Monday, October 04, 2010

mama monday: monsters under the bed

I was reading a post by dooce™ recently that had to do with phobias she had as a child.  What really amused me were the 56 comments left by readers answering the question:
Dare I ask — and I may very well regret this — what were you obsessive-compulsive about as a kid?
I remember a little boy I met when I stayed in Ediburgh who must have been about four or five years old.  He was cute as a button but GOONESSGRACIOUS, was he ever obsessive-compulsive.  For about two weeks he developed a habit of coughing.  Not a I'm-sick-and-need-to-remove-phlegm-in-order-to-breathe kind of cough, more of a clearing-of-the-throat kind of cough.  All.  The.  Time.  A friend of mine and I took control of the situation by having him cough into his fist, "drop" the cough into the toilet, and flush it away.  We were successful but undoubtedly unleashed countless more phobias regarding toilets.

My own quirks were reasonable enough.  I heard a story about a woman at our church who had once swallowed a chicken bone and had to have it surgically removed.  Each time we ate chicken I'd inspect each bite with my tongue thoroughly before swallowing and would panic slightly if ever I swallowed something that felt a degree sharper than rigorously masticated chicken meat.  After the meal, if I hadn't died, I figured it was safe to assume I hadn't swallowed a bone.

Other O-C tenancies I began as a child I have yet to outgrow.  I still prefer (although I am mature enough to put the preference aside for the sake of decorum) not to step on the cracks in the sidewalk.  The habit had nothing to do with breaking my mother's back, or any other superstition, but rather some sort of mathematical and rhythmic game.  How many steps could I squeeze into each sidewalk tile before having to avoid a crack?  Would avoidance of said crack slow my walking tempo?  Would a longer stride spare me the crack each time?

If I am completely, utterly alone, I still avoid the cracks even at thirty years of age.

Many of the phobias, superstitions and obsessive habits children acquire are from a well-meaning adult giving them information without proper context.  Germs are a good example of this.  Knowing that tiny, invisible organisms are on your hands at any time and have the ability to make you sick might help children to wash up before dinner, but I doubt their imaginations stop there.

I love parents who exaggerate the silliness and fantasy of scary things, empowering their kids to feel fearless instead of fearful.  My friend Melissa, who is due this week, decorated her infant son's room with monsters.  The result is a bright, colourful room that encourages him to engage in adventure because love will keep him safe.

What were some of your phobias growing up?  Were they easy to break out of or did they follow you past childhood?  How were some of the ways your environment inspired you to live fearfully or fearlessly?


Matt said...

Great post Sarah!

I've been thinking a lot recently on the effects that childhood beliefs and patterns have on us (and wishing it wasn't so).

I used to be a big fan of the avoiding-the-cracks-on-the-sidewalk game too! I'm afraid that now, in my old age, I have too much going on in my head to even think about the cracks I carelessly walk upon.

Viara said...

Great post. It is such a fascinating topic to me, particularly since I became a mother and have been able to watch Julian grow into some of the same fears and anxieties that I had as a child.
A striking example was when we watched a movie about the Sun's end 5 billion years from now. When I (at 10 or 12) found this out and the repercussions of it for Earth, it used to haunt me, until my mid twenties! Without any emphasis from us, Julian picked up on the information from the documentary and made the logical leap. We would all die!
However, he doesn't understand the 5 BILLION YEARS part, and so he would often ask me things like "Is Christmas going to come before the Sun explodes?"