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Fear and 2-Second Dinosaur-Lobster Test
Everybody has their inexplicable fears. I once knew a woman who was afraid of coconuts and spent her whole vacation in Hawaii sitting inside the condo, afraid that if she went outside, one was going to drop off a tree and onto her head. As for me I am afraid of leeches, weird cults that suck you in and brainwash you, and the wholesale collapse of the economy, which would cause my husband to lose his job, which would cause us to lose our house and....move in with my mother. Late at night before bed, I often rehearse this worst case scenario in my mind: selling off all our stuff on the sidewalk, assigning us new bedrooms, and somehow finding schools for my kids in the middle of the year. Hence, the bags under my eyes.
My toddler, on the other hand, is afraid of dinosaurs. You do not want to be a two-year-old boy in America with this particular phobia. Dinosaurs are everywhere, lunging off lunchboxes, raging across raincoats, tromping with bared teeth across every television and playroom in the neighborhood.
Today was his first day of daycare. We entered the classroom and grabbed a tub of plastic animal figurines, all about 6 inches high. We pulled them out one by one...a lion...a chicken....a whale...a German shepherd....and gray-green T. Rex with jaws like some kind of prehistoric trash compactor. My son shrank, inserted thumb in mouth. I attempted recovery. I held up a giraffe.
"Is this a dinosaur?" I said.
"No," he said.
I held up cow. "Is this a dinosaur?"
I held up a lobster. "Is this a dinosaur?"
He wobbled, and jammed that thumb back in his mouth.
I looked at the lobster. It was the same size as the cow and the cat and the suddenly horrific-seeming crustacean (note to humanity: for us to maintain our supremacy on the food chain, crustaceans must remain smaller than us). With the change in scale, a lobster could be a dinosaur, a monsterous armored one with evil, neck-snapping claws.
And yet, back in reality, it was a lobster. I could toss one in a pot of boiling water, crack open, and eat with drawn butter. I did not attempt to explain the complexities of this idea to my pre-verbal child. I tossed the lobster aside, and we moved onto building blocks. But the incident did make me think about my own adult fears; handling them is a matter of perspective (a phrase I find entirely unhelpful in terms of trying to actually gain perspective). From now on, I'm going to tackle my late-night terror sessions in a new way, by asking: Is this a dinosaur or a lobster?
Since I am a woman with a full-time job and two kids, I will no doubt say this thought out loud, be overheard by husband, and compelled to explain it, so I don't seem like a crazy person. "What I mean is" I will say to him, "Is losing a job losing your whole life and house? Or is it just losing your job? Is the situation really a dinosaur that will gobble you up or a just a blown-up lobster?"
Since he is a man with a full-time job and 2 kids, he will nod and fall asleep by "blown up." I, on the other hand, will use the unanticipated moment of peace to move on to more calm and hopeful mental scenarios, like imagining a hot tub on the deck we don't have, which you get to by sliding glass door we don't either...at least not yet.