There’s A Tiger In My Closet

“May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears.” ~Nelson Mandela

I watch the seconds tick and each one feels closer to impending doom. Each breath feels tighter as I try to hold myself perfectly still. My mind is racing with the consequences of each lost minute….shattering screams, convulsions, damaged immune systems, stressed brains, stunted growth. Shhhhh. Shhhhh. Lullaby. lullaby. Sparkle, sparkle, ceiling stars. Then dog toenails and the bathroom light. She flip flops and sits up. The anger seethes through me as every muscle tenses. CURSE word. That’s it, officially doomed to a life of ill-health and mental instability, because she’s thirty minutes short on sleep tonight after a car nap. Permanently damaged due to sleep deprivation.

The kids’ sleeping and eating are my current top two Saber Tooth Tigers—those things you encounter that seem life or death. Those things that make you uncontrollably mad and inflexible and nagging. Ways to fix or control them run through your brain on constant repeat.

I gratefully encounter hardly any risks to the children’s or my survival daily. (Except for getting into a car every day, which for whatever weird reason I can compartmentalize-check out the statistics though-yikes). My brain however seems hell-bent on creating fears and risks to fill its apparently large space originally reserved for tigers, plagues and locusts.

If my brain isn’t having a creative enough day to fill itself with survival fears, the marketers and media and social media are always willing to step in.

When I was pregnant I concentrated (read: obsessed) on my son’s external environment. There would be no flame retardants in the crib mattress, even if they were federally mandated. A few hours on Google led me to a company that had found a loophole in the mandate. Without hesitation and a healthy dose of smugness, I ordered their coconut husk and wool mattress to go in my future son’s wooden European non-chemical covered crib. I ordered glass bottles so the phthalates from plastic wouldn’t leach into the milk. I ordered baby wash that had pretty much nothing in it but filtered water, I bought organic onesies, I declared I would only feed him organic, hormone, antibiotic and nitrate-free food. I swore he’d never play football. I bought a bamboo toilet seat so his tiny hiney wouldn’t absorb the plastic phthalates while he sat upon the throne.

It was soothing to knock out those risks, see ya chemical induced cancer, bye bye hormone disrupting plastics, catch ya later environmental neurodevelopmental delays. I was so sure that if I could control any risk and if I just got it all right and safe, my son would also be all right and safe.

But darn paradoxes. The more I tried to control risks to make life good, the less good life felt. The less happy my children were. I was exhausted and strung out.

Then two years ago, I woke up and realized it was the fears or me. There wasn’t room for us both anymore. I chose me. It was the scariest thing I’d ever done. And it’s a never-ending battle, but it’s one I’m glad I have the privilege to fight.

So I may go take away the bright chemical blue popsicle that my toddler and hound dog are currently licking together, but encourage them to come join my son and me eating Cheez-it’s and calling it dinner while watching a trashy movie past our bedtime.

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