Suburban Snapshots

Small Consolation

Monday, July 18, 2011

The three of us, our dogs, and thirty other friends and family members spent this past weekend camping out in and around my parents' house in Maine. They have acres and woods, and also central air. It was the first time I'd slept outdoors in years; back in high school I stopped going on the annual Catskills trips opting instead to throw parties while the adults were out of town. I impressed myself by setting up a tent, inflating the air mattress, cramming it into the tiny zipper door, and actually sleeping with Anna in the smelly, damp thing two nights in a row.

Anna and her cousins played for hours outdoors. The adults grilled, drank, sat up late around crackling fires, drank, and watched with pride the ever-growing population of kids become increasingly bruised, bitten, and filthy. It was admittedly a soft introduction to camping, but over the course of three days Anna hardly came inside.

Sunday was hot and breezeless. A group headed to a nearby pond to cool off and despite her protests, I packed up Anna and we headed for the water. We weren't pond-side for twenty seconds when she noticed a nearby float being bumped by tiny waves, and next to that an inflatable tube. She became inconsolable.

Anna lost it. She screamed for us to go get the floats, to bring them farther in. She was yelling that they'd be washed away. She gestured frantically. She hid her face in my mother's chest like she was watching a horror movie. Her fear was raw and it beat hard on my chest. Two groups nearby watching our failing efforts to calm Anna shared stories of their own kids' fears, one woman asked me if she acted this way with other things. I wanted to tell them all that little kids get weird fears all the time, my kid is okay, I know she's a disaster right now but I swear she's normal. She's normal.

The kind people who owned the drifting water toys pulled them to shore, and for a second Anna was calm. But her eyes surveyed the water line and spotted more, and before she spiraled back to panic I carried her across the road to the parked car. We weren't in the cross walk before I was sobbing. I was trying to calm her and I couldn't stop myself from crying. She held onto my neck trembling out her last tears. Her hair was sticky and her face was wet on my shoulder. I held her and rubbed her back, leaning against my car until I could pull myself together.

I can tolerate a lot with Anna, I can take her little rage, her disobedience, I can take being dragged out of bed and bossed around before the sun is even up, but my God you guys, I'm really bad at fear. And I know this will pass -- it's just the latest in a line of fears that have included everything from fuzz to wind. But it's awful to not be able to reassure her, to wonder if I need to be tougher, hoping I'm not reinforcing her worry with my impulse to comfort her in the moment.

I was under the impression that being a mom meant being able to always fix things, where saying, "It's going to be okay" made it so. Or at least I'd hoped to hold onto that myth for a while longer.

blog comments powered by Disqus