Posts Tagged ‘fear’

Something Really Scary

Wednesday, October 22, 2014
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Halloween is quickly approaching, but I don’t need a special occasion to be frightened.jack o lantern

I get a little bit scared every time I publicly share my thoughts, opinions and experiences in writing.

And yet, perhaps like people who watch scary movies and choose to visit haunted houses, there is also a part of me that must enjoy the fear because I keep putting myself out there.

Putting together a string of words can feel magical, but knowing that others might read those words can be frightening. With every sentence, I am giving a small piece of myself away.

When I write, I want my words to be informative, emotional, persuasive and possibly even entertaining. Those same words also reveal the truth about whom  I really am, and that is very, very unnerving.

Take, for example, the topic I actually considered writing about this week – my worst  trait as a mom.

I’m certainly not a helicopter parent nor do I think my children are superior beings about which I constantly brag. But I do have a have a tendency to get completely neurotic when I think either of my children will have to deal with the same issues I did as an adolescent.

My constant struggle as a teen to be true to myself without being a social misfit, which I often was, has taken a toll on my own children. I want them to have a strong sense of self and the confidence to question the status quo, which they both do. At the same time, I worry every time I see their peers going in one direction while they step in the other.

When I say worry, I’m not referring to a brief concern. I’m referring to my need to talk about the issue incessantly until I drive both of my children, and my husband, absolutely crazy. At that point, I just try harder to explain that I don’t want them to fight the same battles I fought.

Despite my efforts, no one takes my babbling seriously, which is what compels me to take to the written word. After all, there must be some other mom somewhere whose emotional turmoil of adolescence is impacting her children decades later. Or maybe not.

Which is why I decided I should write about something completely different – like Halloween. Only, when my fingers started across the keyboard, my brain went in a completely different direction and the words tumbled out anyway.

Scary, isn’t it?

Beneath the Surface

Wednesday, August 13, 2014
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I have a friend who grew up with an unhealthy fear of thunderstorms.

Her fear was unhealthy not because she hid at the first sign of a storm or trembled at the sound of thunder. It was unhealthy because it was based on a lie.

Her fear was built on a belief that her cousin had been killed when struck by lightning.

Only after years and a well-cultivated phobia of lightning did her parents reveal that her cousin had actually committed suicide.

I was thinking of this Monday night when both of my children wanted to talk about Robin William’s suicide. My daughter asked how he could asphyxiate himself. My son just wanted to express his shock. Since I was also in shock, I had very little to add to the conversation even though I knew I should. I don’t want my children to be afraid of thunderstorms any more than I want them to think suicide is about a person’s final act.

Instead, suicide is about everything other people don’t act upon.

I first realized this when the brother of one my daughter Kendall’s classmate’s killed himself. The boy was in middle school at the time, and my daughter relayed the same story that the media did: the boy had been bullied. That revelation was followed by the typical outcry to address bullying by calling out people whose words and behavior are hurtful.

What I didn’t hear was an outcry to simply to pay attention to each other despite labels or diagnoses or cliques or fame.

Some people might say that Robin Williams, one of the funniest men in the world, and an overweight middle school student had nothing in common, but they are wrong.

They had a great deal in common.

They were both people. They both had feelings. They both struggled to meet the expectations of others. They both wanted to belong to a world that often doesn’t make sense. They both fought internal battles that others couldn’t or didn’t see. Because of this, they both hurt inside. And they both committed suicide.

Like millions of others, I feel the loss of Robin Williams, but I can’t claim I knew him any more than I knew the brother of Kendall’s classmate.

I never had the opportunity to share a smile, listen to, interact with or show my compassion for either of them, and I never will.

But I do have the opportunity to do all those with a neglected child, a homeless adult, a rebellious teenager, a lonely senior, a rude customer or client and an overly-talkative neighbor. Not only do I have the opportunity, I have the obligation. All of them are my fellow human beings who have feelings, struggle to meet the expectations of others and have a simple desire to belong to a world.

And they, like me, generally show only a small piece of themselves to the rest of the world. We keep what lies just below the surface hidden in hopes that we don’t reveal our vulnerabilities to a society that is quick to exploit them.

