Thursday, November 13, 2014

fraidy cat

When I was little.. I don't even remember how little, I think I was probably 8 or so... we were on our way to Tahoe but we had to stop by my step-dad's work so he could pick something up. It was dark out. We parked right by the back door of the building. Being the independent whatever-year-old I was, I wanted to stay in the car. (I know this would be frowned upon in this day and age, but this was totally normal in 1988. Maybe leaving me in the dark was ill-advised, but nothing CPS-worthy.) My parents said it would just be a minute. They took my little sister in with them. I have no idea how long they were in there. I can't imagine it was very long. I'd say thirty minutes at the absolute outside. It was probably closer to twenty-five or who knows, maybe even fifteen. In any event, it was enough time for me to nearly lose my mind.

Now, we've already established that I'm a bit of a head-case so I can't speak for the psychological normality of my reaction. But here's what happened. After a few minutes, I started to get worried. It was dark. We were downtown. There were dark figures walking by. At some point, a hoodie-cloaked homeless dude pushing a cart knocked on the window of the car, which freaked me the f*ck out.

At this juncture I started watching the time click by and became more and more agitated with every passing minute. For some reason, I got it in my head that they had forgotten me and that I was basically going to have to live in my mom's car. I finally worked up enough courage to dash out of the car, running the gauntlet of murky mysterious people lurking nearby, to the back door of the building. I knocked. No one answered. I waited. I knocked again. I rang what looked like a bell but did not hear any sound, and still no answer. So I ran back to the car. I waited a little longer. I was so upset and my mind was just going on all these literally insane tangents, so I started counting to calm myself. When that no longer worked, I ran back to the door and started frantically pounding on it. Finally someone came to the door. I tried to hold back my tears. Even at such a young age, I knew the importance of trying not to seem crazy to strangers. I said I was looking for my mom and my stepdad. I told her my stepdad worked there, and that he and my mom and my little sister had entered that door a little while ago to get something he needed from his desk. I gave my stepdad's name. The woman said she didn't know anyone by that name. I repeated his name again, and again. She looked at me helplessly and shook her head. I began to cry. She asked if I wanted to come in and try to call him, but I didn't know his work number by heart, and this was (way) before cell phones. Something told me not to go into this building with this strange woman, even though she seemed perfectly nice. What if my parents came back to the car and I wasn't there and they just left without me?

So I went back to the car. I locked all the doors, and proceeded to have what I can only describe as a psychotic episode. I sat huddled between the front seats, rocking back and forth, blasting the music and frenetically flipping the radio station. I counted some more, cried, SCREAMED. I remember the feeling SO keenly. It is still buried in there, raw under all those layers. I was one hundred percent convinced that from that point forward, I was going to have to live in my mom's beemer for the rest of my natural life, panhandle for my dinner and ingratiate myself in the downtown Sacramento homeless community at the tender age of 7. I know that sounds crazy and, for that moment, I really was.

that first part doesn't sound half bad.
When my parents came back, I LEAPED out of the car and JUMPED into my moms arms. Then I pushed her away from me and started screaming at her (not unlike my reaction to my husband after he leaves me alone with the kids for the weekend). I yelled "I THOUGHT YOU LEFT ME! I THOUGHT YOU WERE GONE FOREVER! I THOUGHT I WAS GOING TO HAVE TO BE HOMELESS!" My mom was not one for emotional outbursts and basically told me (as nicely as possible) to calm the f*ck down, but I was just SO upset I could not pull it together. I think I cried the entire way to Tahoe.

Again. Maybe I was/am more mentally unstable that I thought. But this was one of those major "moments." For the next several years, my life was ruled by fear. I had to sleep with the light on for the first time ever. I wouldn't even sit in the car alone while my mom ran in to the grocery store for milk. I remember writing in my journal that my parents all told me that I would get over it, and by the time I was 10 (those mythical double digits) I wouldn't be so scared anymore. "BUT I WILL ALWAYS BE SCARED," I wrote.

I can't even convey to you the depth and breadth and WEIGHT of that fear. It was so big and so real to me. When I think about it now, I have an actual physical cringing of my soul. But I did, eventually, outgrow this fear. So it's easy to lose track of old feeling, on a day to day basis, when I'm (mostly) not afraid of the dark or any other things (except sharks, seaweed, and gray pubic hair). I forget how hard and sharp your fears can be, especially when you're young, and you don't have as much empirical evidence with which to talk yourself out of the certainty that you are going to have to spend the rest of your life living in a (bmw) van down by the river, or that the boogeyman is going to get you in the night. And even if you do have "evidence" - fear is not rational. Fear does not respond to logical arguments. I cannot prove to my son that moths do not, in fact, turn into vampires when he sleeps. Fear - whatever you feel - is real. It's real to the person who's feeling it.

It's easy to forget this, sometimes. With things like swimming, riding a bike, peeing in the potty, sleeping without their room lit up like a Christmas tree... things you KNOW your kids could do. You sometimes just want to push them over the edge to prove to them that they can fly. But i'm learning, slowly but surely, that pushing them causes the fear to snowball. Now they don't trust you or themselves. They'll do it when they're ready, and not a moment sooner.

Also, things are just scary sometimes. Like, we just got a puppy and she's sort of enormous. We're trying to teach her not to nip and jump up on the kids, and I keep getting frustrated because when she does these things, the kids just screech and run and jump around and wave enticing things in the air so Feta's like, "ERMAHGERD, THEY WANT TO PLAY WITH ME!" But DM kindly pointed out that our children are approximately three feet tall, so the dog running at them is equivalent of a small horse galloping toward my person at 40 mph and if that happened I would probably scream and pee my pants as well.

The other day, a (real) friend posted this link from my imaginary BFF Glennon Melton of titled "This is What Brave Means." I really like it. It's a good reminder that, contrary to common parlance, being brave doesn't (or shouldn't) have to mean doing something you're afraid to do. It means doing what your heart tells you to do, even when everyone else is telling you otherwise. I definitely fall into this trap sometimes. For example, saying to my son, "C'mon! your little sister's doing it!" or, "It's a flipping GNAT, kid. Pull yourself together," with the unspoken addendum, "ya pansy!" And that's just not cool. We need to trust and respect and listen to our little ones ... even when their inner voice is telling them that gnats turn into bloodsucking velociraptors when they lie their little heads down to sleep.

"15 Bogeymen From Around The World"
I like Finland's bogey(wo)man. She just looks like a fat Barney.

How it feels coming up from the basement after turning off all the lights behind you.

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