Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Motherhood, Brought to You by Wes Craven

(Edward Gorey, Gashlycrumb Tinies)

The world is a dangerous place. There are so many ways we can fall prey to the hazards of being alive.  The spectrum is glorious; A plane can, for dramatic example, crash into your brokerage office, or in a more subtle turn, one could simply die from the anemia of loneliness over a long, long time. Anyone with a vivid imagination, or kids, has run through the myriad anxieties, the scenarios of potential harm that can befall the ones we love. Some of us might, from time to time, require a sedative to prevent these anxieties from ruling the day.

I, for one, can see ordinary events through, to their very most horrific and unlikely conclusion, in nanoseconds.  I see my son, Lou,  running joyfully across the yard with a stick in his hand and for a flash, I daydream that he trips, ramming that stick through his soft palette. 

Lily hangs upside down from the monkey bars and I cinematically imagine her neck hitting the ground  first, a muffled thud, when she falls.  My kids wrestle constantly and my consistent, begging plea is, "Watch the neck, watch the NECK!!" Because I see every summersault as a plausible brain injury and every leap off the couch as potential C1 fracture.

Vild has none of this, as I suspect is true for most men.  Vild will do the very most stupid, dangerous, life-threatening thing, and never, for a  moment, worry.

My worry has little bearing on my mothering style. I am not an uptight parent, nor an overly cautious one. In fact, I'm kind of lazy and stubborn. I give my kids a lot of rope. Vildy lets both the kids drive the tractor mower in lazy circles around the yard.  Lily can cut her own fruit. For fun, in summer, they don helmets and ride a sled down the grassy hill, between the trees. I let them jump from impossibly high places. Our house came with a pool, the greatest safety leap of all time.

But somehow, since I became a mother, I became the director of horror films, shown only in the midnight screening room of my own mind. Concurrently, I also became incapacitated by squeamishness.

There was a time when I'd crane my head for a better look at someone's gash, or held my hand to a gushing wound without so much as a wince.  I used to enjoy a nice surgery show, delighted by a colorful look at someone's diseased spleen. But no more. 

Now, I get the swoons.  Im thinking about carrying smelling salts in a vile around my neck until my kids grow up and Vild becomes a totally different person genetically.

Last summer I came home to a scene in which Lou had caught his finger in a folding lawn chair. The rusty  joint had removed his fingernail in one piece, Syriana style, leaving it attached only by a stubborn piece of cuticle.  He screamed like a wild animal in the bathroom while Vild, thankfully home for this devastating slice of repulsion, triaged and administered first aid. Lily was running around in our tiny hallway, flapping her arms and giggling in grossed-out shock and certain delight that it wasn't happening to her.

I walked in, and walked right back out.  The blood in my temples did too.  I stood in the hallway for about forty seconds deep breathing, hands on my knees.  Lou needed me, was calling for me, and I knew I had to keep my Chinese chicken salad in repose and face my boy's agony. But it was a horror of its own to realize I might not be able to help him.

It has always been a source of prideful vanity for me that I am good in a crisis.  That I can keep my head, be counted on to pull people through, and remain unflinching in a disaster is nearly a resume item for me.  But I've been demoted.  Steadfastness-in-the-face-of-gore has been handed a pink slip. I am no longer the Sigourney Weaver of my emotional Alien, but the bikini clad coed in a b-film who screams with a round mouth and lidless eyes, while the whole community is devoured by zombies.

One night, I awoke to the sound of Lou falling through the air from his loft bed. This seems impossible, I know. It must have been the thud that woke me, or his cries, but I swear to you, it was the change in air pressure, the wispy sound of his decent that roused me.  I was outside his door when I heard him hit the floor and then scream.  There was blood all over his face, sliding into the terrified ditch of his mouth. The night-light illuminated only a dreadful dark oozing without detail. I grabbed a wash cloth as he bled into my t-shirt and together we went for ice. All the while I said, "Ok, ok. It's ok.  You're ok." Over and over, like a mantra or a summoning. Bring forth the OK. Surround him in the OK. Buffer the darkness, absorb the blood, with the desperate power of OK.

He'd hit his nose on the ladder going down, and had bloodied it, nothing worse.

"I want to be in Mama's bed," he said, his voice muffled by my neck. Mama's bed, that pillowy place away from hurt, from dark, from loneliness. "Ok. Ok." I whisper and carry him toward Mama's bed. Mine. 

His nostrils caked with dried blood, he falls instantly back to sleep.  His Dad, also in Mama's bed, sleeps soundly, none of the preceding drama having disturbed his rest in the slightest. 

Where the film of my psyche is one directed by John Carpenter, his is directed by Ron Howard, and he rests in the tender cotton of a less offensive Parenthood.

When I stand up, to go pee, my blood pressure catches up with the plot points of the evening, and suddenly I'm blacking out.  "Ok, Ok" I say to myself now, as I crawl retching on hands and knees toward the toilet.

I call Vild's name three times, four.  Then he's up, confused, irritated, assessing.  With Lou in bed sleeping, and me retching over the bowl, he sees me as the patient, and perhaps now I am. I don't actually barf, but instead rest my head on yesterdays pajamas and a damp towel thrown in a heap on the floor. I hear Vild carry Lou back to his own bed.  And then I hear the familiar strain of springs as Vild climbs back into ours. 

"That's it?" I ask. 

"Was there something else?" He wants to know.

"I guess not." I say, as my equilibrium returns and I crawl back under the blankets.


  1. I thought of several other worrywart mamas who needed to read this piece. Remember being carefree? I used to think that I was not neurotic. Those days were gone the minute I left the delivery room.
    As usual Schicko, you have said it well.
    Gonna go say "be careful" to everyone.

  2. Be careful. How many times a day do I say that? I wish I had a can of that, like one of those sports horns, so I could just pull the trigger and bellow it out without actually using my vocal chords.

  3. I totally relate. Fathers go through this too. Or maybe just Jewish fathers. Or maybe just THIS Jewish father.

    Great writing, Jess.

  4. oh my GOD, you are brilliant! It's 4:23 am (don't ask) and I am roaring down here in the kithcen. Bob just got up and came down all sleepy and asked if I'm all right.
    how many times have I imagined throwing myself off a theater balcony, landing on someone's neck? way too many.....

  5. The fertile imagination of my inner worrier is nodding in understanding. You capture and translate those thoughts exquisitely.

  6. One of the first times that Ruby got to go to her big brother's school for a pot luck get together she somehow got her flip flop clad foot run over by a big heavy metal door and it took off a bunch of the skin on the top and the toes. I walked about with her screaming on my shoulder, about to pass out myself, terrified to look, mewling plaintively, "is anyone here a doctor... a nurse... can someone help me?"
    When finally someone recognized my inability to cope and took over I collapsed on a bench where my then seven year old son had to make sure I didn't faint.
    Ah, another proud moment in my parenting career.