My husband and I struck a bargain when I was pregnant with our first child. He might argue that I extracted his promise like juice from an orange, but still, a deal was struck. He agreed to stop spitting in public. I could rest easy knowing that our kids would never walk down Main Street hawking goobers “just like dad.”
In return, I promised to rise above my fear of all things creepy, crawly, swarmy and squirmy. I had to get over my phobia of bugs.
My husband is an excellent bug squasher. It’s one of the reasons I married him. If you suddenly find yourself confronted by a gigantic alien water bug covered in sprouting hairs, my husband can calmly intervene with a large paper towel. Or a shoe.
I was happily married to my own personal insecticide – until I started having maternal reservations. I remembered my mother’s fear of snakes as a palpable thing, quick and slithering. And catching. Anything that can make mom scream like that is surely a code-red-category-five-emergency. You don’t mess with terror.
I decided that my kids might like a chance to, well, . . . like bugs. I learned to greet the appearance of enormous spiders, earwigs, and carpet beetles with a calm demeanor. And the hand vacuum. My smile may have been rigid, but it held back the curse words. I didn’t even shudder.
Six years later, my four-year old loves bugs almost as much as she loves ice cream. Her favorite? Spiders, of course. The bigger the better. She calls them “fluffy bunnies” and would cuddle them if she could. Spider-Man is her hero. Our house is an entomological wonderland. We catch insects together, study them, count their legs and eyes and wings.
My little spider lover is also fascinated by snakes, by their movement, their sinuous grace. At the zoo, with my daughters along, I run my hand down a snake’s cool back. There’s no code-red. Not even any terror.
Unlike her sister, my oldest child has no love for creepy crawlies. Still, even she finds ways to catch me in my fears. In high school, I hurled algebra books in frustration; now, I have a child who sees the world in terms of math. I am learning to cultivate an enthusiasm for numbers, along with spiders, snakes, and other tricky marvels.
Let’s face it: having kids is a fearful business. There is always another edge, another way to split your heart with fear – and wonder. Children fracture our old lives, our old selves, and, inside those fractures, we find the room to grow. We get a new chance to like bugs or snakes or bats, to embrace heights or public speaking. We get a new chance to invent exactly who we are. Who we want to be.
It’s true that my kids have never hawked goobers on the street. It’s also true that, someday, I might just have to teach them.
Follow Lisa on Twitter at @lisa_ahn