Plot twist: I went back to work for 4 hours this week. It was not spelling bee planning on my couch. I had a lapse in my sanity and decided to be a summer school sub.
The kids were crazy. Not only was it summer, but I was their second sub that week. Although I had a pretty good relationship with most of them, the minute they saw that I wasn’t their teacher, they came down with “sub” fever, making up new rules for the classroom, sneaking around for no reason, attempting to pop pieces of plastic so I would jump, but fortunately some of my students that I was lucky enough to teach everyday during the school year called them out: “Don’t play Ms. Ronau like that.”
Needless to say, it was a nutso morning, but there was a moment in reading group that made it okay, or even great. We read a story about a girl who was afraid of the dark, followed by a conversation about inferring what made her fearful. This, obviously, turned into them telling me what they were afraid of.
“My mom doing my hair.”
Then one of my students signed the word “owl” to me.
Ms. Ronau: “You’re not afraid of owls!”
K: “Nope [insert cutest shrug ever], but you like ‘em, right?”
That’s why I’m a teacher.
Besides the strangerdanger situation, I think I’m developing immunity to fears that most people have. Spiders are okay if they don’t surprise me and are smaller than my thumb and I’ve stopped having to put my head in between my knees when crossing a big bridge. I’m getting used to thunderstorms, as I don’t count the seconds in between lightening flashes and thunder sounds anymore. I don’t watch most movies, let alone scary ones, so I don’t have to worry about being creeped by talking dolls. But I am scared of bleach.
I don’t know much about my great-grandmother, other than her name was Lassie Adeline, she was a tiny little German woman who raised tons of kids in a little blue farm house with a dog named Buddy and beautifully long, bony fingers. I also have this one fantastic memory of her slowly walking down the stairs of the house I grew up in, holding a mason jar full of jewelry in both of her knotty hands (is that why I like mason jars and jewelry?) She is also the reasoning behind my bleach phobia.
When she started showing signs of Alzheimer’s disease, my grandfather would try to jog her memory by chanting, “Lassie Lassie Adeline, took a dose of turpentine…..” and her small little head, that looked like an adorably dried applehead topped with a swirl of cotton candy, would nod and nod and nod or sometimes give a tiny, charming half-smile, acknowledging some sort of trigger, back there, somewhere.
The “drinking turpentine” song was apparently penned by Lassie’s brother, but the reason it was written got lost in multiple strings of family folklore. I’ve always clung to the story my mom told me.
“Well, your great-grandma was trying to stretch her bleach out so she could have enough to clean the house, so she mixed it with ammonia and the fumes made her vomit come out like a rope. So….don’t do that.”
A ROPE?! She puked a ROPE?
Terrifying. I’d rather be afraid of owls.
*Now, please don’t try this in order to figure out what kind of Boy Scout your insides are. Please.*
After doing some research on Wikipedia (peer-reviewed, no worries), I found that turpentine has no actual LINK to bleach! What? It’s hogwash? What else have I been taught that makes no sense?
Additional Smith Cautionary Tales
“Eating cookie dough will give you worms.”
“Swallowing watermelon seeds will make you defecate like a machine gun.”
“It’s ok to eat Vick’s Vapor Rub.”
Ok yeah, sure. They tell me these things so I won’t eat raw eggs or have a bout of seed constipation. (I cannot make sense of the Vapor Rub.) It’s sweet. But phobias exist because of the lack of knowledge or experience of a noun or verb and the deep understanding that that very noun or verb will cause you life-threatening danger if found in its presence, or relying on one piece of anecdotal evidence passed down through four generations-worth of twists, forgetting the punch line or just a really noisy game of Telephone.
It’s just like that with strangers. There are so many variables, unknowns, ways that it could go that I am unwilling to take the risk and just start talking about the heat and/or humidity. What if you say something inappropriate or creepy-weird? What if you make me feel dumb? What if I turn red because I’m embarrassed that I’m scared of you?
It’s the risk. I’m a horrible gambler. Honestly. I lose all the time at penny slots then get mad that I lost a dollar. But how else am I going to actually find out that using bleach does not (should not?) immediately put me at risk for knot puke? How am I going to convince myself that not all people are scary and mean, even though I’ve met those versions?
Take my Ms. Ronau advice?
“You shouldn’t be afraid of werewolves. If you aren’t threatening their home, they won’t attack.” Lesson learned: as long as I don’t show up at their house with a steak knife, I shouldn’t fear strangers.
Somehow that doesn’t help.