Saturday, June 13, 2015

Things That Go Bump in the Night.

I remember talking to a friend long before I became a parent.  A new parent himself, he told me about how he found it impossible to watch most series television since having children.  The idea was baffling to me.  He explained that he couldn't stand to watch anything where especially children but really anyone came to harm or was threatened with harm.  Since series television is flooded with law and crime procedurals whose plots almost always hinge on a brutal, violent, act against another human being he found himself avoiding the television.  In the abstract I could understand but I didn't really.  I absolutely love horror movies.  The more gore and gratuitous violence the better.  I'll see your Jason Voorhees and raise you a Freddy Krueger and a Cabin in the Woods.  Cabin in the Woods, a terrifically scary and funny horror movie, was the last scary movie I saw before giving birth to my first daughter and as it turns out, it remains the last horror movie I have seen since having children.  My friend was right.

And it isn't just horror movies. I can't watch the rape/murder/abduction story lines in network dramas, and since the last series comedy I watched regularly was Family Ties, I find myself watching Top Chef, reruns of Chopped and Antiques Roadshow, and Game of Thrones. (somehow the violence is acceptable when it's set in a feudal fantasy world.)  My friend, and fellow mother, Libby Emmons recently posted about this same topic. (read it here.) Libby had her husband turn off the first episode of Daredevil because a little boy was injured and blinded in a car accident.  She writes: "Dave said 'but it’s okay, he ends up the hero.' I demanded that we turn it off. The anxiety produced by feeling like something bad was gonna happen to someone’s kid was more than I could deal with." Her experience echoes my own.  She's right.  It doesn't make it okay when the injured, blinded kid becomes the hero. It isn't okay is that there are terrible people who would do terrible things to children or that there are terrible things that happen randomly to people with no rhyme or reason - like car accidents, lightning strikes, and natural disasters. And beneath it all is the heartbeat-strong current inside of me that is silently praying: "pleaseletnothingterribleorpainfulorscaryeverhappentomychildeverpleasepleaseplease." 

I used to pride myself on keeping up with current events but I can no longer watch the news. Everything is terrible.  I know that in this 24-hour news cycle world, drama and tragedy keep people coming back for more but not me.  I wish there was one news program that focused on the goodness in people.  It has to be there, it just isn't being reported.  Instead I keep myself current with my subscriptions to TIME and New York Magazine.  It's easier in print.  It's easier in tiny doses.

Not afraid of a little mud.
Most of the time this parent anxiety is manageable.  All of the time, really.  Watching my child grow up and experience the world is heartening and hilarious and tiring. My husband and I trade funny stories about our daughter and about our lives and it is okay.  Except when it isn't. 

I am six+ months pregnant with my second child.  A few nights ago a small sound woke me abruptly from my sleep. I was immediately convinced someone was trying to come in through our bedroom window.  Some part of my psyche clearly knew I was being ridiculous, as I decided not to wake up my sleeping husband.  I peeked through the curtains to the open window (with a gate on it).  No one was on the fire escape.  I lay down.  Another tiny sound from somewhere. I looked through the curtains again - surely someone was out there.  No.  I close the drapes, think for a moment, then close and lock the window - cutting us off from a cool night breeze.  We must be safe now. I lay down. But wait....what if the sound I heard was not from the fire escape but from somebody ALREADY IN THE APARTMENT!.  I get up and walk around the apartment - checking the front door is locked, looking in closets, checking the kitchen, behind the shower curtain (maybe an elf burglar squeezed through our tiny bathroom window), and finally checking to make sure Clara was still in her bed (not abducted by the tiny sound).  I then spent the next three hours awake envisioning break-in scenarios and wondering if there was anywhere I forget to check for burglars (under our bed with the Christmas ornaments?, behind the chair in the living room?, Could an adult fit under Clara's toddler bed?)  In the light of day, over tired and still burglar-free it all seemed ridiculous - even the word burglar became ridiculous as visions of the Hamburglar trying to squeeze through my window with his giant head made me laugh.  But my parental anxiety needed some place to go, someplace to release - and in that instance midnight worries about phantom burglars did the trick.

As a parent it feels like I can't afford to be scared.  I can't afford to show my daughter that I am worried or fallible.  In this way I can protect her from everything she may be afraid of or worried about.  In this way maybe she won't ever be frightened or worried about anything.  (Rational, I know.)

One night, around 10:30 Gerald was still at work.  I was sitting on the couch watching Chopped, and Clara was (supposedly) asleep in her room.  Next to my head, the baby monitor goes off.  I hear Clara say:  Mama, it's opening."

Heart attack.  Cue the opening sequence to my own personal horror movie.  What's opening?  The window?  (Murderer/Kidnapper/Burglar/Madman)  Or even worse, the closet? (Monster, Clown from Poltergeist, Alternate Dimension) Had I been alone I would have run out the front door in my pajamas and no shoes.  But I'm not alone anymore - I am never alone.  I am the mother.  I am my daughter's first line of defense against all thing terrible.  So I got up - ready to do battle with anything - though hopefully not the clown from Poltergeist.

Inside Clara's room I find her calmly watching the air conditioner blow air,  That's what was opening, the vent on our mini-split a/c unit.  "Mama, it looks like a smile."

I tucked her back in and left, my status as defender of my child intact.

Maybe the secret to surviving parenthood lies in the power to stay positive.  And also maybe trying your best to keep your children safe from things that have at least, a small basis in reality.  

Good-bye, horror movies...see you in 20 years when my second child leaves for college.