Phobias, Fears, and Flatulence

There are certain October activities that err on the side of dramatic. Anxious, shall we say. I know perfectly normal people who will give up their cold hard cash on purpose to get lost in a dark maze full of professional actors. A pumpkin is inadequate for their anxieties. They need chainsaws. Screaming. Running. And an exit sign.

My idea of a good October activity is to let the house go for the month. I have cobwebs in every corner, dead flies on the window sills, and dust an inch thick everywhere else. Squeaky doors, mysterious footprints down the hall, slimy potions in the fridge. I don’t like to brag, but I have a 3″ slug living in my shower right now. Some people pay good money for this level of authenticity.

But really, what is your idea of scary? What is your worst nightmare? Your darkest fear?

  1. Creepy Crawlers: spiders, mice, rats, bugs, snakes, cockroaches, worms
  2. Pokey Things: needles, vampires, , splinters, dentists, bees, ticks, Inigo Montoya
  3. Squishy Grossness: blood, vomit, gore, germs, full diapers, basically anything involving a toddler
  4. Big Booms: thunder, barking dogs, fireworks, Instant pots, stereo systems commandeered by your teenager
  5. Squeezy Spots: elevators, graveyards, cubicles, holes, slot canyons, Walmart on Black Friday
  6. Stranger Danger: clowns, aliens, mimes, every Disney character in a bobble-head costume even Winnie the Pooh
  7. Location-o-phobia: airplane, ocean, bridges, space, heights, shark-nados, onstage with Dr Phil
  8. Embarrassment: pushing the “Send” button too soon, raising your hand in a meeting, farting in yoga class

And what are your coping mechanisms?

If you’re afraid of the dark (achluophobia) and going to sleep (somniphobia) because there might be a monster under your bed (teraphobia) and the dust bunnies down there are just as scary (amathophobia), you should put the mattress flat on the floor. Where the dolls can find you (pediophobia).

PS: That doll thing is real. Ask me some day about my Grandma’s house.
PPS: And also my adult children just told me that watching Toy Story scarred them for life. Let’s add another phobia:

9. Badmomophobia: the reason your kids need therapy.

The Coward of Capri

Let me begin by pointing out that spending a day on the Mediterranean, lounging on a little jet boat, a little swim time, a little sun time, before exploring the glittering isle of Capri where butterflies and movie stars flock, is pretty much everyone’s idea of a good time.

But I’m not everyone.

This day was planned by the merman I’m married to, and you have to understand that, after his gift of the opera, I was certainly bound to go along with his own anniversary fantasy.

I was terrified.

Standing in the mouth of a volcano, facing off with seafood dinners that had actual eyeballs staring back at you….not a problem. But this trip was not exactly as advertised.

“Includes pick up from your hotel and transfer to the Port of Massa Lubrense,” says the brochure.

Translation: “Our little bus will drive two nautical inches from the Cliffs of Insanity, missing oncoming busses by one. If you scream, we drive faster.”

“Depart to Capri following the Sorrento coastline, stopping at the waterfall of Marciano,” the brochure continues.

Translation: “We will, after sizing up your group, decide to go full throttle across the bay instead, racing for the Blue Grotto. If you flinch, you will fall overboard and we will not circle back for you.”

“At Capri, visit the Blue Grotto, White Grotto, Green Grotto, Wonderful Grotto, Natural Arc…with stops for swimming and snorkeling,” it says.

Translation: “We will arrive at the Blue Grotto and wait for an hour while everyone else who arrived ahead of us proceeds, one at a time, to attempt access to the cave.”

This was no joke. The Blue Grotto has a tiny opening, no larger than a single narrow boat. Said boat can hold four tourists and a pilot. The tourists sit bobsled style on the floor in each others’ laps and when the tide, currents, and boat wakes align to dip low enough and open the cave entrance, they all lie down flat. The pilot gives a mighty push on his oars, ships them, and then lies down flat on TOP of the tourists. As the boat shoots into the crevasse, the pilot grabs a rope that has been strung along the entry and pulls like mad to get into the grotto before the waves lift the boat back up and smashes it into the cave roof.

I sat there watching these little coffins shoot in, perhaps one every ten minutes or so. This is because those inside the grotto must sooner or later fight their way back out and how either side knows who gets the next turn, I have no idea.

There were several large boats full of tourists ahead of us, plus a long line of tourists snaking up the cliff, where the grotto can be found by land.

“It may be a while,” said our professional English speaking skipper, casually, “You have to be ‘in’ with the operators here to get your people into the queue.”

Translation: “My tour company does not have an ‘in’. We can wait all day or move on. Your call.”

We continued around Capri, seeing only three of the advertised five grottos, briefly and from the poopdeck. They were beautiful of course, like La Jolla but missing the seal pups. Finally, within sight of the Natural Arc, we got to stop and jump in the sea.

Translation: “Hubby jumped in the sea. I took the photos.”

