“We should go out,” Natalie observed this morning once we had finished muddling through breakfast. Oh boy. After twenty-seven deep breaths and a booster shot of Zen, I forced myself to agree. We should go out. It can’t be healthy to cluck around inside our tiny coop alldayeveryday, and maybe the giant-sized world outside would go easy on us — a wee flock of homebound girls with shy feathers.
But first, there were naps and a shower and diaper changes and potty time. Clothes were procured from the laundry line (because one can’t wear a bathrobe forever, you know), hair was brushed, makeup was applied. Sunscreen was dolloped onto wriggling fair-skinned girls, and my industrial-strength corduroy purse was filled: wallet, no wallet (who wants the extra weight?), keys, phone, wallet again (we need to get eggs), lip gloss, tissues, camera, baby food, dirty bib, oops, clean bib, spoons, napkins, water bottle, water to go in the water bottle, sunglasses, did I already get the keys? Natalie got her holey jeans and socks and her cool silvery tennis shoes, plus a polka-dot headband—her latest fashion obsession. Sophie got a hat, until I remembered how she always flings it in the mud, and those great Velcro sandals she loves to remove with her teeth, and I buckled her into the stroller. We were going to do it.
Out the door we traipsed into my Tim Burtonesque imaginationscape. Curly, sunken-eyed trees, purple-tinged sunlight, whimsical hostility at every turn. But I could not in good conscience let myself become a hermit. At least, I could not retreat until we had spent at least as much time outside as we had spent preparing to go out, so I screwed my courage to the sticking place* and marched on.
Natalie skipped and picked pink flowers that “smelled like candy!” while Sophie kicked for joy and occasionally tried to dive-bomb out of her stroller. We bought eggs without any meltdowns or blitzed grocery displays, and my outlook slowly softened. Maybe these great outdoors, buzzing with life and warmth and green, were not so terrifying. Maybe I really could find my way back to my lane in the flow of normalcy and be the kind of mom who breezes her girls to the playground every morning without a hitch. And even if I found it tough to pry myself away from home, I could do it for them. Just seeing Natalie’s palpable excitement about going to play with other children made the trip worth it.
Except that by the time we got to the playground, it was deserted. Every one of the other kids had gone home for lunch. Natalie, ever an optimist, asked me for her pail and shovel (“Sorry, we didn’t bring those”) and then for her soccer ball (“Uh, we didn’t bring that either”) and finally just wandered forlornly around the empty swings and seesaw. I sat down on the winner’s bench for Crappiest Mother of the Year and fed Sophie her puréed blueberries, which she alternately spit out and sneezed out, and my head slowly began closing in on me. The sun was gothic cartoon again, the olive trees dense and grabby. I remembered the piles of dishes and laundry and misplaced toys I had ignored for the sake of this trip, back at home breeding and throwing wild parties like housework tends to do when left to its own devices. And suddenly, I needed to be indoors RIGHT AWAY.
I hate how easily panic hits me these days. There is never a reason or an obvious trigger, though anytime between noon and 7 p.m. is fair game. It just strikes my brain like a lightning bolt, and I can’t catch my breath. I can’t think straight. All I can see is the future billowing in flames around me and some abstract shapes of terror, urgent terror. I wouldn’t be surprised if my eyes turned white during these attacks, like the character from X-Men who summons tornadoes with her thoughts.
There might as well have been tornadoes shrieking over my head as we rushed home today. It had been too much. Simply going out had been too much. Or maybe it was going to all that effort, so much effort, just to reinforce our collective loneliness. I had suddenly acquired a taste for agoraphobia, and it chased me up the elevator, shaking, into our front door. Goodbye world, hello chronic wimp.
Much later in the day, as I was relocating messes and bludgeoning myself over the brain, a quote flashed through my mind: Courage is the willingness to accept fear and act anyway.** Despite my fragile state of mind and irrational fears of the world around me, I made the effort to walk out my front door today. What’s more, I survived. And the more I think about it, the more I realize that hey, this pretty much makes me Captain Courage. With way cuter clothes.
*I have a thing for Shakespeare. Don’t tell Dan.
**Not Shakespeare. Not Jesus. Not sure who said this, in fact. Was it you?