I can’t imagine Robin Williams ever approved of such a world. Instead, I choose to believe that he wanted all of us to recognize that imperfect people make the world interesting and meaningful. I believe he knew we should all look beyond the superficial to where imperfection and insecurities lie. And he  would want us to dive into whatever depth we are capable of reaching with others so we can work together to save all those who are drowning.

I also believe he would encourage all of us not to fear the thunderstorm and instead to dance in the rain that comes with it.

Ready, but not quite prepared

Friday, July 11, 2014
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It started around 2 a.m. I woke up in pain. It took me a few minutes to gain my focus before I realized I was having contractions. I didn’t panic right away – the doctor had explained to me that this was normal and I should expect it. I tried to remember what I was supposed to do: time them to see if they were coming in regular intervals and move positions or walk around to see if that would make them go away. I did both and the results told me that I was simply experiencing Braxton Hicks contractions, a way my body is preparing itself for the birth process.

But there was a short moment when I thought, “What if this is it? What if I’m going into labor?” and subsequently, “I’m not mentally prepared to go into labor yet; the baby’s not ready to be born; I haven’t finished my childbirth classes; am I prepared to bring a baby home?” I was having these thoughts while looking at the time, so I quickly realized nothing was happening at regular intervals, and I was not going into labor.

Lately I’ve been having a reoccurring dream that I haven’t had since college. It’s a common dream – the kind where you show up to a class on finals day only to realize you have never attended the class before, or it’s the end of the semester and you just discover you were enrolled in classes but never attended a single one. The night of my “practice” contractions it dawned on me why I’ve been having this dream – I’m scared I’m not prepared to have and take care of a child.

I’ve read the entire “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” book. I follow countless pregnancy and parenting blogs and forums. I’m currently reading a guidebook on baby’s first year week by week. I’ve already told you about my nesting phase. My husband and I have taken not one, but two childbirth classes. Even my body is preparing itself, as I learned through my late night experience.

And yet, despite all these preparations, I still feel an overwhelming sense of heading into the unknown. I didn’t realize I had these feelings until I felt the Braxton Hicks contractions, but my recent dreams tell me these thoughts have probably been in the back of my mind. I have a feeling I’m not the only soon-to-be new mom who’s felt this way. I also realized that I can read guidebooks and take classes and set up baby gear until I pass out, but there is nothing that will truly prepare me for motherhood. It can be scary, but it’s also exciting. I’m ready for the test, even if I feel a little unprepared.

The Sneaky One

Wednesday, March 19, 2014
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One of the great advantages of having friends who are a few years older than me is that they usually have children that are older than my children, have more experience than I do and can offer an entirely different perspective on parenting.

One of the disadvantages is that they have every right to scoff at the pronouncements I make.Yellow_Dude__Sneaky_1_preview

Take, for example, my recent comment that I only have to worry that one of my children will take risks behind my back.

One friend warned me that any adolescent can make poor decisions.

Another told a story about cleaning around an object in her teenage son’s room only to learn years later when he was an adult that the object was a ladder he hung out of his two-story window at night to escape.

And one friend told me “You never know really know which child is the sneaky one.”

She was right. The sneaky one really fools us.

And while I will never admit to ever having my own sneaky tendencies, I know that at least one member of my family does.

Her name is Skitty, and she’s fat, furry and feline. She is an indoor cat who pretends to be afraid of going outdoors, but that is simply her sneaky effort to lull our family into a sense of security.

At times, she provides hints into her true nature when she lurks around an open door leading onto the back deck or stares longingly out the front bay window. But normally she pretends to only be interested in eating and sleeping.

We never would have learned about her true nature if she hadn’t repeated the same mistake on multiple times.

The first time she escaped, no one noticed she was gone until my son yelled, “Mom, I can hear Skitty, but I can’t find her. Since Skitty likes to hide, not being able to find her wasn’t unusual. But she normally only meows when she’s hungry and demanding food. Right in front of one of us. In a very obvious and demanding manner.

But after a search of the whole house, we still couldn’t find her. That’s because she wasn’t in the house at all. Instead, she was in the backyard and had apparently gotten quite hungry, hence her meowing.

None of us knew how Skitty had gotten in the backyard, but we weren’t too worried. We figured one of us had left the door open.

We hadn’t.

