Monday, March 13, 2006

Just look away

Sorry gang, this one is serious. The scariest thing happened yesterday.

I was in the bathroom installing cabinet doors (and doing a poor job at that) when Dan came in, looking pale and short of breath. He had been playing with Jonah and happened to look up in time to see Mary-Beth teetering by the couch with my kitchen scissors in her mouth! Pointy side in! Pointy side in, man! I think it's fair to say the sight of it shaved 5 years 23 days and 11 minutes off poor Dan's life. The look of fright was soon replaced by a look of "hellooooooooo not-so-smart!"

You see, the scissors were within Mary-Beth's reach because I didn't put them away. I had used them in the living room and gotten up from what I was doing, leaving them on the couch. I know, I know. Talk about irresponsible. We all know scissors don't belong anywhere except nestled in a cozy little drawer rubbing shoulders with the pens, playing cards, spare keys and loose change. You're right, I know you're right. I thought I had pushed them far back enough that Mary-Beth couldn't reach them. It's weak, but it's the truth.

What would have happened if Dan hadn't looked up? What if he hadn't even been in the room? Worse yet, what if Mary-Beth had fallen? Unfortunately I can imagine it all too well.

I have a maddening side affect left over from a depression in my 20's. It strikes me without warning and stops me in my tracks sometimes. I can quite vividly picture any form of death or dismemberment. Car accident, plane crash, drowning, torture... you name it, I've pictured it or had a dream about it, and imagined it unfolding in excruciating detail.

I can hear all the sounds - car engine revving when the tires leave the ground, jet engines roaring, metal buckling and glass shattering. I can feel the movements, or the cessation of movement as would happen in a plane crash. And even imagine the pressure of debris on my body (the images of 9/11 didn't stop when I turned the television off) or how suffocating it would feel to be enveloped by mud or snow. The sting of glass fragments and piercing of sheet metal. Being in my car upside-down in a river, unable to get all the kids out of carseats and seatbelts. The gruesome list goes on and on.

In days past, when fear would strike I'd sit and nurture each horrific scenario from beginning to freakish end with gut-wrenching clarity. I'd relive it over and over again in slow motion, adding grim detail each time. Enough to dement even the soundest of minds. It was a macabre game I played with reality. It was all too easy to overwhelm myself with what if's, nearly to the point of insanity.

I don't get to choose whether or not the fear strikes. It happens when it happens and I can't stop it. The choice is in deciding not to dwell on it. I just have to look away. Just mentally look away. It seems to work for me.

I also have a plan for literally everything. I keep scissors in the van so I can cut all the seat belts and carseat harnesses if I need to. I know where all the exits are. I sit in the rear of planes and trains, and I have a plan for burglars that just might curl their hair. Lose a limb? Grab it! I'm all over the ice chest! You just can't be too prepared.

So what have I learned?

1. Fear is pointless. It really and truly is! (If I say it enough I might start to believe it.) No matter how many times I chew up a plane crash in my mind's eye, I can't stop one from happening.

2. You just can't be afraid of living. You can try to avoid life, but it happens in spite of you. And a lot will happen without you if you lock yourself away in fear of the what if.

3. If I live in fear, my kids will do the same. That point is probably my biggest motivation for living by #1 and #2. I refuse to pass on this legacy of fear.

I do everything I can to keep my husband and my kids safe. We hold hands while crossing the street. We buckle up for safety. We wait 1/2 an hour after eating before we swim. But Mary-Beth still got her hands on the scissors. One stupid mistake could have cost my baby her vocal cords, or her eye, possibly even her life. And while that scares the hell out of me, I can't dwell on it. I just have to make a conscious effort to evaluate it and decide what not to do next time.

And look away.
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