I had a nightmare about tarantulas the other night. In the dream, I actually put my hand into the web and startled the creature. It began to scramble which caused a chain reaction revealing several more giant arachnids. They all started running in unpredictable patterns, preventing me from figuring out how to get the hell away from them. The situation devolved and I began to scream — short, loud bursts of shrieking.
Weird things happen when you’re dreaming. There was some part of my brain that was observing the whole scene and I remember that that part was completely surprised — and horrified — that I was screaming. While my dream-self continued screeching, paralyzed by fear, my semi-aware-self turned into Cher in Moonstruck. I desperately wanted to slap myself and yell, “Snap out of it!”
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I think it’s unreasonable to scream when confronted by a tarantula. I’m terrified of spiders. When I worked at a TV station and the movie Arachnophobia was on the schedule during one of my shifts, I took a personal day. There was no way I could sit through that movie and ever sleep again. My dream reaction was the proper response to a tarantula encounter. However, that all changed the day I had my first child.
Mothers are not allowed the luxury of being terrified of pretty much anything. Once you accept that you are responsible for the health and well being of another life, you relinquish the right to scream like a banshee when confronted by bugs. Moms have to be confident and calm, taking care of the situation in such a way that the ever-watching child does not inherit her phobias, fears, and otherwise bat shite craziness.
I have spent the last 16 years pretending that all the creepy crawlies my children encounter are just as entitled to their space on this earth as we are. I have used postcards to scoop up wayward insects so I can release them back into their natural habitat, explaining to my kids the contribution that this particular bug makes to the world, all the while silently screaming, “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, do NOT crawl towards me, you freaky m***** f*****.”
It is our charge and responsibility, as mothers (and fathers, too), to teach our children how to deal with scary, creepy, and otherwise threatening situations in a way that does not include curling up in the fetal position and rocking themselves in the corner and/or screaming repeatedly until someone slaps them in the face.
One time, I had a little situation in my kitchen that involved a waffle iron, excessive cooking oil, and 8-inch flames. As they curled up the sides of the appliance, I calmly unplugged the machine, carefully grabbed the handle and efficiently carried it out to the middle of the driveway. I returned to the kitchen, retrieved the industrial size bag of baking soda, doused the fire and returned to wipe off the counter. It wasn’t until this final step had been completed that one of my offspring, who had been uncontrollably shrieking throughout the entire process, finally quieted. I felt this required comment.
“That was a lot of screaming.”
“There was a fire! The waffle iron was on fire!”
“Yes. And had I shared your reaction, we would be in a very different situation right now.”
Clearly, I have some more work to do.
Certain things just change when you become a mom. Along with not freaking out over earwigs in the shower (we just die a little inside), we have to get over gagging at vomit and we are not afforded the luxury of walking away from diapers that have failed us, in the most fundamental way.
You also find that you have run out of time for nonsense, in all of its forms. We don’t speak whine (unless you remove the H, in which case we are fluent). We don’t tolerate 57 glasses of water at bedtime. We have no patience for the entire sentence, “Can I just do (insert any excuse here) first?” And other things change, too.
For instance, suddenly, our hands can stand temperatures that would leave most people with third-degree burns. From faucet water that is actually steaming to skillet handles that are far above acceptable temperatures for contact with normal hands, as long as we invoke the spirits of our foremothers, we remain unscathed. Because they, too, knew that even one second wasted on a potholder whilst making macaroni and cheese could put a hungry toddler over the edge, a place from which only the mighty return.
We also develop the ability to hear things that our children — and also husbands — hope we cannot hear. They can be up the stairs, behind a closed door, and under the bed, but we will hear all the things. All. The. Things. Because who among us has time to pick any of them up from the police station? I think we can all agree with Kimberly “Sweet Brown” Wilkins and her most famous quote, “Ain’t nobody got time for that.”
Things change when a child enters your life. You must be brave, strong, resilient, omniscient, and also psychic (or at least fake it really, really well). Because those little buggers are always watching. And God help us, we don’t want them to end up as crazy as we are.
If you happen to be so nervous about setting off your overtired, hungry — and possibly murderous — toddler, and accidentally burn the roof of your mouth when taste testing the mac and cheese (yes, “testing” the mac and cheese IS a necessary part of mothering), Prevention magazine has these tips for soothing your singed skin.