The next time Skitty escaped then meowed from the backyard, I started getting suspicious.

The third time she got out, I conducted a thorough search of the house and could find no escape route.

My daughter is the one who solved the mystery. She was in her bedroom when Skitty entered, jumped onto the window sill, pushed the screen out and jumped out of the two-story window over an asphalt driveway. She was able to survive because she still had a few of her nine lives left. That, and she jumped at an angle, landed in the bush next to the backyard fence then jumped over the fence into the backyard.

We fixed the window screen, and Skitty was once again confined to the house. But we were all a bit more aware of her whereabouts, the potential risks to her safety that she was sure to ignore and the outside interests she had worked so hard to hide.

In hindsight, I’m glad Skitty created that heightened awareness. It was good practice for me. As the mother of two adolescents, those skills will come in handy.

Fortunately, I have yet to discover any night-time escapes or truly bad behavior. But I am on the look out for it. Unfortunately, after my friends’ warnings and my cat’s escapades, I’m just not very confident I really know which kid, if either,  is “the sneaky one.”


Wednesday, June 26, 2013
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I did a really bad thing this past Sunday.

Well, for the purposes of accuracy, I actually failed to do a really good thing.

I didn’t protect a child.

The first time I saw the little girl, I wanted to scoop her up in my arms and keep her safe. But I didn’t. Instead, I, along with most of the people near me, kept eyes on her rather than on the baseball field, where the Colorado Rockies were beating the Washington Nationals.

The toddler wobbled with the gait typical of children who have recently learned to walk, and she held her arms out for balance.

The reason she had our attention was that, instead of walking across a floor, she was navigating steep, concrete steps in an upper section of the ballpark. With every unsteady step she took, my heart would skip a beat. The twenty-something woman sitting next to me would sharply suck in her breath every time the child teetered.

The toddler’s mother, on the other hand, seemed completely unconcerned as she sat drinking beer and watching the game. Even when the toddler grabbed the handrail and let her legs swing back and forth, the woman absently glanced at her daughter then returned her attention to the ball field.

I could have said something. I could have done something. But I didn’t.

Instead, I simply let my voice blend in with the chorus of others quietly whispering horror.

And I have no idea why.

I’m the mom the who won’t start the car engine until everyone is wearing seat belts and who appreciates other parents keeping my children in line.

I’m the professional who has committed her career to promoting the concept that members of a community should take responsibility for each other.

And I’m the licensed social worker who is obligated to protect those who can’t protect themselves.

Yet, during the relatively brief moment in time I shared with that little girl, I failed her in every respect. I also failed her mother, who I believe loves her daughter and was probably tired at the exact wrong time. She also had a little boy, a few years older than the girl, who seemed completely content as he sat next to his mother watching the baseball game. The father arrived during the third inning, and by the seventh inning, the entire family was gone.

Each member left uninjured and, apparently, happy. My negligence hadn’t resulted in disaster, yet I still feel guilty.

So now, I have a choice.

Instead of focusing on the guilt, I can practice the art of forgiveness.

I can forgive myself and all those people like me. People who sometimes follow the crowd instead of doing what’s right. People who, just for a moment, want to pretend that bad things don’t really happen. People who suffer from that human condition called imperfection.

The great thing about imperfection is that it always provides room for improvement and the opportunity to learn from our mistakes.

I’ve certainly learned from mine. I know for a fact, the next time I see a child, any child, in a dangerous situation, I will take some kind of action.

Keeping the Monsters Away

Wednesday, May 15, 2013
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I’ve been battling monsters in the lives of my children since they were very young.

As a preschooler, my son developed a fierce aversion to an antique chest that sat at the top of our stairs. He would slowly climb the stairs until he reached the top step, then speed up, dash by the chest and dart to his destination.

Initial attempts to understand and eliminate his fear were unsuccessful. “I don’t like the monster,” he’d say.

When I told him the chest wasn’t a monster and he had no reason to be scared, he responded with silence and shrugs

More than a decade and two houses later, the chest now sits in our dining room, and my teenage son isn’t afraid of it. But he does remember his fear, and he recently reminded me of it during a family dinner.

“I never knew why you were so afraid,” I said.

