisioned myself carrying my baby in a backpack, hiking, camping, going to concerts. I assumed kids were indestructible, until I had my own and discovered how breakable they can be.

The first time Noah got stitches he was 18 months old. The tip of his finger ripped apart while my husband was holding him on his shoulders and closing an iron gate. My husband was not inattentive, but he happens to be legally blind, so I felt an additional responsibility to keep our two sons safe. At the park, at the ocean. We had a handful of emergency room visits before he was 6 – for asthma, more stitches and possible concussions – many on my watch. I’d spent my teenage years dancing barefoot to the Grateful Dead and hitchhiking to the mall, but the realization that my eyes had to do double duty ultimately curbed my free spirit.

My worrywart ways evolved gradually, expanding in sweep to cover everything from Y2K to undercooked meat. Some days I’d forbid my children to leave the house if I thought it too windy.

But because this trip was important to Noah, I tried to moderate my concern. On Thursday morning, I vowed not to engage in any Storm Porn – no weather online, no weather in the car. When the weather girl showed up on the flat screen at the gym, I averted my eyes. Ultimately I failed. “Just one little AccuWeather forecast,” I told myself around noon. From there I became unglued.

That afternoon, I called the tour company to ask what they’d do if the storm was as bad as predicted. “We’ll postpone,” the owner said.

I called back two hours later to recite the latest forecast. “They’re saying over 24 inches.”

“Ma’am, are you aware that in order to ski you need snow?”

“I really don’t think you should go,” I told my son, a creature who now towered over me. Who shaved.

“Everyone’s going,” he said, running out the door for work.

Friday morning, officials announced road closures and suspension of mass transit. People were implored to stay home except for emergencies. I called the company again. “Why haven’t you canceled this trip?” I demanded.

“What did you say your name was?” he asked.

I quickly hung up.

I could forbid Noah to go, but he was leaving for college in six months – time I didn’t care to spend with a petulant teenager stomping around telling me I’d ruined his life. The truth is, defending my boys from every imaginable hazard was exhausting, frequently leaving me too worn out to fight with them. Besides, putting my foot down would have been the tactic of a person with backbone — not me. I’d failed at Ferber. I’d let him quit piano. Back when he was in middle school, he would boast that he’d never eaten a green salad in his life.

I looked back wistfully on our early emergency room visits, when holding still for X-rays was easily accomplished with the promise of a Pokémon card – a commodity that had sadly lost its value.

Fortunately, I had another idea.

I called a select group of moms – picking carefully those whose children had substantial social currency. If those kids were not permitted to go, the rest would fall like a row of dominoes, I was certain.

“They’re all going to die,” I said, privately puzzled that I seemed to be the only mother who understood the peril. A few came around, and finally I thought I could relax.

But teenagers don’t always do what they’re told. As departure time neared, text messages alerted my son that the kids I had assured him were not going on the trip had actually just found their seats on the bus.

The problem with anxiety is that it both does and doesn’t make sense. We don’t want to be helicopter parents, so worried about our children that we keep them from having full, adventurous lives. Still, all I could imagine was the scene in “The Sweet Hereafter,” where parka-clad children wave out the back window of their school bus just before it skids off the road, slides down an embankment and sinks into a lake.

Of course, I didn’t wish my son’s bus would get into an accident. But if it did, at least I could say, “I told you so.”

Noah picked up his snowboard and headed for the front door. Nothing I’d read about the leisurely development of the prefrontal cortex prepared me for my smart, capable son making such a stupid decision. Helpless and desperate, I resorted to the bottom rung of the parenting ladder.

Turns out, bribing an 18-year-old was not so different from bribing a preschooler; it just cost more. “I’ll take you on a trip! For a week! You can bring someone!” I thought negotiations would be drawn out but was surprised by how readily he conceded.

Somehow everyone on the ski trip made it to Vermont and back alive. Months later, when the weather was warm and dry, I took Noah and a friend to Seattle. While there, the two of them ended up going camping alone for two nights. I drove them up a switchback mountain road so treacherous that I wept the entire way back down. My son ended up cutting open his foot and could barely walk for the rest of the trip. But the Seattle sky was a consoling blue, and even as I dressed his wounds, I felt somehow as if I’d still done my job.