Afraid Like a Mother

Afraid Like a Mother

I used to love scary movies.

And not just movies: TV shows, books, ghost storiesI ate it all up. If there was an element of the unexplained, the macabre, the suspenseful, I was in. While my now-husband and I were dating, we subsisted on such forms of entertainment: I was thrillingly haunted by images from The Strangers for months. We tuned in weekly to the campy fun of Harper’s Island. Then we got married and I got pregnant and Ryan Murphy added American Horror Story to our TV listings and I read all I could about it, studied the startling images in ads and prepared myself for a good scare. When the show began, I was seven months along. My husband and I parked ourselves in front of the TV, my belly nearly blocking our view. We turned to each other, grinning, and pressed Play.

And something changed. I couldn’t handle the scary anymore.

I was two months away from entering something much scarier than a haunted house; namely, the ranks of motherhood. From the Saturday morning I woke up to blood four weeks before my firstborn’s due date towell, this moment right now, I have lived in a world populated by one, then two, of my offspring. And that world is a completely different place from the one I inhabited before they arrived. Before our two boys erupted from my abdomen via surgical knives and organ rearrangementwhich, let’s be real, is a horror scene in itselfdark entertainment was a way to thrill myself with specters that didn’t exist and therefore posed no real danger. But now? Well, the Infantata ain’t got nothing on the things that scare me these days. A five-minute slice of cable news is enough to get my heart racing and my stomach curdling. As the protector and advocate of two small, somewhat helpless people, I live life on the defensewhich means there’s always something to be afraid of.

Fear has never been a reach for me anyway; I’ve dealt with deep-seated anxieties my whole life, so the road trip to new worries is not a long one. Paranoia is a companion I can never quite shake, and I saw enough episodes of Are You Afraid of the Dark? growing up to see a monster around every corner. Speak in a short tone to me over the phone and I’ll assume you either (a) are mad at me, or (b) are being held captive by a kidnapper and are attempting to give me a coded message. I sweat a lot, it goes without saying. I pray and I deep-breathe and I do yoga and recently, with the help of a Groupon, I tried acupuncture. But lying alone in a room with my own thoughts while pins stick out of me? Come on. Allaying my fears is a constant struggle, so I’m trying something new. I read that writing down what scares me can take some of the power out of it. So I will now tell you some of my biggest fears. You’re welcome.

Car accidents. I live in Atlanta, which is apparently ground zero for traffic stupidity. The worst thing that can happen to drivers here is that they miss a turn and have to suck it up and bust a U-ey at the next light, so what they do instead is screech to a halt, forcing everyone behind them (and that is always a LOT of people) to slam on brakes and accommodate the offending party’s traffic error. Because getting inconvenienced is worse than causing a multi-car pileup as long as the pileup happens behind you. So I worry about that. Especially while carting my kids around. Which means I worry about whether I buckled them into their carseats properly, and whether the three-year-old has silently (more on that in a minute) found a way to bust out of his. Oh, and when it rains here? Forget it. People lose all brain power whatsoever. Best to just stay inside.

Terrorism. Sleeper cells in our neighborhood. Because being vigilant about that, refusing to become complacent, that’s what keeps the bad guys away, right? RIGHT?!

School violence. Every time I drop my kid off. Every time.

That my son will never speak. Because he’s three-and-a-half and doesn’t yet, and though he’s in therapy out the ass and is making progress, I secretly worry that he’ll be using his book of pictures, and leading us by the hand, to communicate forever. Which is tied to the soul-crushing fear all parents deal with over whether their kids will fit in and have friends or be different and get bullied. And I’m just going to leave that there and move on because I can’t continue without a drink and it’s only nine in the morning so I’ve got at least an hour before that’s cool (it’s summer).

Speaking of summer: the fear that someone will throw a radio into the pool. Yep. Real fear of mine.

Someone breaking into our house while we’re asleep. I have actually come up with strategies in my head for this: routes I would take to grab the kids and sneak away, proximity of sharp/heavy objects to use as weapons, viability of crawl space as hideout weighed against likelihood of rodents living there. Could I really jump from a second-story window while holding two kids? Here’s hoping we’ll never find out.

Something happening to my kids while they’re asleep without my knowledge. Sure, I sleep lightly as hell and one rogue bump in the night is enough to get the backs of my knees gushing sweat like a fire hydrant, but there are also the couple of occasions when I’ve gone to retrieve the boys in the morning and their crib/bed is drenched in puke. So obviously shit can go down without my awareness. And that terrifies the tiny baby Voldemort control freak nesting inside my soul.

And finally, one more piece from the Summer 2015 Baggage Collection: TRAVELING. In a few weeks we’ll be flying cross-country with the kids and my butt is already clenched in preparation. Will the big brother, who gets overwhelmed easily and doesn’t like to sit still, freak out on the plane and turn it into one of those scenarios that erupts into an angry Twitter fight between me and a major airline? Will massive diaper blowouts occur, leading to our family of four entering the arrival gate covered in the warpaint of human excrement? Will our plane fall from the sky (see: Terrorism)?

Well it appears as though I need to reapply my deodorant, so I’ll have to leave this as a sampler platter of what haunts me rather than an exhaustive list. But I think I’ve given you a pretty good idea of what I deal with. For now I’ll keep walking that thin line between vigilance and fear, erring on the wrong side all too often I’m sure, staying away from scary movies and keeping the prayer/breathing fires lit to remind myself that the world doesn’t spin on the axis of my fears. “Let Philip cease to rule the world,” Martin Luther once told a Type-A friend of his. I hear you, Marty. And I’m trying.

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