I do not get along with any version of water, so you will have to take Hubby’s word for it that the Mediterranean is saltier, more buoyant, and not overly warmer than our Pacific in SoCal. It’s incredibly clear, vivid blue, and contains jellyfish. Which factoid Hubby realized a bit too late and came back on board with sting marks that were red and swollen and peeled twice before healing.

I rest my case.

“Stop on the island for 4-5 hours to explore Capri and Anacapri,” the brochure touts.

Translation: “You get three if you’re lucky. Meet back here on time or…you know the drill.”

Skipper tossed us each a foil-wrapped sandwich for the road.

The harbor of Capri is the most crowded place in Italy. Read that again. We needed to hop on a bus and head directly to the top of the island. We wasted precious time bumping shoulders with heaps of humans trying to do the same. How no one was run over by a little blue bus there, I will never know. Lynette, by the time we found a bus, everyone started looking like George Clooney…

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The bus drove straight up. We were not provided with parachutes. It dropped us off at the top of Anacapri and I was faced with my next fear. To get to the tip top, you must sit in a single chair hung by a cable along a lift, for the thirteen longest minutes of your life.

I put a peppermint in my mouth and got on.

I kept my eyes closed, my hands fisted around the thin bar. I shut down my brain. I slowed down my breathing. I held perfectly still and did not care that everyone passing me on the way down would see my cowardice.

Let’s do this.

The air is very thin and quickly there is nothing but dead silence and the soft squeaking of the pulley overhead. Each cable post is a gentle little boost upward and I tried to shrink in on myself. I heard a dog bark, millions of miles below me.

What if I really am a million miles up? What if don’t see the exit coming and it carries me back around again? What if I can’t get the bar to move and I’m stuck? What if the wind picks up?

I cracked my eyes just enough to determine that I was above a tree and about to soar over a ravine.

I slammed my eyes closed just as I heard nervous giggling ahead of me. The lady in the chair in front of me called out to her boyfriend in the chair in front of her: “Hey! Remember that movie we saw when that one guy got stuck on a ski lift and had to climb off?”

Eons later, I heard her call out, “Are we there yet?” The peppermint held back my nausea until the last minute, when I heard the operators at the top of the lift discussing something in animated Italian. I had enough time to peek, take a deep breath, and then launch from my hot seat.

The view from the top of Anacapri is spectacular. Brilliant. We sat on a patio, eating gelato. But deep in my heart, I knew I had to make that return trip.

From near the umbrella pines, I heard a lady quietly sobbing.

“Me, too, kid,” I mumbled, “Me, too.”

But she was crying because she had just been proposed to. And her fiancé was by turns comforting her and laughing with her. I glanced Hubbys way and blessed him for being sensible and proposing to me on a freeway onramp. Actively merging had not kept me from letting him pop the ring on my finger. So romantic.

And at sea level.

The Island of Capri was blooming with small yellow and white flowers. Butterflies danced in every corner and out over the cliffs. Joyful, exuberant in their efforts to extract the most delight from every moment. I took that picture into my mind and got back onto the lift.

When I dared to open my eyes, I was in a place quite close to the ground. A field of flowers were at my feet. It was covered in butterflies. Floating colors swirled around me and off into the sky.

“Look,” they said, “or don’t. We will hold the space for you. You are safe.”

I closed my eyes again, and stayed right there in that little bit of field, watching butterflies dance until I landed at the bottom.

Gamblers. But the view was nice. So beautiful! Buckle up. Going up….this is my stunt double. Hubby took photos. He’s crazy like that. The view from the top! It really is a little piece of paradise.

Which is Easier?

When the shadows win and the newsfeed is grim and despondence seems a decent option, I steep myself a cup of tea and sit down to comfort my heart.

I stop that fear in it’s tracks with a cold hard evaluating stare as I swirl the milk.

And I question it until it loses it’s power to harm me.

Like fog, it dissipates in the beam of bright hot spotlights.

And then I can see clearly again.

Ain’t nobody got time for that.

When I became a mom, I changed the way I handled my fears.

Not the worries, the deep-down gut-twisting life-altering ones.

They were no longer allowed to be in charge and certainly not allowed to make my decisions.

Pre-kids: giant hairy spider in house = burn down house, move states.

Post-kids: giant hairy spider in house = find Thor’s hammer and hunt to the death.

I have come to realize that my own heart is just as worth protecting as my children from things that go bump in the night.

And I don’t sit around entertaining fears. I annihilate them if I can.

And I’m practical enough – down into my DNA I suppose – to see the way to the light and try to turn it on.

There is a distinct method to my cleaning madness and don’t be fooled into thinking this ordering of my universe is casual or one dimensional.

To me, it’s logical.

When you touch a small thing, the motion moves outward into many larger, undirected and undetected things.

It’s easier to replace the oil in your car than the transmission.

It’s easier to clean a dish as you use it than face an overwhelming kitchen mess at midnight.

It’s easier to take one step and then another than take one medicine, and then another, because you skipped your walk again or lifted your fork again, one bite and then another.

Parenting. Any version. Any child.

Never underestimate the weight of this opportunity to change your world to a better one.

It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.*

Not easy.

Easier.

