Outside Week: Worry Wednesday

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Taking the kids outside of the house means exposing them to germs. Forget fresh air; people don’t cover their mouths when they cough and sneeze around town.

Since I can’t actually isolate my children, they do get sick. My son started getting a fever on Tuesday evening—101.4 going up to 102—which pretty much shut me down with worry for the rest of the night. Yes, despite me knowing that it’s not even that high of a fever.

It’s not so much worry as it is dread, I think. Author Orson Scott Card once wrote about dread: “It is that tension, that waiting that comes when you know there is something to fear but you have not yet identified what it is. The fear that comes when you first realize that your spouse should have been home hours ago; when you hear a strange sound in the baby’s bedroom; when you realize that a window you are sure you closed is now open, the curtains billowing, and you’re alone in the house.”

(I’m pretty sure that’s what I remember reading from a story collection of his back in high school. I couldn’t find the quote firsthand, so I turned to the Internet for help and can’t vouch for its total accuracy. I mean, it seems fine, but often so do words of wisdom mistakenly attributed to Einstein and Lincoln.)

Anyway.

At bedtime, I read a story packed with similes to my girls, and we took turns practicing creating some of our own: “We are as cozy as … ”

“Mice!” my firstborn said.

“We’re as sleepy as … ”

“Mice!” she said again.

I then turned to specifics of our family, saying one girl was as sweet as … and the other was as fun as … . Then I threw out: “Your brother is as sick as … ”

“A sick baby!” my secondborn shouted.

While my firstborn said, “Cancer!”

The little dude’s fever was gone the next day, and I know modern medicine has relegated to folklore the idea of teething causing a temperature rise, but darned if he didn’t have a giant tooth sticking out of his gums where there was just a little sliver of white before.

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Imagination Week: Worry Wednesday

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If you can read this, it means I’m still alive somewhere.

No, I’m not holed up while defending my family from the zombie apocalypse. I’ve been trying to make some technical tweaks to my blog—changing the address to a simple standingintheshallows.com, for one—and for a while, nothing seemed to be working.

I was worried because I couldn’t see the Shallows anymore, and I imagine you couldn’t either.

But as I could still get into the admin side of things, I could still write posts. And I knew that said posts would go out to more than 700 readers who’ve subscribed via e-mail (and who now know that I’m not exactly on track to be the next Steve Jobs due to my online fumbling). So I started writing this digital message in a virtual bottle.

Some of the technical jargon I read noted that it can take up to 24 hours for domain name changes to take effect, but the “page not working” message I repeatedly saw had the word “never” in it—as in “don’t wait around for this to start working, because you broke it and it’s never going to get back together again.”

I turned to some fellow dad bloggers for help—thanks Adam Cohen from DaDa Rocks!—and they talked me through the mini-crisis I was having, assuring me that it all looked fine on their end.

I’d like to say that I was sure all along that I didn’t do anything irreversible, but you know how I worry. Not even all the king’s horses and all the king’s men could help with Humpty Dumpty, and they had to have been pretty well trained, right?

On the plus side, I spent the evening worrying about web stuff as opposed to my kids’ health—though I didn’t like the sort of raspy sound of my son’s cry when he woke up a little while ago. Ah, well. The night is young.

Fight Week: Worry Wednesday: The Spiders

Fight Week: Worry Wednesday: The Spiders

I only recently learned about brown widows, which are like black widows, but are, you know, brown. They’re apparently just as toxic as—if not more so than—black widows, but they deliver less of their venom when they bite, putting them on the gentler, friendlier branch of the “I can hurt or kill you if I feel like it” tree. They’re practically cuddly.

I’d been periodically finding these brown spiders around and in our house—behind a barrel on our patio or tucked into the corner of our kitchen window—but I didn’t care much about them since they obviously weren’t black.

Then I stumbled upon this article, which explained that brown widows are taking over in Southern California and elsewhere in the country. I’d never heard of widows of that color, but I went and checked the webs of the spiders I’d been spotting; they were thick, tough, and haphazardly spun, just like a black widow’s.

I was historically a live-and-let-live sort of person when it comes to things that share our home. My pattern has been to scoop wayward house spiders into cups and dump them outside, but that benevolent attitude has faded since I became a parent. I don’t like things threatening my kids—not directly, not indirectly.

Now I swat flies, because I don’t want them landing on my kids’ food and spreading their fly foot-germs. I’ve been doing the same with moths, because I sometimes find little holes in our clothes. (This, admittedly, isn’t so life threatening.) And I’ve been fighting with spiders.