“It kind of looked like a face, he replied. “And one night I had a dream that it came alive and chased me. Every time I looked at it, I saw the monster. You  tried to tell me it wasn’t a monster, but I just knew it was. I’d seen it.”

He laughed and went back to his food.

I couldn’t laugh. I knew exactly what he meant.

As a parent, I’m well aware of the fear monsters can elicit. I also know there are people who will insist they don’t exist.

Just yesterday, Craig Weintraub, an attorney for the Cleveland man charged with kidnapping Michelle Knight, Amanda Berry and Gina Dejesus, described his client. “The initial portrayal by the media has been one of a ‘monster’ and that’s not the impression that I got when I talked to him for three hours.”

I know that Weintraub has to paint his client in the best light possible, but I wonder if he has a daughter. If he does, I don’t know how he could utter those words. Even my usually calm and rational husband lost his cool as he watched the story unfold in the newsroom where he works.

All he could think about was our 11-year-old daughter. Giles is not generally overprotective, but last week he had a hard time letting Kendall out of his sight.

I understood his reaction, but I don’t believe that it was helpful. Being overprotective creates a heightened sense of fear, and I don’t want any of us, particularly my children, going through life believing fear is the most effective response to monsters.

The world is a phenomenal, beautiful and interesting place, and I want my children to explore it as much as possible. But the world is also a dangerous place, and I don’t want them to be too trusting.

There’s probably only so much we as parents can do anyway.

My son was only three years-old and my daughter wasn’t even three weeks-old on Tuesday, September 11, 2001. They’ve grown up in a society darkened by the shadow of fear, yet they have blossomed and grown strong anyway.

I’ve grown too. I’m not the same mom who unsuccessfully told her son not to be afraid of what he perceived to be a monster. I’m now the mom who acknowledges monsters and the fact that we can’t always recognize them at first. But I’m also the mom who does her best to give her children the information and tools to fight their fears and the monsters.

I wish I’d mastered the art of teaching them to be cautious without teaching them to be afraid, but I know I haven’t. But I am starting to master my fear that they are unprepared to face the monsters in their lives.

Conflict of Interest

Monday, January 23, 2012
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Best frenemies. They love to fight.

I’m convinced that children have an internal clock that tells them when it’s time to start picking on each other — specifically, the end of a holiday break or the final days of summer vacation.  It’s as if they’ve had all the togetherness they can tolerate, and the annoyances start to multiply like fleas on a dog.

I watched my own children bicker and argue in the last 48 hours of their Christmas break, no longer intimidated by the Elf on the Shelf or the threat of every wrapped gift being given to Toys for Tots. No…these fluffy little sweethearts were out for blood and they were in it for the long haul.

“But Aaaavaaaa, you took my Barbie! That’s not yours! It’s miiiine!”

“Maryn took my whistle! But since her spit is in it, I don’t want it back, but now I don’t have a whistle!”

“That’s my DS, Ava! You have your own! You just want mine because it’s new!”

“Get off me, Maryn! Your feet are cold and I don’t want to be touched!”

And so on and so forth.

My typical reaction is to yell at them to stop fighting and to hand over whatever toy is the source of such outrage.  Occasionally, I’ll try humor as a means of diffusing their momentary hatred, singing “We Can Work it Out” by The Beatles.  But lately, I’ve become so weary living in a hostile territory that I’ve had to look to my husband for help, who simply echoes my demands word for word (yet he gets the desired result).  After repeat requests for back-up, his own exasperation with the situation seems to be geared more toward me.

“Didn’t you ever fight with someone when you were a kid?”

Uh, no.  I didn’t have brothers or sisters, and none of my cousins resided in the area.  Other kids lived nearby, but no one right next door.  Sometimes I’d tease our Siamese cat for fun, but 9 out of 10 times, the feline won and the female bled.

But that’s when I finally noticed the purple cow in the room.  I am an only child raising siblings. I know  nothing about “healthy” arguments, letting kids work out their own troubles, or defending myself for that matter.  I avoid conflict.  I hate confrontation of any kind, and I’ve discovered that I have a sensitivity to whining.  I can’t stand any type of noise that communicates friction. And, what’s most shocking is that our children are ages 8 and 5, and we’re just now entering the battle zone.  I feel rather unqualified to be standing on the front lines.

