When my children were wee, they had a typical fear of the Boogey Man. He could be anywhere, under the bed, in the closet, and would only come out in the dark, especially when I was not in the room. To combat this nightly attack, I did what any parent would do; I installed an Invisible Boogey Man Forcefield. Every night in order to set the Boogey Man alarm, the kids and I would go through a series of system checks; their army of stuffed animals would sweep under the bed and check in the closet and drawers before I would go to the invisible command unit and set the Forcefield to stun (we didn’t want anyone getting hurt, even the Boogey Man).
As the kids grew older the fears took on different forms, for my son the biggest fear was spiders. Our nightly checks became more concrete; the walls, under the bed, around the stuffed animal army were all places for tiny eight legged creatures to hide. And if, God forbid, I missed one, there would be absolutely no sleep that night. His terror was so great that he would force himself to stay awake in my arms just to make sure no other spiders would sneak by me.
After a number of all-nighters and a small fortune spent on Raid, I devised a new plan. I would meet this fear head on; it became our mission to research spiders (in a completely spider free area, of course.) The benefits were slow but promising; instead of immediately screeching “Kill it! Kill it!”, we graduated to “What kind is it? Does it have any markings? Where is its web? Kill it! Kill it!”
Soon thereafter I was given a wonderful opportunity to adopt a beautiful Rose-Haired Tarantula, Ophelia. Sure she was the size of my hand and you could see her fangs, but she was afraid of crickets for crying out loud! (Yes, the very crickets we had to feed her, so it made for an interesting game of cat and mouse.) My son took to her surprisingly fast, after I proved to him that there was simply no way Ophelia could bite her way through her plastic cage. Our nightly ritual now included saying goodnight to our tarantula; laughing at how quickly she would dash into her cave at the sight of us – imagine a great big spider afraid of us!
Unfortunately Ophelia was unable to calm my son’s fears of tiny spiders. And living in the northeastern US, coming across a wild spider Ophelia’s size was unheard of. But, she helped us talk about the fear and even though it was still there it wasn’t as crushing as it had been.
Our lovely Ophelia went to that great big web in the sky a few years ago, and since then the fears have changed. Now the kids spend their time worrying about fitting in, the fear of rejection is so strong. I curl my arms around them and explain that the greatest thing they can do is just be themselves. But just as my son kept one eye open to catch any spiders I may have missed, they shrug and say “You’re supposed to say that, you’re my mom.” The hug helps, but the fear is still alive and well. Books have been written, movies have been made, but it doesn’t seem to help when trying to pick out the perfect outfit for school.
I have slowly learned over my 37 years to strive to be myself, and if I’m being honest, I still struggle. At the core we all want to be accepted and loved for who we already are, but the courage it takes to be true to your self is hard to muster. It has taken quite a while to realize that people can disagree with you, yet still love and accept you. Being able to have a relationship that sustains that balance is rare; being able to recognize it is rarer still.
Whether they understand it or not, even with one eye open, I love my kids for who they are right now; I simply can’t imagine anything different. I know this won’t help decide which jeans to wear today, but hopefully, like Ophelia I can give them a way to talk about the fear. And, as they laugh at whatever I’m wearing, maybe the fear won’t be as crushing as before.