A bump in the night and why not to be afraid

A bump in the night and why not to be afraid - www.alliepottswrites.com
background image courtesy of http://www.pexels.com

Bump. Muffle. Jingle. Thump.

My eyes snapped open. The room was dark, except for the clock’s display which showed it was only a few minutes past three in the morning.

Bump. Muffle. Jingle. Thump.

My heart raced. However, my husband’s rhythmic breathing to my side was a clear indicator that the sound from the downstairs hadn’t yet penetrated through his dreams as it had mine. It wasn’t the first time I cursed the sensitivity of my ‘mom’ ears.

Bump. Muffle. Jingle. Thump.

I sat up as I tried to imagine what could be causing the sound. We’d had unseasonably warm weather recently, enjoying a weekend of open doors and windows. Could an animal have gotten inside? It wouldn’t be the first time. I still recall the time several years ago when a neighbor’s cat managed to sneak through a pet door only to become confused and disoriented inside. But, I reminded myself, the pet doors were now sealed.

Bump. Muffle. Jingle. Thump.

My imagination expanded in the darkness. While the sound was quiet enough to be caused by an animal, it seemed unnaturally controlled and repetitive to be caused by something wild, but still not out of the realm of possibilities. I turned to my sleeping husband. Someone was going to have to risk the unknown. Someone had to go investigate. Someone needed to wake up.

Bump. Muffle. Jingle. Thump.

It seemed my preferred someone had developed an immunity to my glares over our years of marriage. I debated shaking him awake. Reminding myself that I am a strong woman capable of fighting my own battles (or at least screaming loud enough to alert the neighbors), I decided against it. It wasn’t as if I was going back to sleep without knowing the cause of the sound. While telling myself the sound could be a mouse, our dog or maybe even one of our children, as I’d caught Kiddo sleepwalking once before, I left the bed and slowly opened the bedroom door.

Bump. Muffle. Jingle. Thump.

Swallowing my fear, I crept toward the staircase and peered over the banister.

Bump. Muffle. Jingle. Thump.

Movement caught my eye.

Bump. Muffle. Thump.

The sound was coming from . . . I squinted in the darkness . . .

Bump. Muffle. Thump.

. . . the robotic sweeper vacuum I’d received for Christmas, a device we’d programmed to clean while we slept. An array of blue LEDs appeared in the darkness as the white disk-shaped robot attempted to maneuver its way out from under our dining room table. Bump. Hitting one of the chair legs, it rotated a fraction of an inch and tried again.

Bump. Whirl.

The robot turned once more, disappearing once again under the table only to return a moment later for another attempt at escape.

Adrenaline fled my system, as my body reminded me exactly how early it was. Now that I understood where the sound was coming from, there was no more reason to fear. Instead, it became no more than white noise and something I could ignore. I returned to bed as the robot continued its chore.

It seems that we are being bombarded by new things to fear. Things to lose sleep over. I am reminded often of the words of Franklin Roosevelt who said during his first inaugural address, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

But there is even more to the speech than this one memorable quote. He went on to call this fear of fear a “nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”

He called upon the American people to recognize that it was fear, above all, that was the nation’s enemy and introduced the policy of the good neighbor – “the neighbor who resolutely respects himself and, because he does so, respects the rights of others.”

History has a way of repeating itself and I find the words of this particular speech as true now as they were during the time they were first spoken. It is only the size of the stage that has changed.

We are in danger of losing our ability to respect the views of others – those that live differently, speak differently, pray differently or in cases, vote differently and in doing so jeopardize respect for ourselves. We are in danger of losing the battle with fear. And so I implore you, no matter where you call home, or side of an issue’s spectrum you take, to never lay awake in fear at the sound of a bump in the night. Instead, get out of your comfort zone. Investigate its source so that you might better understand it from all angles.

That bump in the night may prove to be something terrible, to be fought, but it might just as easily be something or someone trying to help you as best they can. You’ll only know for sure how best to react if you first break the paralysis of fear, step forward and risk a look.

Fear and Loathing in the Hot Days of Summer

ocean courageI took an extended weekend on the beach with a handful of friends. We’ve known each other a long time and they pretty much know everything there is to know about me. Including my near irrational fear of getting added to a shark’s sampler pack as I dabble my toes in the water.

“If you get eaten by a shark, I’ll be sure to take everything I’ve ever said back at your funeral,” one would say before diving head first into the breakers. Because equal parts support and ridicule are just what friends are for. I watched enviously from the shore as they floated on their backs, looking oh, so, carefree. I’d forgotten to pack my shark repellent. Shame on me.

A battle launched in my brain. My logic side shouted – Just go. My creative side rolled its imaginary eyes.  Don’t you know what can happen out there? One accidental nibble and it will be open season on us.

The chance of that happening is next to nil and you know it.

But not zero.

Not zero, but still. . . Go on. What’s the worst that could happen?

I get bitten. Duh.

Is that really so bad? Think about it. Most attacks this close to shore are survivable. Sure, you might not be all in one piece, but you’d have a story to tell. You could get on the news or even the talk show circuit. Imagine the improved visibility. That shark bite could be just what you need to launch your writing career into the stratosphere.

Yeah. Um. I think I’ll stick to my existing plan.

