My husband, Bruce, and I took a trip to Rockport, Massachusetts a few years ago and rented a kayak. We paddled around a little cove not far from our cabin, and every time Bruce would row toward the opening where the cove emptied out into a harbor, I’d yell, “Don’t go out into the open seas!”
“We’re not going out into the open seas!” he’d say, mocking me.
“You’re getting too far from the coast!”
He’d roll his eyes and steer us closer to the shore, lest we get caught in an unexpected Nor’easter and drown at sea.
I’ve always been a scaredy-cat, though I don’t necessarily give that appearance. I’m like a tether ball on a stick. I’ll go here, there, everywhere, provided I’m always within five feet of my comfort zone. And that five-foot range seems to be getting shorter and shorter as I get older. I live by the ocean but I’m afraid of the waves. Public speaking makes my heart race. Heights make me dizzy. I’m afraid of amusement park rides because I fear I’ll fly out of my seat or get sick all over myself. And I don’t like cocktail receptions because I’m afraid to walk over to a group of people already engaged in conversation – for fear that inside, they’re rolling their eyes and can’t wait for me to leave.
My son Eddie, on the other hand, is fearless. He’ll walk up to anyone and start talking, even though right now, it’s just gibberish. I once took him out of his stroller in Barnes and Noble, and within seconds, he’d walked up to a family of four sitting in the corner of the store and just stood there in the middle of them. He’ll yell in public without caring what people will think. He’ll walk off the edge of anything without caring how far it is from the floor. And the ocean? He’s constantly running toward it rather than away from it.
So I found it profoundly sad the other day when I pulled him out of his stroller, he took off down the street, and when he reached the porch of our neighbor Jim, the family’s big fat bulldog, Patty, lunged at Eddie from behind the railing and began barking, sending my son running back home in terror.
When I saw what happened, I was determined to nip it in the bud. I didn’t want him to be afraid of everything, like his mother is, particularly things on our street, so I took him by the hand and walked him back toward Jim’s porch. As we got close, Eddie tried to break free and run back to our house. I picked him up in my arms and slowly walked back to Jim’s porch. The dog stood there for a moment without making a sound. I began to speak softly to her, in friendly, loving tones. She looked at me, seemed to take it all in, and then opened her mouth wide and began roaring like a wild animal. I ran.
After a few steps, I stopped and turned around and again headed for Jim’s porch. I could feel Eddie’s grip tighten on my arm. Just then, Jim’s wife, Lois, came out of her house and told the dog to stop barking. Like a bully who pushes everyone around and then cowers in the presence of his mother, the dog got quiet. I stood on the sidewalk talking to Lois for a couple of minutes so Eddie could get used to Patty, and Patty to Eddie. By the time we left, I felt like we’d conquered a demon.
Until lunchtime. Eddie and I were in his room, and I put in a tape of Jurassic Park. He has two toy dinosaurs that he now plays with, and I thought he might recognize them in the movie. The two of us sat on the floor watching the video, and he seemed to enjoy it until a scene in which a dinosaur is chasing a jeep that has two children in the back, and the kids are screaming. Eddie started to yell. It was a yell I’d heard only once before, when Bruce was attacking him with a giant stuffed monkey. I shut off the movie.
For the rest of the day, Eddie laughed, played, ate, whined, and slept. With the exception of riding his toy rocking horse for the first time, it was a typical day. In the evening after dinner, he grabbed a plastic water bottle and a glass wine bottle from the recycling bucket and ran around the living room, and I chased him trying to get the bottles away, because I knew that was what he wanted. He loves to be chased.
At bedtime, I carried him upstairs to his room and placed him on the changing table. As he lay there, I heard a large fly buzz around the overhead light. I ran over to the window and opened it. I then grabbed Eddie’s jeans and began chasing the fly around the room swatting at it. It kept circling the light, and as I tried to hit it, I kept swatting the light fixture, making it sway back and forth like a punching bag. The bug then flew into the corner of the room, and I waited for it to land on the wall. When it did, I again began swatting at it, but again I kept missing. Eddie began to yell that panicked yell again.
“It’s all right, pal. It’s all right. Just don’t move,” I said. I was standing about three feet away from the diaper table, and I feared that in his panic, he would roll off.
Just then I heard the fly buzz by me and toward the open window. I chased after it, swinging the jeans to help move it along, but every time it appeared ready to fly out the window, it would turn around and come back in the room.
I gave up and walked back to the changing table. I put a clean diaper on Eddie, put him into his pajamas, shut off the light and then picked him up and held him as I stood in front of his crib. I began to rock him in my arms, his head on my shoulder, as I do most nights before placing him in bed. As we stood there in the dark, I could hear the fly buzzing around us, zooming from one end of the room to the other. I started to laugh. Eddie lifted his head slightly and started to laugh a bit, too. He then dropped his head back down on my shoulder. Soon, I could feel the tension in his body relax and his breathing deepen as he left the demons of this world and drifted into the land of sleep.