I took out the little one in the corner of the window. A couple of weeks later, a new one had set up a home. So I took that one out, too. Another one replaced it.

I figured there was a nursery nearby, which led me to discover the big brown widow behind the barrel on our front porch, which sits just below the kitchen window. Aha!

But then there was the garage. I’d noticed a particularly thick web in the corner of a window out there, but it was too high up and out of the way for a casual check. I got out a ladder and swiped at some of the web. Classic widow tensile strength. (I think that’s a thing. It just sounded like the right thing to say here.)

I’m not usually a poison person—because of the live-and-let-live thing, and because we have kids in the house, and because I believe there are often natural remedies for stuff—but I wanted this brown widow gone for good.

So I got out a jug of bug spray and squirted the window. Small spiders began running out, and I took care of those with a piece of broken picture frame—a modified weapon I hastily pulled from the trash when I realized the spray wasn’t cutting it and my bare fingers weren’t going to step in. Then what looked like a good-sized black widow ran out from near the top of the window. Picture frame again.

Finally, the eight-legged motions stopped. I still hadn’t seen the main beast, the Shelob I’d seen lurking up there before, so I swiped the jagged frame edge through the thick of the web. A big, round, brown quarter-sized spider dropped out, and I squished it. The whole thing was gross. My skin crawled for the rest of the day.

Plus, in the process, I got a little of the bug spray on my left hand, which I washed off. Repeatedly. Repeatedly repeatedly. It’s more than three days later as I write this, and I still haven’t put my wedding ring back on. It’s been soaking in a disposable cup.

I should have been wearing gloves, I know, but I told myself that I’m such a worrier, I should just get the job done without excessive precautions. And after I accidentally got some of the pest poison on my hands, I told myself not to freak out.

But after my shower, and my repeated questioning of my wife—”Do you think I’m OK? The label said it’s possible to absorb this stuff through your skin. Did I do the right thing by spraying it?”—she told me to call Poison Control.

“I’m not that worried,” I said. “Not really. I mean, I know I’ll be fine.”

Then I called Poison Control and the man at the other end of the line told me I’d be fine.

I sort of believed him.

(A note to those who were waiting for there to be a huge spider on my head, based on the illustration: Chekhov’s rule only applies to guns.)

 

Fright Week: Worry Wednesday

Fright Week: Worry Wednesday

(Shallow Note: This vampire is from a series of monsters I drew in 2002, back when I was still trying to draw hands. These turned out OK, I guess.)

We get a lot of mosquitoes in our house for some reason.

Fortunately, West Nile Virus has dropped significantly down on my worry list. It’s not like I’m unconcerned about it, and it’s not like there aren’t any birds around—because just a couple of weeks ago a hawk sat on a fence that runs along our front walk and methodically devoured a dove, much to the delight of my daughters, who later went out and retrieved a grimy chip of bone, probably from a skull.

My germaphobia kicked in there for a minute, but I quickly cooled back down. Lots of handwashing—theirs, then mine, since they handed it to me—helped.

I know West Nile Virus can be bad, but that’s what I’ve been working on lately: the “can be.” Because “can be” is not “will be,” which is a mental translation I tend to make.

A mosquito “can be” infected from biting a diseased bird and “can be” a carrier. Someone bitten by an infected mosquito “can be” infected themselves and so “can be” at risk for a variety of complications, some of which “can be” serious.

Make my typical mental translation for yourself (also change “at risk for” to “getting”) in that preceding paragraph and you’ll get a sense of how I live. Or at least how I’ve lived, because as I’ve said before, I’m working on it. And I think I’m doing a pretty good job.

It also helps that I did some research about West Nile Virus, and I learned that it’s not the biological terror our media—and I say that as a member myself—have made it out to be. I mean, I still don’t want any of my kids to get it, but I bet they’d ultimately be fine if they did.

I’m slowly learning the difference between healthy caution and worrying. But I’m reminding my girls to keep doors and screens closed anyway, because I still don’t want us to get mosquito bites. West Nile or not, they itch.

Identity Week: Worry Wednesday

Identity Week: Worry Wednesday

I know you can’t get AIDS from a soda can.

I know it. Right?

And yet I worry.

I’m a complete and total germaphobe—a realization to which I only recently came. I haven’t always been this way. It seems to have started, however, when my first daughter arrived, and suddenly the world looked like a massive infection-delivery system.

