I'm worried

By Susy Schultz

I'm built for worry. My official greeting around the house or office is not, "How are we all doing?" It's "Anything to worry about?"

I try to be a half-full-glass gal but I can't help but wonder: What if someone drops the glass?

What can I say? I see worrying as a strength, an acknowledgment that we've got problems and we are thinking about them.

Besides, guilt and worry are the cornerstones of my religion. (Really, they are integral to any religion.) And worry is the keystone of my chosen profession-journalism. I like to think we worry so you don't have to.

Add to it that I am a mother, and the pool of potential worries grows exponentially.

There is a daily battle that rages within me when my children leave the house. I am the silent female version of Telly, the Sesame Street monster, nicknamed Mr. Worrywart. I can't help it: When they walk out the door into that big world, will they come back? Is that cough from a cold or SARS? What am I doing today, that will land them on the psychiatrist's couch tomorrow? When they are out of my sight, are they still polite? Are they happy? Are they healthy?

As parents, we suppress a multitude of "what-ifs" to survive.

This year, I find myself even more worried.

I'm not sure why. Maybe the boys are older, so my worries are bigger. Maybe I'm getting older. (I know I don't look it, but it is happening.)

But maybe it has more to do with who is in the White House. I don't think he worries enough. How can you trust someone who doesn't worry?

Worry is part of who I am. I embrace it. I own it. Years of therapy have whittled away but a small portion of my propensity.

And while I spend a lot of time on it, I also would like to think I do it well. Still, I can always use tips.

So I consider the Worry Index required reading. The Annual Survey of Illinois Voters is conducted by the Coalition for Consumer Rights. The index, based on interviews with 821 registered voters conducted during a two-week period this past fall, outlines the worries uppermost in our minds.

It affirms we are not alone in our angst. It's quite a comfort. "Households with children simply worry more than households without," says Gail Siegel, the coalition's executive director.

Well, there are other points in the study not so painfully obvious, including:

n Women worry more than men. (OK, this one is excruciatingly obvious.)

n As income level rises, worry intensity diminishes. (I'll get back to you when my income rises.)

But the most interesting part of the report reads: "The year 2003 was different. Intensity of worry rose in every category tested."

See? It's not just me.

And what about the White House?

"I'm absolutely certain that it has to do with who is in the White House," says Siegel. "But I don't think it is related to someone's lucidity or stupidity or even their ability to give a speech."

Or not give a speech?

"Rather, it's the impact of the White House policies and how they affect the world," says Seigel.

"When the economy is uncertain it spills out across every category," says Seigel. "Anxiety is high now."

My friend the rabbi believes there are two types of parents. Some, when their children are born, turn inward-trying to fix home and hearth.

Others look outward. They see the world's problems, and feel called to fix them before passing the world on to their children. The rabbi, who left for Israel last week, is an outtie. Bush didn't travel to Europe before his presidency-not a sign of an outtie.

Me? My inward worries are similar to my parental worries: the boys, their education, health, safety and happiness. Those are peppered with the mortgage, the flowers growing in the gutters, taxes, my job and the yet-to-be-determined sex of our iguana.

But I have some pretty meaty outward worries.

n Why are nearly 40 percent of U.S. children-27 million-living in low-income families?

n If children are important to us and we know their early years are critical and three out of five U.S. kids under age 6 are in daycare, why do we allow the majority of U.S. childcare to be poor to mediocre? And why are we spending $52 million for a campaign to introduce the new $20 bill?

n Why are our children dying in Iraq-these soldiers are our boys and girls-and isn't $87 billion a lot to spend on a war that is supposed to be over?

n Why are our children dying in our streets from gangs and gunfire? Chicago's gang-related homicides are the highest in the nation. These are still our children even if they have made bad choices.

With all this, Bush has to be worried, right?

After all, he is our leader. So I went on a quest for the the President's worry index.

I searched every radio address he's made for the past four months on topics such as Iraq, No Child Left Behind and the war on terrorism. I also looked through the five major speeches he has made this year. What did I find? He's "determined," "firm," "resolute" and even "committed."

But not once did he say "I'm worried." Not even "you might be worried" or "don't worry."

If you measure a man by his words, Bush is simply not worried. Maybe, that's why the rest of us are picking up the slack.


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