My child-free-permanently-hungover friends talk about The Fear in the same way I used to. That uneasy “oh shit what did I do last night” feeling that has you hiding under a duvet after a heavy night. I used to suffer from it terribly, I would text everyone apologising the next day, even if they left before I arrived. Today though, The Fear means something very different. The Fear is a cloak I wear all over me all the time. It makes me behave like Gollum. I hold My Precious in my arms while scowling and hissing at people and things.
I always remember the sound of my Mum’s sharp intake of breath when I used to walk across top of my climbing frame. Or her stricken face running towards my sister and I when we fell out the wheelbarrow (Dad was running with it and we hit a speed bump, cue cartoon like picture of us flying through the air, me landing flat on my back and my baby sister landing on my chest with a bump). Later on in life it was her staying awake until I got home smashed at 3am. She used to get up when she thought I was asleep and come check I hadn’t been sick, moving my hair to be confronted with kohl-stained eyes and the haze of sambuca. In my teen years, all of her worry drove me nuts. Why was she such a stress head? I was fine! I was a grown up! Why couldn’t she just go to sleep and leave me be? Still even now when she worries about my girls I get that prickly feeling of irritation. But now, I understand it. Because I too get sick with The Fear.
It’s come as a shock. I’ve never been one to give into my fears. I like to consider myself brave and I protect myself. I only care about opinions from people I care about. I’m not friends with two faced people. I don’t think about things that can hurt me. I do things to challenge myself and I focus on the positive, not the worst possible, outcomes. I confront my fears. This has worked well for me through life. Until these two small beasts emerged from me. And now The Fear gets me all the time. Everything is scary. I want to avoid things. I hear everything everyone says. And I think horrible thoughts. I have these flashes of awful things happening to my babies. Someone recently told me that your brain does this to prepare you for something awful happening. I found this really distressing! Has my mind suddenly become Mystic Meg? I don’t want this! These are my most frequent ones:
- Our big heavy duvet falls into Girly no2’s Moses basket or falls on her when she’s under her gym
- The spotlights in our kitchen burn out the girls’ corneas blinding them forever
- I fly down the stairs, babe in arms, crushing Girly no1 as we land. This one happens three times a day ever since a good friend of mine had this happen to her. She tripped then got caught on the bannister and had to watch her baby fly through the air and hit the floor at the bottom. I felt nauseous and choked up for her when she told me about her slowly approaching him to see if was still moving. Bbbbbrrrrrrr. Shivers down my spine.
- I put a hat and snowsuit on and they go bright red and overheat. I take them out in just a coat and they turn blue and freeze. I crave yellow. Our house is covered in glowing owls that display the temperature – they’re happy when they’re yellow.
- I let Girly no2 have a nap in her car seat and wish I hadn’t. The shock stories that crop up on my newsfeed make me approach ours as if it’s a pin-free grenade
- Grapes. I only have to look at the little fuckers and all our throats close up.
You may be scared of clowns. Or China dolls. Heights. Cotton wool (I never got this one, what a weird thing to be scared of). For me it is driving. Other people’s driving to be precise. Cars lurk in side roads waiting to roundhouse kick us. Cars race me from behind as though the chequered flag is waved just ahead. Lorries randomly change lanes as I’m driving past waiting to swat me from the road like a mosquito. I hate anyone else driving the girls and I around. It’s too fast, not smooth enough, too close to the car in front, too sharp around corners. I used to think my mum was mental because she wouldn’t let anyone else (including my dad) drive my two siblings and I in one car. Now I spend time looking at the price of armoured tanks on the internet (they don’t sell them on eBay or auto trader, and Amazon Prime is no good here in case you were wondering). I know this will only get more and more difficult. I dread the first time one of them gets the train to go shopping with their friends, the first time they walk to school, the first time they run into a shop to buy sweets, the first time they run to a public toilet on their own.
All these fears could paralyse me to the point of never leaving a padded cell on the ground floor of my armoured bungalow. But then I would be failing as a parent. Not fulfilling my main objective of bringing a capable, confident, brave, independent individual to adulthood. So I do the only thing I can do. I play with the seesaw of risk. I balance the weight of danger at one end and independence at the other knowing that one day they will take control of it themselves. I’m acutely aware of quite how different others’ seesaws are to my own but I stay focused on mine in the present. I am selective about which horror stories I read from my Facebook feed. I block the terrifying mind flashes before they finish. I drive my tank sensibly paying too much attention to other road users. And when one of The Fears get me, I hold my babies a little bit tighter and remind myself why I’m here.