I was brave once.
The amount of fear I possessed on any given day was minimal and might stem from a creepy patron at the barbecue restaurant where I worked; maybe a burglary in the apartment next door shook me up for a moment. The majority of my days, however, were spent with a free-spirited confidence and a constant frame of mind in which I don’t know where I’m going but I’m sure I’ll be just fine. In travelling alone, living in a rough chunk of Memphis, and attending local parties with questionable characters I showed a stalwart face and perhaps a strength that was rooted in naivety.
Some friends and I attended a Red Birds Game one evening. Five dollar tickets in hand, we settled into the discount portion of the park, a grassy knoll for picnickers and baseball fanatics to take in a game without breaking the bank. I was fascinated to learn from native Memphians of a large group of gypsies who frequented the park. Although they hardly lived up to my mental image of Esmerelda (no head scarves or jingling skirts) they captivated me. Bands of burly men, women wearing clip-on pony tails and denim shorts ( I took this to be the Tennessee equivalent of an exotic nomad woman), and barefoot children with wild mops of hair meandered around the establishment, reeking of adventure. The reality that they were mostly homeless and wandering through dangerous streets didn’t faze me. I was focused on the idea that their lives were something unique and spontaneous, and from high atop the grassy hill I stared at the gypsy crowd with wonder and envy.
I reflected on this spectacle today with much a much different reaction this go around: The dangerous life is horrifying.
I most noticed The Mother’s Worry when watching an episode of Queen Oprah several months ago. The show featured women from around the world and discussed the ways their lives differ from our own. The section on
Swedish Danish Very Blonde Women featured a lovely new mother of twins. As she gave a tour of her modern, fifth-story loft her very blonde babies napped in a carriage outside…five stories down and several steps away. A friend remarked that the idea of letting the dozing children nap in the sun and fresh air was cool. I scanned the screen frantic, spotting no less than ten ways in which the children could be harmed, and squinted as if to telepathically voyage through my television, over oceans and fields and time, to the Land of Blondes. I would swoop those sunburnt babies up and protect them until all was right with the world.
After years of spirited risk-taking, I find myself vulnerable to the world and all that’s in it. I am a mom now. I am a very nervous mom now.
Along with bountiful joy and love and whatnot, motherhood has given me the superhuman ability to pickup on even the slightest threat of harm. I’ve been told that most of the time the threat of harm is more a figment of my panicked imagination, but this is beside the point. My brain, once filled with grandiose scenarios of bungee jumping and mountain climbing, is now the headquarters for Far Fetched Incidents Resulting In Injury. Like any proper workplace, I keep records and documents, statistical reports of the scientific likelihood that my kid could get hurt put in situation A to Z.
I’ll save you the full analysis (you don’t even want to know what harm Zebras can inflict), but here are a few daily dangers that leave this mom’s eyes twitching:
CARS: Driving cars, parked cars, unethical men who sell faulty cars, cars in reverse and small car toys (premium choking material). You might have seen this one coming after my second-hand experience with Drivers School, but the fear started far before that. One of my first heroic efforts as a new mother was to rid the streets of careless drivers by verbally harassing them. As I delivered my precious cargo to two-week pediatrician visits, I took to whisper-screaming hateful threats to any driver not fully focusing on the task at hand. I think I silently mouthed “I will hunt you down” or “You hit me, my ghost will haunt you” to a majority of the town’s population. Maybe they’d see the dark circles under my eyes, my mouth foaming like a bear protecting her cub, and take this all to heart? I later saw a local news story on a woman shot by an aggravated driver. He was offended by what he thought was her middle finger (she was simply reaching for something), and things took a violent turn. Today I’ve ceased the whisper-screams for fear that hostile drivers are much more fatal than a simple collision. Every trip in a vehicle is cause for a silent, pleading prayer and a triple-check of the seatbelts and safety seats.
PEOPLE: No human escapes my accusing glaze. In one week I called the police two times. A young boy kept ringing my door bell midmorning. I finally answered (for the sake of a napping baby), barely exposing one eye through the slim opening. He was selling educational books. No thank you. What about donating some cash to poor kids in my native country of Moldova? No thank you. Could he have a drink and use my bathroom? Aw hell naw. Upon his request for a juice box and a potty break, I became certain that his innocent backpack concealed a Glock, and his aim was to steal my electronics and not to teach my baby the alphabet. I woke baby from his nap and hid in the closet for 45 minutes.
An elderly couple approached our house just a few weeks later. They held Come To Jesus pamphlets and wanted to talk about my spiritual journey with Christ. My former, less neurotic self would have taken their message at face value, a pleasant door-to-door greeting from the local church people. The mother in me said to be on edge, so I locked the door, grabbed a large fork from the kitchen, and pressed my face flat to the peephole to make sure the Prayers had exited peacefully.
Despite the knowledge that people are generally good, the few rotten hearts spoil the bunch. Dateline, to the grocery line, and even the terribly cheesy television movie, The Face On The Milk Carton have shown me that there are dark and ill-intentioned folks in the world. These bad souls have surely surrounded me all of my days. The difference came when I was not the one who needed to be protected.
CORNERS & EDGES & WALLS & ELEVATED SPACES & HOME DECOR & APPLIANCES: Also? Etcetera. I remained clueless to the deathtrap that is my home until my child learned to move of his own free will. His crawling pointed out electrical outlets and low shelves of heavy knick knacks just waiting to topple on his head. His first attempts at standing educated me in the ways of sharp-cornered coffee tables and flimsy decorative objects too light to hold his lean. His walking came on fast and furious, exposing ordinary walls as face-smacking obstacles. So soon after those first steps, his backwards gallop, climbing, and disregard for falling from the sofa commenced, and the house morphed into a land mine with a mailbox.
OTHER EQUALLY FRET-INDUCING THINGS:
Dirt, vacuum cleaners, dogs, water, fire, Jillian Michaels, sick kids, sick adults, birds, door knobs, toilets, hair dryers, hair dryers near the bathtub, big televisions, cleaning products, baby food recalls, diaper rash, snow, nails, splintered wood, gas leaks, robbery, and unsanitized grocery carts.
This world, which once looked like a blue and green patchwork of freedom and liberty, now lays itself bare with germs and bruises and men with
backpacks mean eyes. As we search for our new home I can’t help but think that my immediate dismissal of most potential homes might come from the fact that they are not domes…with padded walls…and inflatable furniture. This year of collecting data and evaluating risk could have been in vain, a desperate mother who really just wants to be in charge of something.
Thanks to the mantra of my 5-year-old niece (“Ugh. Ma-ommm. You’re interrupting my freedom.”) I know that I will have to accept the risk in raising a child. He will fall, bleed, and scrape. He will most likely hurt. For all the fear this once fearless mother owns, I suppose it will be my job to love him and nurture his need to run wild and free like the gypsy boys. I will put on a brave face (a brave face with left eye still twitching) and let him walk outside although I know the hazard that waits there.