Monday, October 31, 2011

I love the smell of paranoia in the morning...

Paranoia comes with the territory. It's part of the welcoming package we get when we give birth: Here's your tote bag with formula samples (which will be thrust into the back of the cupboard "in case I die"), a tiny little hat knitted by generous old ladies (that will never fit the watermelon-sized head you just passed but they will have fun putting it on their dolls later), a booger sucker, a medicine dropper, 37 pamphlets about diseases (to keep you awake at night in case your baby doesn't), and oh yeah... a great big jug of Paranoia Mist - it's so effective it will linger around the edges of your consciousness for at least the next 18 years. Enjoy!

A friend and I were watching our kids play on the playground before school. I had to take a moment out from our conversation to scream at my 4-year-old: "Don't throw the wood chips! You'll get a corneal abrasion!" This is, for me, a completely reasonable reaction. Not so much for other people, I discovered. First, apparently, you aren't supposed to yell instructions to your children across the playground. You're supposed to ask them how they feel about it and what a better course of action would be, keeping a calm voice and a big smile even while said 4-year-old continues to not only throw wood chips, but now to throw them into your big smile. OK, not gonna do that. I've made my peace with the fact that I startle other parents by suddenly yelling instructions at my monkeys. What was more surprising to me was that not everyone worries about corneal abrasion. WHY NOT?! My brother had to wear an eye patch for a month when he was 7 from that exact thing! It happens! The same mom who laughed at my "oddly specific" fear of corneal abrasion is terrified that one day one of her kids will inhale something and get it lodged in their left bronchial tube. Crazy lady.

Paranoia, to a degree, is necessary in raising kids. A healthy dose of fear is what helps us keep our kids safe. The metallic twang of adrenalin and the fight or flight reaction are what send us running to save precious heads from the sudden effects of gravity. It's what wakes us up in the middle of the night when the cough from the other room doesn't sound quite right. It's what makes us hold hands crossing the street. It's why we don't send a 7-year-old to the grocery store by herself to buy a gallon of milk even though she insists she's perfectly capable. Some fear is good, but by it's very nature, fear is irrational. Our guts kick in before our brains have a chance to catch up. And sometimes our guts kick in with bizarre, oddly specific scenarios.

We all have our own custom flavor of Paranoia Mist. It is an enchanting cocktail of our worst fears, past experiences, bad advice, books we've read (sometimes confusing the fiction with the non-fiction in our addled states) and that documentary we watched about the guy who had a botched circumcision as a baby so his parents decided to raise him as a girl and the rest of his life was a torturous hell.  Even the most "laid back" among us have it. In fact, I secretly believe that parents who are generally seen as "laid back" are either A.) heavily medicated or B.) are just better at keeping that big, boiling ball of neurosis inside and out of sight. But it's there, with its distinct, and highly personal scent. My Paranoia Mist is vomit scented.

I recently read a blog post by Lindsay Maddox on her blog, Silly Mom Thoughts about trying to talk herself out of her sudden and irrational fear of a suspicious acting stranger at church. With her usual humor and aptness, she describes how her gut reaction kicked in and her imagination was flooded with images of being gunned down in church. She describes that heart-thumping, I can't sit still and concentrate, I must do something NOW reaction that we've all felt in different situations. I caught myself feeling all superior and self-satisfied as I was reading because "I would never..." Crazy lady. I'm a far more put-together mom because I have let go of those fears of violence or kidnapping. I'm way cooler because I am open-minded. I don't have a fear of strangers. Oops. Except if they look like they might throw up.

Living in the city, we spend a lot of time on public transportation. I spend a lot of that time on public transportation carefully scrutinizing the other passengers for signs of illness. That fellow there is adjusting his necktie, is it because he's nauseated and finds it a bit constricting? She has cleared her throat 4 times now, is she about to chuck? You there! You look a little green around the gills. Don't make eye contact! Don't make eye contact! Argh! That person just put her head between her knees! THIS IS IT! Oh, wait, she's just getting something out of her bag. The embarrassing fact is, someone could be holding up the bus driver with an automatic weapon and I might not notice unless they also looked a little peaked. More than anything in this world, I am terrified of vomit. I generally try to keep this terror to myself, being totally irrational and all. I mean, sometimes I do suddenly snap at my kids to "Turn around and don't touch anything!" for fear that someone may have, at some point in the history of the bus, vomited in that very spot. I have been known to change seats a few times to better locate us away from possible hurlers. But that's just being prudent, right? OK, so maybe that one time few times when we jumped off the bus 3 stops early and I made my tired kids walk the remaining 12 blocks home was a little crazy, but exercise is good for you.

If you've never had the Bus Panics, or the Church Panics, or the Sitting in My Living Room on a Tuesday Afternoon Panics, then you are either A.) not a parent or B.) heavily medicated. We all do it. It's easy enough to look at someone else's crazy and feel all special because it's not the same as ours. But the next time you feel that nothing but buzzing in your head, heart palpitating, hot-sicky fear, take a whiff of your own special blend of Paranoia Mist. Chances are, some other mom is thinking you're insane. And you are. We all are. So how 'bout some hugs. But not if you're feeling queasy.

*** Special thanks to Lindsay Maddox whom I've only recently discovered and I've never met in the flesh but I'm pretty sure we would get along.  Read her blog. Thanks, Lindsay, for your courage and your humor and your boundless energy.

*** Bus Panics are totally justified, by the way. 2 weeks ago, the Chief Lou came home from work and left his shoes on the back porch. You know why? Someone threw up on the bus. Right in front of him. He stepped in it. I will never touch those shoes again.


  1. Awesome post and very well put!

    We all have our insanity for sure... that's what makes us so dang much fun. ;) Thanks for the props and the shout out, too!

  2. Thank YOU for reading! I'm new at this and have no idea what I'm doing. It's good to get some encouragement!

  3. You look like you know perfectly what you're doing! Great job! Let me know if I can help in any way. :)

  4. I quite enjoyed this post, especially as people always comment about how laid back a parent I am. My fear: accidental strangulation.

    I find my own thoughts echoed in many of your words- it's a shame that we could never hang out in real life because I spend quite a bit of my life vomitting, between pregnancy and migraines.

  5. You poor thing. I would be a little bit nervous around you all the time. I have had people tell me that I am "so calm" as a parent. Guess I keep that big ball of neurosis fairly well hidden, too! :)


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