When one of my daughters was 9, as I was tucking her into bed she asked me, “How come you’re not afraid of anything?
I said, “What do you mean?”
She said, “Like, how come you’re not afraid of spiders?”
I told her that I’m not entirely sure, but I think it has something to do with the fact that as a child my best friend (and step-aunt – yes we have a weird family tree -) Marisa was really afraid of spiders and she was littler than me so I pretended not to be afraid, just to make her feel better when she had bad dreams. So I concluded that maybe I just tricked myself into not being afraid? Whether the fact that I’m not afraid of spiders is a result of that or just a coincidence, I guess I’ll never really be sure.
Coming full circle, this technique totally backfired when I tried not to pass along my lifelong phobia of snakes to my young daughters by going out of my way to say how “cute” and “fascinating” reptiles are when they were toddlers. This led to them shoving library books in my face and innocently exclaiming things like, “Look, Mommy! A picture of a snake! Your favorite!” Cut to me breaking out in the full meat sweats covered in hives. Just a simple picture in a children’s book would send me reeling, literally feeling the saliva drain from my mouth and the blood drain from my face as my entire back wet through my shirt and I started doing some weird panic version of heavy lamaze breathing. (Is lamaze breathing redundant? Would you still get the point if I had just said lamaze? Also remind me to someday publish my 600 page book of essays entitled, “Why I Can’t Go Back To That Library.” Spoiler alert: there’s more than one library.)
When the girls were older, we once got invited to a friend’s uncle’s farm in the country and it was like that horror scene from the National Lampoon’s Vacation movie where I looked over and saw my children playing with a F*CKING BUCKET of baby black snakes. You know…black snakes…the “harmless ones.” Harmless, that is, if you don’t have an automatic vomit trigger from fear and anxiety. I was too paralyzed to scream before I felt my knees start to waiver and my innards upheave, but I’m here to tell you ladies and gentleman, that I did not yell, puke, or faint, BECAUSE I’d been training for so long in case such a moment should arise. Poise-wise, it was my Jackie Kennedy at the funeral procession moment. Methinks I shall never summon a more courageous portrayal of “normal person doing fine” again; it was truly the performance (and bowel retention) of a lifetime.
That whole “fake it til you make it” thing is really misleading because it implies that if you fake it long enough you’ll eventually make it. In my experience this hasn’t always been the case. Marisa is still afraid of spiders, and yet I’m not, but I’m still afraid of snakes. (If you’re wondering how much appreciation she has for my sacrifices on her behalf, a couple of years ago she bought my kids souvenir cups at the Sedgwick Zoo in the shape of Boa Constrictors. She “swears” she thought they were “elephants.” OKAY, MARISA.)
Honest question: how many of you have intentionally lied to your kids about something you intensely fear/dislike to spare them the bad feelings you had to overcome?
Maybe the “making it” part of the old adage is that even if we couldn’t truly overcome our inner fears, at least we tried and hopefully didn’t pass our burdens onto our children unnecessarily. Then again, what if I’m just teaching my kids to be liars and telling myself it’s a means to an end of not having them absorb my fears? Also, how bad will I feel if one of them gets bitten by a snake?