Once this summer, my friend Kallyn told me about how she has absorbed her mother’s worst fears. Kallyn said when she and her sister were growing up, her mom was always afraid they were going to choke on something, probably a grape. Because of this, her mom cut grapes in half for her daughters much longer than most parents and didn’t allow them to eat any round candy. The choking fear was heightened when there was food being thrown into someone else’s mouth, even if it wasn’t a grape. Kallyn said to this day her mom still freaks out if she even sees someone throwing popcorn into someone else’s mouth.
Her second greatest fear was that someone would dive into the shallow end of the pool and end up paralyzed. According to Kallyn, she and her sister have both internalized these fears. In fact, I think this whole thing came up when some of our friends were throwing food into each other’s mouths from long distances and Kallyn covered her eyes. I believe we were even poolside. I’m sure she’s shuddering just thinking about it now.
This made me think of the bizarre fears I’ve “inherited” from my mom:
1. Losing people in crowds. Whenever we would go somewhere crowded (the fair, the mall, New York City), my mom would tell my brother and me exactly what we were supposed to do if we ever got separated. There were also overarching rules (in case you hadn’t received specific instructions), like if you lost someone, you were always supposed to go back to the last place you saw them. Then they would look for you there, too, and you would find each other.
Once when Pete and I were maybe 10 and 12, we were planning a family trip to New York City because my dad was going to a conference there. My mom grew up in Upstate New York and has lots of memories (both positive and negative) of trips to the city with her family. I think it’s safe to say that she was terrified of losing us the city, because she informed us that she would be looking into purchasing a couple of those plastic leashes parents used for their toddlers that looked like brightly colored telephone cords. Does anyone else remember those? I’m so glad the internet didn’t exist then, because that link was REALLY easy to find. Anyway, Pete and I were obviously way too old to wear anything like that, and we told her so. Although I think the real reason we didn’t end up wearing them was because she couldn’t find any. Probably because they only sold them at STORES FOR PARENTS OF TODDLERS.
Although I haven’t had kids yet, I definitely worry about losing people in crowds. I can think of two times I’ve gone absolutely ballistic when my friends didn’t have the same understanding of exactly what you’re supposed to do if you get separated in an unfamiliar place. Once was on a school trip to Washington, D.C. in High School, before cell phones were part of our lives. The worst, though, was when I went to Cabo San Lucas with a couple girl friends for Spring Break my senior year of college and lost my friend Casey in a huge bar full of people. She had run into a guy that worked at our hotel who we had befriended and stopped to chat with him. When we finally reconnected, I was so shaken I had tears in my eyes and Casey couldn’t figure out what was going on. She must have thought I was absolutely nuts – we were probably only separated for a minute or two – but in my mind, it had been forever. I was so upset I thought about going home for the night, but luckily she convinced me to stay.
2. Strangers who don’t know the password. I don’t know how else to sum this one up in a sentence. We always had a password that could be used in lots of ways. If a stranger knocked on the door and we were home alone, we could ask them for the password. If they didn’t know it, we didn’t have to answer the door. If someone offered us a ride home from school and they didn’t know the password, we wouldn’t get in their car. Of course, I can’t remember using this password in a circumstance like this, ever. But it was a comforting thing to have. Eventually the password was extended to mean “I want to tell you something but I can’t talk about it right now.” For instance, if I was at a friend’s house and that friend asked me to spend the night, I could call my mom and ask if I could stay, then say the password* on the phone. That way my mom would know that I had been invited but I didn’t really want to stay, so she would make up an excuse or a fake reason that I needed to come home. Now that I think about this, I really need to make some more passwords with my friends. I take it back. You had this one right, mom.
3. Driving behind logging trucks. One time, my mom told me she’d always hated driving behind logging trucks because she imagined the logs sliding off the back and hitting her car. Just by telling me this fact, she instilled in me the same terror. Galen has even explained to me all the different ways the logs are secured and strapped down on a truck and I’ll still change lanes as fast as I possibly can if I’m stuck behind one.
So, if the pattern continues, my kids will probably be afraid of all these things, plus spiders and going fast in boats. Heaven help them.
*And no, I will not publish the password online. Are you nuts?