i am a natural born worrier. i worry about parking in underground lots where unsavory characters might grab me. i worry about food that’s past the expiration date. i worry about running out of toilet paper or my favorite dish soap. i worry about hurting people’s feelings. i worry about accidentally hitting an unseen child in a busy parking lot with my big car. i worry about someone hitting one of my children in a busy parking lot. i worry about finding my car in a big parking lot when i come out of the store, especially when i was on the phone when i went in and wasn’t paying attention. and most especially, when i am in a hurry and don’t have time to wander around the lot, pushing my heavy cart and clicking my car keys hoping to see some lights flash. i worry a lot about parking lots, i am realizing.
i worry about being eaten by an alligator or a shark or a bear or a mountain lion. i worry about pedophiles in the park (or anywhere) getting their hands on my children. i worry about biting into a muffin filled with raisins that i thought were chocolate chips. i worry that i will never live in paris or that by the time i do, i will be so old that i will have to wear orthopedic shoes and not pretty little ballerina flats like a true parisian. i worry that my children will never learn to eat with their mouths closed and they will always grip their cutlery like they are preparing to throw a spear. i worry that my daughter will over-pluck her eyebrows while she is away at college and she will spend the rest of her life with skinny, awkward arches that don’t compliment her face. i worry that my children will get dumb tattoos of cartoon characters or chinese symbols that aren’t even drawn correctly. i worry that raising my children in a small, white, suburban, leave it to beaveresque neighborhood will not prepare them for the real world… that they will grow up to be entitled or small-minded or wonder bread-like people. and now, i worry that my children are not safe when they go to school. in the last month, their schools were cancelled or placed on lockdown twice and a shooting happened at the stem school in denver (35.9 miles away) that left one heroic student, kendrick castillo, dead and many others injured.
i have ways of mitigating my fears… i will drive around endlessly to find a parking spot before entering the depths of a lot when i am by myself. i go to costco and stock up on soaps and lotions and paper goods so that i always have back up. i throw out the canned foods or milk on the “best buy” date - this really frustrates my mother when i am staying with her. “a 69 cent can of tomatoes is not worth barfing children” i say, as my mother rolls her eyes. i take my time driving my big car in parking lots, even when i am in a hurry, and i still hold the wrists of my children in a steel vice grip when we walk through them, despite the fact that they are nine and thirteen. i try to park in the same aisle every time so even if i am distracted when i leave my car, i know where to begin looking for it when i return. i consistently shop at “my target” or “my walgreens” where i have “my parking aisle.” and at airports, i always take a picture of the sign.
i question the waiter or cashier about the carrot cake or cookie or scone to determine if it is raisin-free or even break it in half to study it before i bite in recklessly. i know how to escape or combat scary wild animals: alligator - run in a zig zag (they can’t turn quickly), shark - bonk him on the nose, bear - get in a fetal position and cover your neck, mountain lion - get big and DON’T run. plus, i never camp. i offer my children incentives when they go on overnights with their summer camp… “if you stay alive, and don’t get eaten by a bear or a wild turkey, i will take you out for a banana split when i pick you up. if you don’t stay alive, no banana split for you!” i don’t buy uncomfortable shoes anymore, even if they are really pretty, so that my feet stay healthy and prepared for all the ballerina flats of paris. i sent my son to cotillion classes as soon as they would take him (my daughter will start next year), to sharpen his table manners and now i just sing out, “COTILLION” when either of my children speak with their mouth full or burp loudly or pick up a macaroni with their fingers. i end up calling out, “COTILLION” a lot, but they can take classes until they graduate from high school so we have some wiggle room.
i agreed to raise my children jewish, the faith of my first husband, even though i grew up with waspy, midwestern parents, in part because jews aren’t supposed to get tattoos. whenever my kids show any interest in a babysitter’s tattoos, i remind them that they are jewish (with santa and the easter bunny thrown in) and tattoos are absolutely off limits for them. piercings too, for that matter. i point out women on TV with strange, skinny, pencilled-in eyebrows to my daughter, so she knows what i am talking about. i take my kids into big cities whenever possible, to show them grit and art exhibits and people wearing something other than exercise clothes (we live in boulder, co. the fitness capital of america) and i regularly quiz my children on safety standards. “what do you do if an alligator is chasing you? what about a shark, a bear, etc. what if your freshman roommate offers to pluck your eyebrows? what if she is really cool? what do you do if a stranger/pedophile asks you to help him find his puppy?” sometimes i jump out at my children and scare them, just to keep them on their toes for weirdos who might try to grab them from the bushes…. although this practice has started to backfire… now my children jump out at me too. there has been more than one morning where i’ve ended up flinging my coffee and splattering up my house.
but i can’t figure out a way to mitigate my fear of school shootings. colorado seems to have a disproportionately large number of them… this week i had to talk to my kids about strategies for this terrifying situation. “if there is any kind of exit you can reach… RUN!” i said, “it’s hard to hit a moving target and most of these shooters don’t have good aim.” but what to do if they can’t escape? WHY is this even a conversation we need to have? the day after the stem shooting, my son’s school was put on lockdown for an unrelated threat. i was paralyzed with fear until we were all notified that the concern was handled. i picked both kids up from school that afternoon, relieved that their soccer practices were cancelled due to loads of rain, and took them directly home. we got into our pajamas, cuddled up on the sofa and dug into the big pillowcase of halloween candy (YES - i still have it!) and watched a tiffany haddish movie. it’s all i could think of to do…
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