Growing up in my house, we were always one catastrophe away from Armageddon.
It was not unusual to hear my father yelling, “Who left the refrigerator door open? Do you want the motor to burn out and start a fire?”
I assure you, to this day, my sisters and I keep our refrigerator doors firmly closed.
We also keep a stove that could pass an operating room sterility test. And as we wipe our respective units down with hot, soapy water I’m sure we all hear my father’s voice telling us how easily food-borne bacteria can spread. And then about the multitude of diseases just waiting to attack.
My mother’s version of catastrophe was slightly different. To wear an unironed school blouse was to risk the outside world thinking we were unwashed heathens with slovenly habits. That was to be avoided at all costs. Because everyone knows a reputation like that cannot be lived down and will result in being turned down by the best colleges, employers and spouses, only to end up homeless and destitute, thinking, “If only I had ironed that blouse back in sixth grade, I could have been somebody.”
Other things I lived in family-born fear of:
Bringing a pencil that was not a No. 2 to any standardized test.
Forgetting a sin in confession and having it besmirch my soul for even longer.
Sneezing multiple times as a sure indicator of pneumonia or pleurisy.
Drowning because I swam in a friend’s pool only 30 minutes after eating instead of the requisite hour, resulting in the dreaded stomach cramps my parents always said I’d get in that scenario.
Losing a toe from biking in flip flops.
Phew. I’m sure you can add some of your own, particularly if you grew up in a large, guilt-ridden Catholic family. Feel free to chime in.
All of this angst over potential catastrophe and yet:
I played within feet of my father spraying Malathion on our bushes to rid them of scale.
My friends and I played in deserted woods at age eight, hung out at the mall alone at age 12, rode bikes without helmets and slept with the windows open with no fear of being abducted.
None of these situations were considered catastrophe fodder.
In my parents’ defense, we were a bit accident prone. My sister had to be fished out of the ocean after jumping off a pier in Florida when she saw a fish she liked in the water. I had to be fished out of a duck pond for the same. (Which is why my family is not taking the family cruise my sister suggested—too much room for a man overboard situation. We think it’s in the genes.)
Another sister was constantly getting her arm out of socket. There were multiple car accidents as our new drivers bent down to pick up fallen eyeglasses, or backed out of the driveway into our fence while crying hysterically about a breakup. A bird pooped on a prom updo doing pre-prom pics. Nothing horrific but the list goes on.
And we did actually have a small fire once. But not because of the refrigerator. It was the furnace. I guess you just can’t cover all catastrophes in your daily worries, eh?
I like to think I’m much calmer in raising my children, not encouraging irrational fears.
Just last night, though, my nine-year-old son showed me otherwise.
“I’m heading to the ladies’ room. I’ll be right back,” I said to him at our restaurant table.
“Hurry back,” he said. “If you’re not out of there in one minute, I’ll worry.”
Which is precisely what I say to him every time I send him into a men’s restroom. As I envision myself charging in to save him from some crazed pedophile.
Looks like we have some work to do . . .
Don’t roll your eyes like that.
They’ll get stuck that way.
Or so I was told.