I have a lot of irrational fears.
Moms generally share a handful of similar concerns. We worry when our children leave the house without us. We fear the future, urinary tract infections, head lice, and antibiotic-resistant bacteria. I never realized how many phobias I have until my children began to voice fears of their own. They’re afraid of the usual kid stuff: monsters under the bed, creepy things in the closets, and — just to keep things interesting — drive-through car washes.
During one of my many attempts to soothe their anxieties, my oldest child asked, “What are you afraid of, Mommy?” Oh, shit.
Had I been honest with him, I would have said, “Your mama is neurotic. That means that I’m afraid of clowns and badly-drawn eyebrows. I also get nervous when I drive over bridges, I don’t like large bodies of water, and if I can’t see the bottom of a lake, I’m not getting in. I also have a fear of the dentist, and if not for the constant ridicule of friends and family, I would literally never go. I have a fear of weevils being in our bags of sugar and grains, which makes me very grateful to have been born in 1979 instead of 100 years prior because I am also afraid of horses.”
I was recounting this story to a group of mothers at the playground, and they started rattling off their own fears. At the root, mothers are all the same — we’re just a bunch of neurotic wackadoodles with a laundry list of concerns: flying cockroaches, the NoseFrida, lighting matches, heights, tight spaces, windowless vans, the suction tubes at the bank that transport money from the car to the teller, dried fruits, syringes, and (shudder) stagnant water.
I confessed that I’m afraid to put air in the vehicle tires because I’m convinced that I’ll overfill one and it will explode in my face. I’m pretty sure that’s never killed a person, but I don’t want to tempt fate. No one laughed at me. Pretty sure they’ve all thought about this possibility as well.
Although our fears varied widely, we all had one fear in common: We are all afraid for our children.
When we become mothers, something clicks in our brain. Suddenly we become aware of every possible threat, big and small. It’s hard to walk the line between telling our kids that it’s okay to be afraid of things, and hiding our deepest, darkest fears so they won’t inherit them. We still have to function. We have to face our fears every day, and some of our concerns aren’t irrational. Some are very real.
We fear our daughters will be sexually assaulted. We fear for our sons every time they walk out the door, praying that they won’t become a statistic as we force ourselves to smile and wave goodbye.
We are afraid because we are mothers. Part of our being now exists outside of our bodies, walking and talking and making decisions, and we fear allowing them out of our sight, even though we understand that is what happens during the course of successful mothering.
Maybe a tiny part of us fears the quiet when we are alone.
We fear, irrationally, our own value to society.
Back to the question my son asked me — I didn’t tell him the truth. I figured he was too young to know about things like leeches and pedophiles (two more of my fears), so I told him about the time I saw a spider in our living room. I hit it with a shoe because no one else was home to do it, and a thousand baby spiders exploded out of the mother spider.
“It’s called a nightmare bomb,” I told him.
His eyes opened wide.
“You are so brave,” he whispered reverently.
“It’s hereditary,” I whispered back.