Afraid of everything

Phobias as a means to get anything

My kids have embraced phobias as a way to get, or get out of everything they want. “Can’t sleep,” says Julian, at 2 a.m., when he routinely wanders into our bedroom, because he’s afraid of the Bermuda Triangle, or so he says. He then can’t get back in bed because of the tornadoes that might come crashing through our fourth floor window. He can’t close his eyes because of ghost nets (nets that get abandoned in the ocean and wreak havoc on wildlife) that might come through the walls of his room—a conflation between ghosts and ghost nets that is somewhat endearing but also maddening at this hour. 

Ada’s phobias are more esoteric. Last night she claimed there was a T-shaped bone in her neck and she heard if it got loose it could kill her. “Look it up on your phone,” she said. “I can’t be left alone with it, or I’ll die.” But it’s in your body, I reasoned, before realizing this was beyond reason—to fear something that was both unidentifiable, not an actual risk, nor removable from the context. She also knows significantly more about human body function than I do, after pouring over various texts including Maris Wicks’ Human Body Theater and Professor Astro Cat’s Human Body Odyssey. “It’s near your esophagus,” she added, to convey some more credibility, as she sensed my utter exasperation. 

In a moment of weakness, I succumbed to googling “t-shaped bone neck kill you” with Ada looking on, as well as “ghost nets coming through wall” on a separate occasion. Neither yielded anything pertinent, but because it’s Google they certainly yielded something, which was enough to spook both the kids, as they asserted these fears were real. 

Ada argued that if we read two bedtime books, rather than one, and I rubbed her back gently, and laid in her bed for an extra five minutes, it’d help her be less afraid. Julian argued that a popsicle would assuage his fears, also an extra bedtime song, a parent sleeping in his bed, an extra stuffy, turning on a star lamp, extra ice in his water (4 cubes), straightening out his blankets to evenly cover every corner of his mattress, and changing his pajamas to a fresh pair in the middle of the night. As you can imagine this list gets longer by the day.

The experts say you should show kids empathy and support around their fears. You should slowly expose them (to bees or dogs, for example). You should try and manage your own anxiety and demonstrable fear around their triggers, and model a fearless behavior. 

I read this and nod, and wonder for a moment about how to expose my daughter slowly to the mysterious and unnameable bone in her neck, or how to convince Julian the Bermuda Triangle occupies a fixed geographic region and won’t, in fact swallow him up. This advice wasn’t made for fantastical phobias, or just clever kids who use phobias to push buttons. 

At 2 a.m., then 3 a.m., then 5 a.m. the three year old walks into our bedroom. At that point it’s admittedly hard to find any empathy and come up with a plan. “I’m going to accidentally eat a toxic mushroom and it will kill me,” Julian claims, faux quaking in his boots, and one of us crawls back into his bed, and rubs his belly, feeding the beast but too tired to do otherwise. 

Recommendations for the family:

I don’t usually send this on Fridays but with school starting it has been A Real Week and hope you, too, are marking this occasion of making-it-till-now with a festive beverage.

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