A Fearful Child

When I was a baby, I was afraid of stuffed animals. My Mom tells me that she never had to put me in a playpen. If she was mopping the kitchen floor and didn’t want me crawling on it, all she had to do was put a teddy bear in the doorway.
She could put a stuffed animal in front of anything she didn’t want me to touch or go near. It’s a strange kind of baby-proofing, but it worked. Mom says I would sit perfectly still, with what she calls “the big eyes” and I wouldn’t move an inch. I’d be ashamed to admit how old I was before I didn’t feel uncomfortable around stuffed animals, although I did outgrow it eventually. Even my kids noticed that in all the pictures of childhood Christmases, you never saw me unwrapping a stuffed animal.

I can remember a nightmare I had before I was 5 years old. I dreamed my Dad was killed in a war. In my dream, the soldiers were the nutcracker kind of tin soldiers, and they were lined up in ranks. One fell over and I knew that was my daddy and he was dead. I had that dream over 40 years ago and I recall it still. I had lots and lots of the garden-variety monster in the closet nightmares. My sister was wonderful: she would let me climb into the upper bunk with her when I had one of those nightmares.

My uncle had a puppy: a Husky named Slingshot. I was absolutely friggin’ terrified of the little thing. I had never been bitten by a dog. No idea why that little ball of fluff scared the jellybeans out of me like he did, but I would climb onto the back of the couch and scream. The picture above shows me at about 8 years old with Slingshot’s puppy, Tumbleweed. I had just finished crying when Uncle snapped the photo.

Sometimes I think that my early fears might have been because I understood consequences rather early. I saw possible outcomes of a given action and recognized that negative results were a genuine risk. That doesn’t explain being terrified by an 8-week old puppy. Or a teddy bear, either. It does, however, explain why I was never a child to do particularly stupid things. I got into trouble, but it was usually because I knew what was right and chose wrong because it sounded like more fun.

It doesn’t seem like a complete answer. Why are some children such worry-warts? What baby is afraid of toys? And what pre-schooler has any real notion of death? Well, both my grandfathers were gone by then, so maybe I had an inkling. Something in me has been wired for caution and worry right from the day I was born.

Fear is a battle I’ve been fighting all my life. Most of the time, I can convince myself…reason with myself and assuage my fears enough to continue with my day. And, oddly enough, there are things that other people are afraid of that don’t bother me at all. I’m not afraid of new situations, tests, horses, snakes, spiders and lots of other things.

The passage of time has allowed me to trim some of my fears down to just caution. I wish I could lessen all of them. I’m never reckless, and certainly no kind of adrenaline-junky. I fought down my inclination to be overprotective with my children. I guess I knew they’d have to get a few bruises to grow up whole. Also, I force my mind away from my husband’s adventures: I just see too many worrisome possibilities there.
If I were to dwell on them and cave in, I think my fears could unhinge me. It takes a conscious effort of my own will to not let fears run my life.

My dad’s mom was a terribly fearful woman and it RAN her life. I don’t ever want to live that way. Is this something that could be inherited? Who knows? I hope that my husband’s total lack of fear would balance out the DNA department and let our children be appropriately cautious, without worrying themselves into inertia. For me, it's a daily struggle.

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