Monday, April 16, 2007


If you were going crazy, would you know it?

The thing is, I've been thinking about fear a lot lately. I could claim that it's a result of studying Gothic Horror fiction for the past few months, but I really don't think that's it. You see, a while back - I don't know how long, but it's less than a year, I witnessed something horrifying. Mr Earth, the Boy and I were taking the subway downtown, although I can't recall why. I was on the pay phone getting information about a book I had on hold, and Mr Earth was off to the side entertaining the Boy in his stroller. I was facing the escalator that we would be going down as soon as I got off the phone. I watched as a frail little old lady stepped onto the escalator. I watched as the lady went head first down the escalator. I listened to the descending cry of "ahhhhh!" as she fell to the bottom. If it had been a cartoon, I would have laughed, but it wasn't. It was real. It was surreal. I didn't know what to do and I froze. I sent Mr Earth down the stairs to see if she was okay, while I stayed with the Boy. I would have called an ambulance, but the TTC workers had already done it. Turns out that she got up and actually walked to a bench to wait for the ambulance. I was shocked because I was sure that result would have been different. It's been a long time since this happened, and I can still hear the sound of her scream.

Now, I see accidents everywhere. I'm afraid to walk down the stairs with the Boy in my arms because I think I'm going to fall. I'm afraid to drive with the Boy in the car, in case I get into an accident. I'm afraid to let the Boy anywhere near stairs, or ramps, or especially uneven ground. My heart clenches whenever we have to take the stroller on the subway. If the Boy is standing on the couch, I want him to get down so he won't fall and hit the coffee table. If he jumps on the bed, I think he's going to land on the floor. I could go on, but why? It's awful.

I don't stop him from doing anything. I still carry him down the stairs. We've driven on the highway to see my parents. We go places on the subway all the time. I do let him run and jump and climb. But there I am in the background: hovering, warning, cringing. I get so tense that I give myself headaches and my heart races. I don't want to be that kind of over-protective mum - the one that never lets their kids do anything fun. It's funny too, because I'm incredibly lenient about things that other moms are horrified at. The Boy has eaten whole grapes since he started on solids (I tried cutting them up, but he would have none of it). He has eaten food that has fallen on the floor. He spent the majority of his first year sleeping in strollers or mini-matinée theatres. We don't stay home every time I think he has a cold.

I guess what I'm most worried about is the possibility that this fear has nothing do with what happened on the subway that day. If it was, it would go away in time. I worry that the fear was always in me, and that day at the subway was just the catalyst. What I don't want is to raise a Boy who afraid. He doesn't deserve that.


NotSoSage said...

Oh, no-mo, I get you. I thought it was motherhood. Ever since Mme L was born I've seen potential tragedy everywhere! I think there's being alert and then there's being paranoid and unfortunately, I often feel like I'm leaning towards the paranoid end of the spectrum.

You're of the things I did not want after Mme L had a wee accident that killed her front tooth was to react in a way that would make her afraid to do anything adventurous anymore. If I can't find that balance within, I hope to at least achieve it on the surface so that she doesn't live in the fear that I do. Let me do that for her.

Kyla said...

Do you get that flash? Like you are going down the stairs and in your mind you SEE yourself falling with the Boy in your arms?

I have it ebbs and flows, though. Sometimes it is almost too much to resist, and sometimes it is a fleeting thought.

cinnamon gurl said...

I have those visions of horror too, walking by a banister on the second floor of the mall I imagine tripping and swee'pea flying over the banister to the hard floor way down below. It's part of our job to keep our little ones out of harm's way.

However, as a sufferer of anxiety, I think when it starts to affect your behaviour, when you start trying to avoid situations that rationally don't really pose significant risk, that's a problem.

I don't know if you saw them but I recently wrote a bunch of posts about my experience overcoming anxiety. Part of my anxiety started off with an elderly woman having a (not life-threatening) accident.

My counsellor described it as my self-defence anxiety, which normally keeps me safe, becoming overprotective. It sounds like that may be happening for you too. Please feel free to email me if I can help at all, or perhaps reading my anxiety posts might help. My next post in the series will look at anxiety in children, and how to avoid it as anxious parents... but I'm not quite there yet.

Swee'pea eats stuff off the floor too.

Suz said...

I'm glad you wrote about fear, because it's been much on my mind this weekend. This entire weekend, I've been worried about a colleague not getting me documents on time. I've feared that this might impact my performance rating at work or have some dire consequences. When I feel this fear, it's overwhelming, when I pick it apart, it disintegrates... but how do I keep my boys from living this way, from making decisions based on fear, from having it play such a big role in their lives.

This is a particularly pressing question because so much of my fear is tied up with them. We've baby proofed the house, but my husband left the gate at the top of the stairs open on Saturday. I walked into the foyer to find the baby on the top step, peering down. My cry of "TYLER NO!!!!!" startled him so much that he burst into tears. He might fear the top step now ... but maybe that's a good thing?

I don't know. It seems that whenever we talk about fears that there's a line to draw. I don't want the boys to live in fear, but I do want them to have some healthy fears. Because I tend to fear just about everything, drawing this line is a difficult thing.


bubandpie said...

I was going to say what Cin said - that I always think of fear as a protective response that (in some cases) goes beyond the point of being protective and becomes debilitating.

Motherhood definitely seems to program us to be more fearful - more alert to risks, with fewer emotional defenses against the mental images that go along with them. The accident you saw would be another thing putting your fears into overdrive at a time when you're already on hyper-alert (because of the age of your child).

I have a phobia of bees that varies in intensity depending on (a) my stress level, and (b) exposure (it's always worst in early spring). If I find myself more than usually paranoid about bees, I usually look at other areas of my life to see what's causing my stress level to rise.

Mimi said...

I'm like Kyla -- I have these freakishly detailed visions of terrible things happening, and then I sometimes burst into tears. And like Cin, seeing Miss Baby go over the railing.

The empathy that comes from mothering leads us, I think, to imaginatively place ourselves into scary places. Because to have a wee one is to be helpless but totally responsible. What could be scarier than that?

crazymumma said...

I htink we all have a thing. Something that makes us even more anxious than we already are. And it becomes VERY pronounced with small children.
I was soooo anxious with my first child.
Maybe if you feel comfortable with doing it, amybe with a safe friend, your partner, try and brave these things, force yourself into them, maybe than they will appear less frightening?

Mad Hatter said...

No-Mo: Yes. Yes, I know this. The gasp when she tumbles. The hand on the corner of the dining room table long before her forehead comes near. The panicked dash toward the end of the driveway to grab her hand even though there is no traffic in sight. I wish I could quell this fear b/c I see that it has an impact on her. I wish I were more like my husband or the sitters, so relaxed and willing to let her fall. The problem is I can't rewire myself to not feel the fear.

kittenpie said...

I have those moments sometimes, too. Like going down stairs with her in my arms, I'm always slow and ready to grab onto something. I'm anal about gates - because she fell as a very young thing and I've never felt like that before or since and never want to. (She crawled out of the room she was in with my mom and went right down a full flight of hardwood stairs. I heard it from downstairs and came running. I couldn't talk to my mom at all for fear of what I would say!) The rest of the time, I try to help her learn how to climb properly or just tell her to jump in the middle of the bed only. It really depends on the time and situation, but I totally get what you're saying here!