I've had a number of substantial fears in my life. Some have been rational, others less so, but this week I discovered a whole new one that trumps them all. I'll get to that, but first, let's review a few classics.
#1. The dark. I think it's perfectly natural for kids to have some fear of the dark. Heck, it's a natural instinct for human beings to be wary of the dark because you don't know what's in there. The dark might conceal predators or other dangerous animals (say, a puma or a mastodon), and it might conceal a safe path home. For me, a fear of the dark is inextricably tied to a fear of the unknown. The dark masks all, leaving the mind free to concoct horrors far beyond that which is possible, even in the basement of a Connecticut suburban home or New Jersey farmhouse. A memorable trip to my Mom's parents' place in New Jersey (near one of Washington's Revolutionary War winter encampments) consisted of me essentially avoiding the door out of the house because I would have had to pass the door to the basement. I'd heard some noise, probably just part of the heating system or plumbing, but I got it into my head that the basement was swarming with 17th century ghosts hell-bent on doing unimaginably terrible things to me. Years later, my Dad confessed to me that he too was terrified of that basement, and who the hell can blame either of us? The darkness was only part of the problem there, but that basement came to represent all that darkness could do; it consumes, contains, confuses, and tricks the mind into elaborating upon extant fears until one is whipped into a state of uncontainable terror.
# 2. Needles. I hate even bringing this up, Hudson, because you have already been poked with more needles in your almost-month of life than I think I have in my cumulative twenty seven years. With luck, you'll grow to accept and ignore needles as a necessary part of life, because they will be a frequent feature in yours. I don't really know where this fear came from, but as far back as I can remember, I've been so utterly terrified of needles that doctors and dentists (see three on this list) became associated with torture, even if it wasn't (as my Mom so simply put it) a "needle day." Oddly, having blood drawn became completely okay in the last few years, and tattoos are so completely fine that I don't even think about that as a needle-associated experience. Go figure.
#3. Doctors, and any other medical professional who has to "do stuff" to me. There was no way I was ever going to live the Connecticut dream of settling down with a nice, rich, Jewish doctor. The rich and Jewish parts are moot, and your Dad is quintessentially nice, but a doctor? Hells no. I've only in the last month learned to see doctors as anything but harbingers of doom, and even now, I am extremely wary of any doctor who has not proven him or herself as positive, warm, and not just focused on doing procedures and getting test results. I had a pediatrician growing up who frankly just made my teeth crawl. Not only did he regularly surprise me with injections (which I suppose makes sense, since younger kids get a ton of them), but it felt like every time I saw him was a guarantee of hearing about some terrifying thing that I could hypothetically get or have. Nothing was helped by the fact that he was our neighbor, so threats of "I suppose you could have x, y, or z, so we should check you out" were nearly constant. Note to parents: don't get a socially awkward, blunt dude as a pediatrician for your hypersensitive daughter prone to dramatic overanalysis. Suffice to say, I developed a bit of a neuroses that has never entirely worn off, even after such good experiences with your doctors recently. All doctors set my teeth on edge, at least a little.
#4. House fires. This fear feels more rational than the others, especially any time I have shared living space with others. Some stupid fire safety video that I saw in elementary school did a thorough job of driving home the point that house fires can happen anywhere, at any time, and (seemingly) with no cause or origin whatsoever. For years, I believed unswervingly that my house could just sporadically catch fire - almost definitely in the middle of the night when no one was awake to notice or react until our bedrooms were filled with smoke - and that I, my family, and all our worldly possessions would be consumed in flames. For a brief period of time, I had a bag packed with all my favorite toys and books inside, ready to grab when I inevitably needed to be pulled out of a window by a fireman. I've outgrown this fear - mostly - but several incidents in college when idiots who lived in my dorms actually did start fires, and a few instances of dumbass neighbors who seriously couldn't cook to save (or not accidentally end) their lives have reinforced the threat. If our current stove didn't cause clouds of smoke every time we bake something with oil on it (and I love roasted veggies), we would have smoke detectors in every single room in the apartment.
#5. Swarms of insects. One bug, even a really creepy and weird one? Whatever. A few bugs? Meh. Ten or fifteen bugs? I'm wary, but still cool. Several dozen bugs? I might need to go somewhere else. Uncountable numbers of bugs? I'm likely to vomit in my mouth, scream, run, and start blindly punching people out of the way...all at the same time. Twice in my life, my living space has been infested with book mites. These tiny little crawly things aren't even interested in mammals, instead preferring to feed off mold exuded by paper and wood, but when there are dozens of them crawling over every inch of every bookshelf in a habitat filled with bookshelves, it's a friggin' nightmare. The second time this happened was in your Dad and my second apartment together, and he was out when I made the discovery. I know it was roughly two in the afternoon when I found them because I spent the next three hours sitting on the dining room table, terrified that they had gotten into the carpeting, trapped on the one unupholstered surface in the apartment. Clearly, I would do poorly in the Amazon.
I'm pretty damn uncomfortable with a few other things, including ghosts (yes, ghosts), graveyards (because there could be ghosts, zombies, vampires...who knows?), water I can't see the bottom of (I don't know what's down there: it could be decomposing corpses hidden there by the mob!), photographs from the Victorian era (I have no idea what's up with that one), and sometimes mirrors (mostly because of some stupid short story I read as a kid: I won't even describe it). None of these even hold a candle to the gut-wrenching, nerve-shattering, psyche-shaking fear that I discovered last Wednesday when you had to go in for emergency surgery.
Your first operation was nightmarish. Your Aunt Erin noted that I looked "like the end of the world" midway through that afternoon, and that was quite accurate. You'd crashed twice after coming back from the OR, and no one really knew how you were going to fare. I had only slept a cumulative fifteen hours or so since giving birth to you, so of course I was a wreck, but the fear and anxiety I felt was terribly abstract. Your Dad and I had only spent a matter of hours with you by that point, and while we both felt an innate, instinctual connection with you, it was not a particularly emotionally deep one. While you were still knocked out and on the respirator, the fact that you were you started to click a little more. Once you were conscious, then when we were feeding you, and then when we could hold you...that's when it all started to fall into place. We lost a few weeks of bonding time, but once we could get our hands on you and see you be the little person who you are, I think we really made up for lost time.
That is why your operation this Wednesday revealed my new greatest and hugest fear: something happening to you. The first operation happened to some baby that supposedly "belonged" to me and your Dad. The second one, no matter how less invasive or substantial, happened to our son. Granted, I was also pretty insanely sleep deprived for that one (since I had stayed up all of the previous night with you, trying to keep you as comfortable as possible despite your growing infection); I definitely gave up any pretense of being the stoic, calm parent the PICU staff consistently lauded me for being and just cried a lot on your Dad, even when you came back from surgery and were completely fine. Hudson, your next two operations are clearly going to be more hellish than the first, even if we know what to expect, if for no other reason than that you will be in ANY danger. I'm going to do my damndest to keep this fear in check, so as not to smother you or subject you to too many paranoid doctor visits, but be prepared, kiddo. You have a Mom who would sooner face a swarm of MD-bearing needle-bugs in a dark burning building than see anything bad ever happen to you.