I got sick once after eating crepes with seafood sauce in a restaurant. I thought I would die. I remember lying on the bathroom floor, unable to move, while four little kids were yelling for me just outside the door. I was the only adult in the house and I wondered if any of them would remember how to dial 911 if it came down to it. I survived, but my love of shrimp in creamy sauce didn’t. That was 30 years ago, and I haven’t eaten anything like it since. You can tell me that it is delicious. You can assure me that it’s safe, that you eat it all the time, that I have absolutely nothing to fear, but I will decline. I will dig my heels in and refuse. Yes, I know that it’s perfectly safe. Yes, I realize it isn’t logical. But my brain is all flashing red lights and loud sirens. Danger! Stand back from the seafood! It doesn’t even sound good.
One of my kids is fearful. Her fear-behavior doesn’t often look like defiance or control or disrespect (and for that I am grateful), it looks like fear. She is afraid to go down to the basement, afraid to take the trash outside at night, afraid of the coyotes that might come into the backyard and eat her, afraid to speak to someone she doesn’t know (or sometimes someone she does). It’s sad to see and hard to fix. How do you convince someone that there is nothing to be afraid of? It’s been especially bad recently because of some changes that have happened in her world. (She’s afraid of change.) I thought to myself the other day, “After all these years of helping her feel safe, why is she still so fearful? It’s perfectly safe. It’s not logical.” But then I remembered the seafood crepes and as the nausea hit me, so did a flash of realization. Her brain is all flashing red lights and loud sirens and it takes time and intension to overcome that. Her experience is not based on a one-time food poisoning trauma. It is based on too many experiences to count, some that she will never remember. Experiences that woke her toddler-self every night for months with the most heartbreaking, terrified screaming imaginable. Experiences that caused her to startle and cry out, wide-eyed, whenever the doorbell rang or the dog barked.
Then I think of other kids- the ones whose fear does look like defiance, lying, stealing and control. Their brains are also all flashing red lights and sirens- not always easy to put into perspective in the heat of the battle, but still there to provide a way to survive.
I need to remember that logic isn’t involved in what our kids believe about safety.
I might even order the shrimp next time.