My daughter told me today, as we went on a walk through our neighborhood, that she doesn’t like walking by the pond.

“I don’t like going this way, mama.”


“Because what if I fall in?  What if I drown?”

What if.  That dreaded phrase.  I know “what if” like I know the sound of my breath drawing in and back out.

*  *  *

When I was little, we lived in New Orleans.  Whenever we went to visit my grandmother in Mississippi, which was several times each year, we had to drive over the Pontchartrain Bridge.  If you don’t know, the Pontchartrain Bridge is the longest bridge in the world.  For me, it was 24 miles of unmitigated terror.

The bridge is situated very low over the water.  As you pass over it, you’re almost convinced you could reach out and touch the murky, swampy lake water and the dead stumps of cypress trees poking up out of it.  If you’re a small, anxious child riding in the back seat, all you see is this, for miles and miles:

postpartum depression

And miles.  Nothing but bridge, and water.

I always imagined us going over the side.  My mind would play the scenario over endlessly the entire way across the bridge.  I knew it would happen when we were way out in the middle, too far from land for any rescue people to get to us quick.  I’d try to think through what I would do, how I would get out of the car, what I might try and hold on to.  I had no idea how deep it was, or what might be in that water.  I was just CONVINCED that one day my luck would surely run out and I’d end up there and there’d be nothing I could do to save myself.

Did other children who rode in cars over that bridge have the same anxiety? I have no idea.  For me, it was just one of my “what ifs”.  I hated that bridge.  In fact, I’d probably go out of my way to avoid driving over it even now, just so I wouldn’t have to relive how traumatic it was for me as a child.

*  *  *

As I walk with my daughter by the pond, she says she doesn’t like it.  She angles her body away from it, as if it might reach out and grab her.  What if she falls in, she asks, even though we’re walking at least six feet away from the very shallow edge.  This is a serious concern for her.  I can hear it in her voice.

I’ve never mentioned Pontchartrain Bridge to her.  We’ve never discussed drowning, or any fear that I may have had as a child.  I know how to swim.  So does she.  I like water and so does she.  So how is it that she has the same kind of what if?  How can it be that my troubled bridge over troubled water is hers too?

Maybe it’s normal to have fears and anxiety like I had as a child.  I don’t know what normal is.  I never felt comfortable enough to tell my parents how afraid I was of that bridge, or how my heart practically beat right out of my chest or that I was barely able to breathe for however long it took to drive over it.  I never told them.  I knew they’d dismiss my fears as ridiculous, without ever really trying to understand me.  I didn’t think anybody would understand me and my “what if” mind.

I asked my daughter, “What would happen if you fell in?”

“You would get me out,” she says, half questioning and half assured.

“That’s right, presh.  I’d get you out immediately.  It’s okay that it makes you nervous. I’m right here with you.”

I know what ifs.  I know anxiety.  I’ve lived with it.  I want to hear her troubles and fears.  I want her to know that she can be whoever she is with me, and I will encourage her and let her know it’s okay.  I will never dismiss her outright.  I know the fear is as real to her as it was to me.

As much as possible, as much as is appropriate, I will be a safe bridge, a bridge without fear.  I will be my children’s bridge over all the troubled water.

I’m on your side 
When times get rough 
And friends just can’t be found 
Like a bridge over troubled water 
I will lay me down 
Like a bridge over troubled water 
I will lay me down