Easier to teach the child right from wrong, that “no” will not be the end of him, that empathy, understanding other people, understanding themselves, understanding sane ways of walking the earth with our neighbors is mandatory…

than blink and realize a grown man still has fears and angers and hurts and no way of soothing, reassuring or healing himself.

It is so easy to discount the small things. The desperately human things.

And when they become huge and masks go on and guns are lifted and there appears to be nothing left to lose, understand something…

At some point, a small thing was lost. Missed the mark. Discarded or left behind. Never had a chance to sprout.

These are things with which I struggle.

Because it’s easier for me to arrange my cupboards than arrange my child’s attitudes.

It’s easier to pass more laws than help people heal their hearts.

And yet it must be attempted.

He was born to challenge the whole wide world, to pit himself against the boundaries life imposes. He needs to feel the crashing and know it’s real and in the knowing, feel safer.

He is learning about others and himself and walking this earth.

And he looks to me all the while, to see if I notice and to hear if I have opinions and most of all, to get reassurance that yes, he is okay and yes he is capable, and yes he is still loved world without end.

And these also, he will challenge. To make sure they are real, too.

And that reality will shape everything: him, his choices, the world around him.

He will be able to put his insecurities and ignorance to rest and rise to the higher ideas of respect, honor, value of life, love.

That there is nobility and self-respect in doing the harder things.

Instead of worrying so much about getting, he can feel full enough to start giving.

Inevitably, this is where my point comes full circle.

The small things, the intangibles, the harder things, are the things that will change the world.

What the world needs in terms of cleaning, healing, and clarity, is you.

Look into your mirror and remember the small things and give them to yourself.

Remember you are capable.

And loved.

And things will be okay.

Because you decided they will be.

Turn on your light, and the shadows will be no more.

*This quote is widely attributed to Frederick Douglass. You should look the guy up

I’m Afraid Not

A gentle reader inquired recently about me facing my fears.

Yes indeed.

Where to even begin?

I have a list of course, but I once went mano-y-mano with one of my biggies.

I surprised Hubby with a hot air balloon ride for his birthday.

You don’t know vertigo until you are 7,500 feet in the air packed into a wicker basket with eight other people standing around a propane fireball. The only thing between you and certain death is a scrap of fabric held in place with some ropes. There are no parachutes. No seatbelts. No fire extinguisher.

And the pilot is crazy. He has to be. Who does this??

Other couples were taking advantage of the thin air to propose marriage right there in the basket. I waited with intense suspense for her answer, wondering what would happen if she said “no”.

There was really nowhere to storm off in anguish to.

Hubby was enjoying the views immensely and I brought along the video camera to prove we had done it.

The viewfinder never left my face.

So long as I was watching through the lens, my mind considered the whole event a TV infomercial for San Diego real estate.

“There’s a mansion, and there’s the beach, and there’s the freeway, and there’s the shopping mall, and there’s the dunes…no wait…that’s my white knuckles clenching the basket.”

Although a sky looks perfectly clear, you should know that it has parallel layers of wind currents running amok up there, and a hot air balloon can only go up or down. The wind currents are manipulated to move forward towards a landing spot.

In our case, there was a wicked fast layer that we had shot straight up through to enjoy the view for a while. Now we had to come down through it just as fast, or land somewhere in Kansas. We were asked to put away all electronics. Then we were asked to squat down in the basket and brace.

The pilot knew something we didn’t and apparently was not interested in getting it on film.

He released the hot air and down we dropped.

Right into the wind current.

I peeked over the railing to see the ground coming up at us fast. There were houses and cars and people down there and I wasn’t ready to land on any of them.

The pilot called out that he was riding the current to the next landing over. We had already shot past his first target, our balloon galloping like a runaway horse.

The propane suddenly roared back into life.

I watched in horror as our balloon quickly rose up, doing hurdles over a giant set of power lines.

Beyond that was nothing but miles of San Diego outback.

“Hang on!” cried our pilot, “I’m setting us down!”

We crashed through several yards of brush before the balloon gave up and lurched to a stop.

Our basket was on its side.

We crawled out and dropped through the scratchy branches and kissed the dusty earth.

The balloon melted down, stretching out over the tops of scrubby trees, exhausted and exhilarated by its glorious bid for freedom.

Obviously it was going to try again tomorrow.

We all stood around, laughing the way people do after a near-death experience.

We were all fine, although the sun was setting and the chase crew with the van would not be able to locate us for another hour. We had gone off their radar, into a place with no lights for miles around, and only one dirt road that could access the area.

Oh, and we also had a flat tire on the way back. It was a long day.

We were so thankful to walk out alive that not one of us complained.

“This has got to be the craziest thing you’ve done, right?” asked an innocent and new fiancé.

The pilot smiled and said, “Well, no. There was the time we were coming down and the wind shifted to a Santa Ana. Blew us right into the surf before I could touch down. Lucky we didn’t land in Hawaii. The Coast Guard had to bring out a boat and haul everyone in. Barely saved my balloon.”

He was wistful.

“Made it on the six o’clock news though.”