However, you may be sitting there reading along, thinking to yourself: “This poor woman doesn’t even have a pulse! She’ll never make it through the teenage years!”

Fighting over the phone.  Fighting over clothes and shoes.  Fighting over the bathroom. Fighting over the car.  Fighting over who goes out and who stays in. Fighting over who gets to have a friend over this weekend, and who has to wait until the next one.

I can imagine it, but I can’t relate to it.

Luckily, my husband had an older and a younger brother to deal with, so he’s particularly well-versed in how to drive a sibling absolutely crazy.  He likes to tell me stories about taking the “old road” to Florida — a two-day trip back then — sitting in the backseat of a station wagon (without seatbelts), elbowing each other in the ribs for fun.  There are long lists of ways to torture a younger brother, antics that make me wonder why I would want to marry such an indecent human being.

“I’m glad I didn’t know you back then,” I told him. “I wouldn’t have liked you one bit, and I guarantee I wouldn’t have gone on a date with you.”  (Well, that part isn’t quite true…).

It doesn’t take much to upset me, but it does take a tremendous amount of something to make me angry.  However, I’m so concerned that I’ll do or say something regrettable that I tend to swallow my frustrations and allow them to pass.  But I know better:  Adversity is supposed to teach us something; to change a behavior or a way of thinking.  Problems are allowed in our lives to make us live differently.  Bad things happen to produce something good.  If our lives were peaceful and perfect all the time, not only would we take everyone and everything for granted, but we wouldn’t grow as human beings.

But I still don’t know how far to let my girls take their own problems, especially when they run to me arguing their points of view, both of them expecting me to take a side.  My standard reply is for the arguing to stop NOW! or else.  I don’t try to negotiate, arbitrate or mediate.  I only try to stop it from continuing.

I’m sure my own behavior is teaching the girls all sorts of negative things: Not speak up, not to express their concerns, not to establish boundaries for themselves — and others.  I’m sure that I’m teaching them to let everything roll of their backs, to dismiss what they’re feeling, and to let others have their way because it’s easier.

Albert Einstein said that “we cannot prevent and prepare for war at the same time.”  It’s one or the other — either we prevent our differences from escalating to a level of violence, or we learn how to fight for what we want (and hopefully, we’ll win). But this particular mother may need to spend more time studying the words of Dwight Eisenhower, who stated the only real way to achieve peace is to fight for it.  You just have to learn to pick your battles.




Mom vs. Mouse

Tuesday, October 25, 2011
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  There’s a mouse in my house.

  And I want it out.

  Unfortunately, the task of, um, exterminating it, falls on me.

  I knew when I became a mother that I would have to deal with things that would make me squeamish. You know, like poop and snot and spit-up.

  Disposing of a dead rodent was not on my list.

  Those kinds of things were left to my husband. And believe me, when we lived in Florida we had our fair share of unwelcome creatures inside our home – frogs, lizards, SNAKES! Oh my!

  Now, it’s just me and my daughter. And I know if she sees the mouse, she’ll either freak or want to keep it as a pet.

  But there I was last week, sitting on the couch, minding my own business, enjoying a glass of wine and a moment of peace after putting my little one to bed when I noticed something scurry across the floor. It ran along the wall behind my dining room table, then behind the armoire.

  In typical girl fashion, I put my feet up on the couch and shrieked. Then I remembered there was no one around to rescue me.

  I got a broom, with the hopes of shooing it out the kitchen door. But of course, it didn’t work out that way. After a chase around the living room – I swear that thing was taunting me from behind the plastic pumpkins on the hearth – he ran to the kitchen and ducked behind the dishwasher.

  I decided to wait him out. I waited and waited and waited. Then I decided I would run the dishwasher. That would get him out, right? Or cook him. Please don’t email me PETA.

  That night, I couldn’t sleep. I just knew that mouse was going to scamper across my face. I was terrified of a creature smaller than my hand.

  The next day, I took action. I bought traps and strategically placed them around the house. I am determined to catch him. I refuse to go to sleep every night with towels covering the bottom of the bedroom door so a mouse can’t get in – not that I’ve done that or anything.

  Nope, I’m not going to let the mouse win. He’s got to go.