Every passerby’s cough was of the whooping variety, every mosquito bite was laced with West Nile, and every feather on the ground—the sorts of feathers I used to collect on walks when I was young—was lousy with bird flu. This is not something I’m happy about, nor do I think it’s a healthy—ha!—way to live, and I can keep it in check when I try. Most of the time.

I need to remind myself that I’m a guy who, in junior high, found a dog skull in a remote corner of a park, picked it up, and brought it home, uncleaned. There was no meat sticking to it or anything, but it was still pretty dirty. I have it to this day. I used to display it in my home, until it fell off a shelf and cracked.

A couple of years back, my family was at a pumpkin patch with some friends, and my then-4-year-old daughter took a few steps away from where we had all stopped to sit and eat lunch. I looked away, and when I looked back, she was drinking from an abandoned can of soda she’d picked up.

I broke out in a cold sweat, mentally cataloging the diseases she’d likely—pretty much obviously—just contracted. Anything that can be transmitted by human saliva. And mucous. And blood, because what if the person who was drinking this before had a cut in his or her mouth? What if there had been blood on the rim? What if somebody had peed in it? What if the can had been left there on purpose to make my child an unwitting Patient Zero is some horrible outbreak?

I’d like to say that I’m exaggerating and that I didn’t fire up the computer once I was back at home to Google possible transmission media for AIDS, meningitis, and a host of other diseases, infections, syndromes, bacteria, parasites, and the like. I’d really like to say that I’m smarter than that.

This is the sort of stuff they teach you about in high school biology and health class—most of it, anyway—so you don’t go around perpetuating misconceptions about some serious medical issues.

But I don’t do well with stuff I can’t see. If my daughter were to have fallen and scraped her knees, I’d have been fine. I know how to identify, assess, and treat skin abrasions.

But if she gets a fever or a rash—how am I supposed to know what’s going on? Especially if I try to get to her to point to exactly where it hurts or describe to me what her throat feels like inside, and all she does is cry at me, sort of angrily? Like even she gets that I’m overreacting.

I have a fear of flying, too, and I think it stems from the same place. I’d be OK, I figure, if I could sit in the cockpit and see and hear what the pilots are talking about and not freaking out about. Back in the cabin, every little jostle and bump makes me think: “Was that it? Was that knock the sound of my imminent death? If it was, they certainly wouldn’t tell us back here.”

If I could just see for myself that the people in charge aren’t worried, that nobody’s silently mouthing “uh-oh” as they watch a little sonar outline of an engine dropping 30,000 feet (I really don’t know how planes work), I would be fine. Better, anyway.

So it’s rough, because in my family, when one of my kids handles dirt that I’m pretty sure had cat poop in it (toxoplasma gondii!) or pops some little yellow pellets into her mouth—pellets she randomly found under a rock while camping, as actually happened this past summer—I’m the one in the cockpit. The kids are looking to me to see whether they should be worried. And I’m often looking to my wife, who assures me (and thereby the kids, who just hurt me blurt, “What if that was rat poison!”) that the stuff wasn’t rat poison.

(It wasn’t. In an act of sacrifice and scientific research, I popped a few into my own mouth. They were lemon-flavored Nerds. But even then, I worried a little that maybe rat poison manufacturers make their products extra sweet in order to attract more vermin.) (I really did.)

Look, knowledge is key here. The unknown is scary, and parenting already has unknowns enough without my throwing in unreasonable hypotheticals.

Honestly, I don’t have much of a “lesson learned” for the end of this post. Instead, I’m declaring Wednesdays to be Worry Wednesdays, so I can maybe excise a few of these ridiculous recurring nightmares I have about outlandish concerns. And you can laugh at me. Or shake your head. Or, in the case of my wife, do both, punctuated by a pitying-and-yet-loving, “Oh, Honey.”

As a bit of penance (and to show that, yes, I do actually know how AIDS is transmitted) and to try to throw some support to a worthy cause, check out the AIDS Support Network, which offers services to people living with HIV disease and AIDS in my neck of California. The group “works diligently to stabilize clients’ health—financially, emotionally and physically, at no cost to the client.” There’s a fundraising Walk for Life set for Nov. 2. Sign up, support someone else who did, or look for something similar in your own community.

And if you do join the walk, don’t drink from any random cans you find lying around. There could be bees in them, and you don’t want one to sting your tongue.