Not so long ago, my daughter’s bedtime routine ended with the following question every night: “Will you talk to me about it?”
It was all of the anxieties and fears and worries that invaded her bedroom as soon as she was tucked in.
“No matter what, everything will be okay. There’s absolutely nothing to worry about,” I would tell her, “Remember all the things you were worried about last night? None of them happened, right? So there’s no reason to be scared tonight. All you have to do if you feel scared is take deep breaths and think about all the stuff that makes you happy.”
And then we would take turns listing things like Barbie houses, trips to the beach, Abba songs, birthday parties and movies about Princesses.
I can’t remember the last time she asked me to talk to her about it, but I’ve taken to closing my eyes and thinking no matter what, everything will be okay whenever the lid flies off my own Pandora’s Box of worries.
I have an ongoing list of anxiety and fears.
I can spend an entire trip to the grocery, obsessing over a Facebook comment I fear came across the wrong way. I worry about how much money is in our kids’ college funds. That I let them have Lucky Charms for breakfast way too often. That around every corner is some gruesome, awful experience I can’t save them from.
In the mornings, I worry I won’t get to run before it’s too late, and at night, I worry I don’t spend enough time with my husband.
I’m scared of driving in storms at night. I’m scared of going to the dentist. And that I eat too much ice cream (but I still eat it anyway, almost every night).
I’m scared conversations that have been stuck in my head for years will never find their way to the light of day. Sometimes I worry that I don’t let my kids do enough on their own, other times that I do too much for them – often, these two worries can happen within seconds of each other.
I’m scared that even though we recycle, all of our discarded plastic is still going to end up in the middle of the ocean.
I’m scared that I’m not going to write every story I want to write.
Last weekend, I met a friend for brunch who likes to get the thick of it as early as I do. Before we had ordered our omelets, the conversation nose-dived into the fear keeping us from doing the things we want to do.
“What the fuck?! What are we so scared of?” (I’m not sure which of us said this.)
We were talking about all the things we want in our lives – I was talking about writing. We talked about the fear of getting what we want. And then we talked about how, maybe, our fear isn’t connected to the risks we need to take. Maybe our fear is more about having something to hold on to. To complain about. To blame our shit on.
“But, what if we let go of it? What then?”
When I was young, younger than my daughter during our will you talk to me about it conversations, I was sitting on my great-aunt Kat’s lap watching Salem’s Lot in my Grandmother’s wood-paneled living room. She and my grandmother were sitting in the two recliners facing the console TV. My other aunt was on the couch, her cousin sitting next to her. There’s a good chance I was the only one in the room not smoking. (It was 1979, everybody smoked.)
There’s a scene where the gravedigger climbs down into a freshly dug grave to open a coffin. We knew what was coming, but none of us could keep from jumping when the pale-faced kid vampire rises up and bites the gravedigger on the neck.
Holding onto my great-aunt’s wrist as if it was the only thing keeping me from falling off the edge of the earth, I continued to scream after everyone else’s fear had subsided.
My great-aunt’s cigarette had burned my hand, and still, I wouldn’t let go of her wrist. Realizing I was burned, she swooped me up and ran me into the kitchen to hold my hand under cold water from the faucet.
There’s a lesson here – in fear and holding on to things even though you could get burned.
How being scared is part of life, but holding onto your fear – or whatever it is you think will keep you from being scared – never works. The fear is going to stick around until you figure out how to walk through it – not away from it.
And the things we keep holding on to, because we’re scared, could end up burning us if we don’t let go.