Friday, 7 December 2012

Don't laugh at my fear. I won't laugh at yours.

We were walking in the park the other day, a slow lovely afternoon. A dog ran past us and Antek - who is afraid of dogs - walked very quickly to the other side when he saw the dog approaching. The owner of the dog smiled at me and said, in passing, 'so cute'.  I try not to engage in conversations like these, with people who walk past and make casual comments about my child, even ones I completely disagree with. I try to ignore, most of the time. I do, however, have to say this: fear is not cute. A person who is afraid or uncomfortable, is not cute. My fears are certainly not cute. Are yours?

I am afraid of spiders. There, I said it. See, when I was a little girl my cousin's favourite game was catching spiders, putting them in my hair so deep they could not get out and then laughing his head off when I was trying to get them out. My hair was long, back then. And we lived in Poland, so we are not talking tarantulas or anything big and hairy with thick legs, nothing that could bite you. But does it matter? I don't think it does. Fear is not always rational. In fact, probably most times it is not. Can a tiny little spider hurt me? No. Do I know that? Yes. Am I still scared? You bet.

"What difference do it make if the thing you scared of is real or not?" (Toni Morrison)

I think none. It doesn't matter if the thing you're scared of is real or not; it definitely doesn't matter if it's scary to other people - it is scary to you. This is you emotion, your battle, your fear. Only you can deal with it. And I'm sure we would much rather get rid of all our fears (well, most of them), but is it that easy? Here is another thing, too. I believe other people making you feel bad about how you feel is not really that helpful. I am beginning to be more comfortable around spiders. I would not want one as pet, but I don't run out of the room the second I see one. Do you want to know my secret? My husband, for years now, has been patiently taking spiders out of my view and out of the house. Not once did he judge me. Not once did he laugh, or say it was 'cute'. Not once did he say anything along these lines: 'Hey, don't be scared, it's just a small spider'. See, I *know* it's just a small spider - I can see it. And I would much rather *not* be scared.

“Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary. The people we trust with that important talk can help us know that we are not alone.”  (Fred Rogers)

How often do we hear comments towards children: 'Don't be scared. It's just a dog.' I'm sure this child knows it's *just a dog*. To him, however, this dog is scary. It is big. And maybe, just maybe, he was accidentally knocked down by one when he could barely walk (like our son was), and is just not up for another challenge yet. Think of the perspective, too - things that are small and insignificant, or just plain normal to us, might not be to our children. Children who are scared are not 'cute' or 'adorable'. They are scared. Would I rather see my son happily running after dogs and playing with them as comfortably as I am? Sure. But does it matter what I would rather see him do, in light of the way he feels? One day, I'm sure, we will get a dog and he will love it, like I did mine. Heck, we might even get a spider. But until then, we are stuck with our fears, and the empathy of those around us is much more helpful in dealing with them than the wink of a stranger. Don't laugh at my fear of spiders. And don't laugh at my son's fear of dogs. We will not laugh at yours - everyone has something they are working on.

'Don't be scared' means, at least to my ears and my mind, 'Don't feel what you are feeling.' But can we really do that?

Janet Lansbury's wonderful post about the problem with words like 'cute' is right here!