  I was feeling rather brave in my battle with the mouse.

  But then I realized that once I get him, I have to, um, get rid of him.

  Yeah, I think I’m just going to put my feet back up on the couch and have another glass of wine.

Seeing the Light

Monday, August 8, 2011
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Does this card look blurry, or is it just me?

During a phone call with one of my clients, I begged him not to fire me anytime soon because I had my eye on a 2012 Cadillac SRX.  He burst out laughing and then asked how old I was.

Well, you know…I’m in that 35-44 age range like most of The Mommyhood readership.

After our conversation, a text appeared on my cell phone reminding me of my standing appointment for hair color. Without giving that much thought, I moved on to writing my blog post for the week, which had to do with being of Advanced Maternal Age.  Still paying little attention to the giant elephant in the room, I went to my mailbox to find my AARP card and membership welcome packet.   I posted a picture of it on Facebook and asked if someone knew something I didn’t…(LOL!).

But a few days later, all of the joking and elbow jabbing seemed to hurt instead of humor.  My eye doctor informed me that I had a cataract.

Earlier in the week, I had walked out of Books-A-Million with my daughter and commented that something was on fire.  “Something’s burning,” I told Maryn.  “The smoke  is terrible.”

Maryn looked at me with a confused face.  “I don’t smell anything,” she replied. Don’t you see it? I prodded.

So, I closed my right eye.  Smoke.

Then, I closed my left eye.  Clear.

Right eye. Smoke.

Left eye.  Clear.

Holy smoke.

I got in the car and dialed my husband’s office.  “I’m seeing a white light,” I stammered.  “Do you see Jesus?!” my joker of a spouse asked.

“I’m serious. Something’s not right.”

I “watched it” over the weekend, blaming it on another migraine or a sinus infection, the possibility of conjunctivitis, too much pool chlorine, possibly pulling something loose when I worked in the yard, and every other culprit that could be fixed with minimal care. But when it didn’t go away, I knew I had to call my eye doctor.

After a round of tests, he sat back and announced that I had “quite a nice sized cataract that requires surgery”.  Immediately, tears filled both eyes.  “I’m a non-smoking, infrequent drinker who eats kale and salmon three times a week.  I don’t go to tanning beds and I wear a hat in the sun. “

This was the genetic kind.  The kind my mother had.

I remembered what she went through 14 years ago, and I  remember how scared she was when she went in for pre-op tests.  “They’re going to stick a needle in my eye,” she said.  It sounded bad back then, but now….it sounds horrible.

When I left the doctor’s office, I didn’t think about the surgery ahead of me, dubbed “a piece of cake that takes 30 minutes at best”, but of the condition I had inherited … and the one that I feared was still to come.

My mother died of cancer in 2000, which might not have happened had she told someone about the lump in her breast.  Instead, she hid her fear and pretended it didn’t exist.  When it spread throughout her body and made its hateful resting place in her brain, we knew that she had been keeping a secret for a long time.  By then, it was over.  She was diagnosed the week of Thanksgiving and she died the week of Christmas.  She was 67.  I was 27.  We were both far too young to lose each other.

There is a touching line in the movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life”, in which Jimmy Stewart’s character is seated at the dinner table with his father, discussing his ambitious goals for the future.

“You were born older, George,” his father announces.

Ditto.  I was born older. Perhaps it was because my parents had me late in life, or perhaps it was because I was an only child who “played” with adults.  I’ve worked in an office setting since I was 16 years old, and I have always had jobs that were about a decade ahead of my time.  Looking back, being so mature now seems so premature. Growing up fast became a characteristic that served me well in college interviews, in managerial interviews and in television interviews. Now that I’m seeing gray hairs and white lights, I wish I had allowed myself to be a kid a while longer. But since I can’t turn back the clock, I can insist that my daughters take their time.

So… I have a cataract.  It’s not the end of the world. I’m not going to die, and I’m not going to go blind (I hope).  But, I’m going to pull on my big girl panties, as a good friend says, and do what needs to be done so I can see my children’s sweet faces.

When it’s all over, I’m buying that Cadillac SRX.  And I want the black wrap-around sunglasses to go with it.  But they will be Chanel.

