One of the important parts of parenting small children is modeling behavior — that is, acting like you’re not as screwed up as you are so your kids don’t grow up to be screwed up like you are. Everyone generally flubs this one here and there. Among my particular cohort, foul language seems to be the one that trips us up most often. Earlier this evening, my daughter had cause to giggle, “Did you just say ‘holy crap’?” Yes, yes I did. But that particular slip up came wrapped up in a larger package with a different aspect of modeled behavior that I’ve pretty much aced, against very long odds.
I had just seen a spider.
A flippin’ ENORMOUS spider.
Like, imagine Charlotte had a binge-eating disorder, took steroids, and then got hit by Wayne Szalinski’s growth ray. Honey, I blew up the arachnid. In my house. Where I live and eat and sleep and breathe and stuff.
I have a very strong bug phobia. Not crippling, but strong. I once spent a night in a motel shaking and weeping because we couldn’t defeat the swarms of tiny flies that descended on our room after the sun went down. I was standing on the bed, attempting to swat them, when I pivoted and saw a gigantic spiderweb in the corner just littered with the damn things. And I just melted into a sobbing, inconsolable heap. My husband had never seen me have a panic attack like that before. It wasn’t pretty.
But D luhhhhrves bugs. She likes worms best, actually, which I’m fine with. I have no real quarrel with worms. We did procure a couple foot-long fat pink nightcrawlers last week that were really pushing the envelope as far as my gag reflex was concerned…but mostly worms are OK. It’s arthropods I have the problem with. Slimy? Yuck, but whatever, you do you. Crunchy? Skittery? Get the fuck out. And now I live with a child who adores the damn things. Who will carry a millipede between thumb and forefinger for a quarter hour, chattering about how they’re going to be such good friends. Who will squeal with delight when a zookeeper offers her the opportunity to pet a Giant Madagascar Hissing Cockroach. SHE PET A FUCKING COCKROACH, PEOPLE. I pet a cockroach once, but only on accident because I thought it was a turd the cat had kicked from her litter box into her food bowl and instead it was a logy fat palmetto bug that had gorged itself on kibble and wasn’t able to scuttle to safety when the kitchen lights flipped on. Since spring has sprung, in the last few weeks, I have found myself variously poking through soil looking for potato bugs, examining the legs on a spiky caterpillar, coaxing a ludicrously large beetle onto a wood chip, overturning a rock to expose an utterly vile and teeming citronella ant colony, and generally wondering where my life took such a disastrous turn and trying my very best to only dry-heave, not actually retch, in front of my child.
When I see bugs inside, I kill them. I’m sorry, may all sentient beings be free of suffering and blah blah blah, but whatever I can do to minimize the essentially constant mild sensation that bugs are crawling all over my skin, that’s what I’m gonna do. But last week I noticed D going out of her way to smush ants out on the porch. So, although part of my brain was like, “YES, MY CHILD, JOIN ME IN MY ANT-CRUSH BRIGADE AND WE WILL ERADICATE THIS SIX-LEGGED DEMON ARMY THAT WANTS TO DEVOUR THE OREO CRUMBS YOU LEAVE STREWN IN YOUR WAKE SERIOUSLY THOUGH KID YOU ARE FOUR YEARS OLD NOW WHEN ARE YOU GOING TO BE ABLE TO EAT LIKE A HUMAN NOT A WOODCHIPPER I DIGRESS CRUSH KILL DESTROY ALL INSECTS,” I instead calmly explained that when we’re outside we leave bugs alone, because the outdoors is their home…but if she sees one inside, let me know and I will dispose of it. Go me, modeling behavior! Teaching my child respect for nature while simultaneously not passing along my own petty weird phobias and brain farts!
And then tonight that mature, totally-together posture I had thus far managed to maintain in front of this kid shattered in the face of a four-inch-long daddy long legs hanging like a skeletal venomous teardrop from the ceiling outside the basement bathroom.
*giggle* “Did you just say ‘holy crap’?”
I walked purposefully to the kitchen and grabbed a few paper towels…and then a few more, because in the time it took me to sprint up the stairs my brain had transformed the thing from an objectively-large cellar spider to Aragog the Acromantula. I started back downstairs and my breath began to catch in my chest; tears welled in the corners of my eyes; my hands shook. I was going to be a model parent. I was going to be brave. I wasn’t going to let my child see that I’m secretly broken. I’ll save that horrible revelation for when she’s an adult and has grown to resent me for other, yet-to-be-determined reasons.
But D had made enough of a commotion in my wake that my husband came to see what was going on. He found me hyperventilating, covered in sweat, clutching a wad of paper towels and cowering in front of a completely harmless bug. “I think I need you to do it,” I quavered, and he took the towels and killed the damn thing.
“Can I see it?” Dahlia asked, eyes agleam.
“Well, I think it’s pretty well squished…” he said, as he unfolded the towel…and then yanked his hand back violently with a sudden intake of breath, as if it had bitten him.
I literally shrieked and fell over backwards. Aragog was alive! WE NEED BASILISK VENOM!
My husband started to laugh. “No, no, it’s dead, it’s squished.”
“That was SO MEAN,” I hiccuped as the blood rushed back to my head.
Model parental behavior.