I have fears. Very real fears. They are mine and I keep them, because I don’t like to share. When the temperatures soar and I’m lying in bed sweating, I suffer in silence. The other option is to open my window, but that terrifies me. I cannot fall asleep with the window open. I will spend my evening staring out of it, wondering what is looking back in.
I’d rather sweat.
I’d rather walk all the way out the front door and around to the side door to avoid a spider hanging in my hallway.
I drive past houses that have burned down and refuse to look at them. I get up and check the heaters every night, multiple times. I check the stove. I sniff the air. I dread that I’ll smell smoke.
I am terrified of house fires.
I stare at the lines on the road whenever we cross a big bridge. I hate the way the water looks, lapping at the supports. It looks hungry. It looks like something that wants to rise and rise and swallow me whole.
I am convinced the ocean is an evil thing.
I have fears. Very real fears.
I thought I was keeping them to myself, but then I realized my daughter screamed when she saw a spider. She didn’t when she was younger, so why now? Why is she afraid of it now?
Because I am.
She is following in my example, and my very real fears, have become hers. I realized she got panicked when we drove across the bridge, or that she checks the heater in her own room every night before bed. She never asks to open her window.
She has my fear.
And she has no damn reason to have it.
So I got angry. I got angry with me and with this world that breeds things to scare us. I got angry about spiders and open windows and house fires and oceans. I got angry with the weakness that fear brings along and that I thought I was being selfish, but I’d been passing them along.
Like I’d passed along the scattering of freckles that crossed her cheeks. Like I passed along the cowlick in her bangs.
I’d helped to form a child afraid.
And I was so damn angry.
I wanted to sweep in and erase them all. I wanted to tell her there was nothing to fear, that she was okay, that the world wasn’t such a frightening place. I wanted to put on a brave face and show her how strong I was, so she would know she could be strong too.
I want her to be strong.
There are so many things in life that are worse than spiders. The world is a much more frightening place than behind an open window. I needed her to know that she didn’t have to be afraid.
We went to the beach. My children were seven and five and it was the first time at the beach. I had avoided it like the plague. I had blamed the sun and their very pale skin. I had complained of the high temperatures and how easily children get sunstroke. I had fussed over the cost and the sheer amount of crap we’d have to haul down there to make the day survivable.
We went to the beach.
It was crowded and so we skirted groups of families and sunbathing women. We passed men playing Frisbee and a few lumps of what might have once been sandcastles.
We approached the ocean and the sand was moist under my toes and my heart dropped straight into my stomach. It filled so much space and everything else shoved up into my throat and I stood there choking while I watched the ocean’s angry fingers come crashing down.
There was laughter and yelling and there I was standing, frozen while my son pulled on my hand in anxious excitement. He wanted to get into that water and all I could picture was the wave coming. Gripping him tight. Pulling him from my hands. Him sliding away.
I can’t swim.
I’d never get to him.
When my daughter stood there by my side, unflinching, unmoving, it hit me.
She was seven. She should be pulling my hand just as hard as her brother. She should be excited. But she wasn’t, and it was my fault.
I let my son go with my husband. I couldn’t do it with two of them. I’m only a woman. I’m only so strong. So brave. There’s a limit to how far I can go with things, and tackling this alone would have been bad enough.
Tackling this with my entire team of supportive friends and loved ones would have been just as frightening.
Trying to do it with my seven year old daughter was hell.
She had her little hand wrapped in mine, and I explained how it would feel. We stepped forward bit by bit and the water began to lap at our feet. I made myself keep walking. I made myself move.
When the sands moved under our feet and she felt the pull, she yelled. I looked down and saw her laughter, her smile. She bent, digging her hands into the sand to feel it slip between her fingers.
Within moments she was pulling me in further and further. She fell to her knees and let the water wash across her chest and arms. She slid on her knees as the tide pushed her in towards the sand.
She lost her fear, and with her, I found some bravery.
Motherhood is a scary, scary thing. It’s full of adventures I’d never take on my own. I looked at this image and thought, I’d never go down there. It’s dark and I can’t see in the dark. It’s scary.
But you know what, if my daughter was down there, or my son, hiding in the shadows, I’d go.
I would touch the ocean.
Word Count: 1,000
Out of all the pictures this week, this one gave me the most emotional reaction the fastest.
And yes…I’m still afraid of spiders.
Herstory Lesson: Being a mother means you get to face your fears head on, whether you want to or not.