Missing in Action

Monday, June 27, 2011
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After reading Cara Bailey’s post about family vacations (epitomized by Clark W. Griswold), I added a comment that I never visited Disney World as a child, and I don’t have any desire to visit it as an adult.

A friend replied that I should really give The House of Mouse a chance, particularly the parks that offer more than stroller-to-stroller traffic and two-hour lines to ride two-minute rides.  I blamed my hatred on annoying princesses that ruin $29.99 buffet breakfasts, but that’s not exactly fair or factual.  The truth is…I’m scared of amusement parks.

And with good reason.

When I was nine years old, my parents and I loaded our suitcases in one of the first generation Dodge Caravans for a trip to Colonial Williamsburg.  My mother said that she would grant me a day at Busch Gardens IF I toured a few historical battlefields with her in Old Virginny.  My father said that he would grant me a day at the beach IF I toured the naval base in Norfolk with him.  No one had any idea that Mother and Country would be the theme of the experience.

Now, these were the days of tri-fold brochures that you requested by postcard mailing, pulled from the back pages of a well-worn Southern Living magazine. My parents didn’t fully understand the scope of Busch Gardens — home of the thrill-seeker’s mega coaster.  The park was (and still may be) divided into European territories with the Rhine River separating that great land. The minute my hypertensive father took a look at the size of twisted steel and looping tracks, he made it very clear that it would be a short day.  Due to his medical conditions, stressful fun wasn’t going to be possible.  My mother, fearful of heights and the width of her bouffant hair, offered to ride the train. But anything else on the park map would have to be ridden alone…or with another singleton in line.

They spotted a familiar attraction near the front entrance of the park — a gondola ride that resembled something in the Swiss Alps.  Still a tad too high for my easy rider dad, they put me in the car and waved as I took off, high atop the trees.  The ride seemed to take longer than the one at Camden Park — you know the one — the ski lift that carries people above the parking lot, providing a view of rotten boards once nailed to the Big Dipper.  When my #19 car lowered to the ground, I stepped out to slightly different scenery.  Nothing looked familiar.  No one looked familiar.  No one spoke the same language.

I had traveled abroad — not around, as we all assumed I would — from England to Germany.  Miles and miles away from Mum and Pop.

Did I mention that I was nine?

As a mother to two children ages eight and five, just typing the words “lost in Busch Gardens” makes my heart pound louder than a team of Budweiser Clydesdale horses.   A nine year old girl — lost in an amusement park — separated from her parents — last seen getting on a gondola ride — the car returned empty.  The first assumption was that I had fallen out.

I remember searching the crowd for my parents. I remember the rush of fear after realizing that I had been dropped off at the wrong stop.  I remember asking the teenage attendant who opened my door where I was.  I also remember that he didn’t offer to help me get back to my starting point.

So, I walked. And walked. And walked.

For three hours, I walked.

I don’t remember park police or seeing anyone dressed in uniform, but there were plenty of people dressed in costume.  I saw George Washington.  I saw Benjamin Franklin.  I saw Thomas Jefferson.  And thank God, I saw Dolly Madison.

I asked Dolly how to get back to England, and she told me to keep following the brown-planked road.  I remember passing the Loch Ness Monster, the yellow-nightmare of a coaster that dipped riders’ feet into the river as they pulled back up to the Williamsburg-blue sky. I remember worrying that I’d never see my mother again.

Why is it always the mother we search for? We love our fathers in ways that can’t be explained…but when it comes right down to it…we need our mothers.

Sometime later, I climbed the steep hill that welcomed me back to England. And there were my parents — still standing in the place where I left them.  “Here she is!” my mother screamed.  And then I cried.

After being reunited, I discovered that park police had been alerted, officers were out looking for a nine-year-old girl with brown hair and hazel eyes wearing a red Polo and white shorts, last seen on a flight to Germany.  My dad had searched the entire park, but my mother had stayed put.  She wasn’t going to leave without me.

Our next stop was to a pub for the largest lemonade ever poured.  I gulped every drop and then asked if we could leave.  My parents were in total agreement that we had been through enough for one day — and there would be no touring of battlefields after the 150 acres I had just crossed.  It was back to the Fort Magruder Inn, where we stayed for the next five days, in the shallow end of the swimming pool.

And the rest of the vacation was history.