Bah. Well, then we have a problem to solve then because it is only getting hotter out here.

“A man who fears suffering is already suffering from what he fears.” – Michel de Montaigne

Pressured by my body’s aversion to excessive heat, my brain got to work. I tried to look at the problem differently. What was it that usually sent me running back to the shore while my friends passed beyond the breakers. My friends aren’t dummies. They are fully aware of what calls the ocean its home. What did they do differently? They don’t look down, I realized. They look at the top of the next wave or just out ahead.

I always looked into the waves, looking for a shadow to appear, and once spotted, my imagination filled in all the terrible things that could be that shadows cause (other than a cloud). My imagination, that thing that works so well for me most other times, was holding me back. So, stop looking down, I told myself.

“Never fear shadows. They simply mean there’s a light shining somewhere nearby.” -Ruth E. Renkel

I focused on the horizon and not at the waves around me, a trick my dad had taught me years ago to combat seasickness and took a step. Then another. The water hit my knees. Then my waist. Then my shoulders. I lifted my above me and dove into that blue-green water and swam.

I only managed to stay out there a few minutes, but it was longer than I had the day before.

But apparently, not everyone’s weekend was as relaxing as mine. While I was away, there had been an incident at the shopping mall near my work. My neighbors, a family of four, were lunching in the food court when they heard a “thunderous sound.” Crowds of people began rushing to the exits in a panic. A man reported seeing a gun. Others reported shots fired, but no casings were found, nor victims of a shooting. However, that doesn’t mean that no one was hurt. At least eight people were transported out of the mall with injuries, likely caused by falls and or the press of terrified people as they tried to make their escape. In this case, fear was the more destructive weapon.

My neighbors were not among the injured, but instead now have to explain to their sons, one of whom is only as old as mine, why any of this could happen. Why things like this (and worse) keep happening.

Fear. That’s what it comes down to.

Fear is what kept me from enjoying my time with friends fully. Fear is what causes me to see danger in each unexpected shadow. Fear drove ordinary people to push their neighbors. Fear is a root cause as well as an end result in a seemingly never ending cycle. Seemingly. It doesn’t have to stay that way.

“F-E-A-R has two meanings: ‘Forget Everything And Run’ or ‘Face Everything And Rise.’ The choice is yours.” – Zig Ziglar

I am so tired of being made to feel afraid. So while I am aware of my surroundings and recognize the things their shadows may hide, I will try to keep my eyes on the horizon, of what can be, and not look down. And maybe, just maybe, if you join me, we might just get through these breakers, one step at a time.

quotes attributed to http://www.tinybuddha.com. photography is my own.

Monsoons, Moments, and Mars

It was just me and LT over the weekend. Lamont and Kiddo had embarked on a father-son overnight camping and fishing trip, a trip they go on at least once a year. While they had been gone, there had been heavy rain showers at the coast resulting in texts like “It was a monsoon” and “it turns out that our tent is only 95% waterproof,” messages that amuse me to no end, especially as I sip my wine, comfortably on my couch, while watching a chick flick, foreign film or similar typically vetoed movie selection.

kid's tea party
A four-year-old and a porcelain tea cup – also known as a terrified parent’s near heart attack with every sip.

I certainly felt that we’d gotten the better end of the deal as the weekend progressed. LT and I attended a tea party where he’d pulled on an over-sized straw hat, proclaimed himself a cowboy, and then shouted “Yee-Haw” to other guests (“use your inside voice, LT” x 100). LT had gone in search of waterfalls with his Nana and to a friend’s birthday party. I just knew Kiddo would envy the fun (and dry weather) we’d had.

I was wrong. When Kiddo and Lamont returned, I asked my boys if they would like to swap roles the next time. Did Kiddo want to stay with mom while LT went with dad? Kiddo looked at me like I was speaking another language. LT, misinterpreting the question and his brother’s answer into meaning that only one kid could go and Kiddo was it, practically threatened to secede from the family in protest. “Wait a minute, LT, didn’t you have fun?”

Even though I am happy enough to have some me time, the sound rejection stung and a little hurt must have shown in my face. “It’s not you. He is just afraid of missing out,” Lamont consoled me.

Later, after the kids were in bed, (or at least should have been bed – LT has been rather,… shall we say,… bedtime adverse over the last several days so it is hard to say for sure) Lamont stood outside waiting for Her Royal Highness to finish her evening’s business (by all means, Ms., please take your time). A bright, full moon shone overhead, illuminating exactly how little HRH cared about our impatience.

“We’re supposed to be able to see Mars,” I commented to Lamont as I joined him on the porch.

“Yeah, it’s by the moon.”

Mars Hubble
Image courtesy of the Hubble Telescope and Wikipedia Commons,  and not at all representative of what I could see from my porch.
I looked where he pointed. Sure enough, there was a large brilliant orange dot in the sky. I ran inside (I’m a bit of a space enthusiast) and collected Kiddo’s telescope, a basic children’s starter model. I was able to locate the spot in the telescope’s view finder, but no matter how much I adjusted dials or re-positioned the lens, I was never quite able to capture a clear shot of the planet in full with all its peaks and valleys. I would have to be content instead with what I could see with my naked eye.

“It was even brighter at the beach.” Lamont informed me as HRH finally deigned to make her way back inside.

As I returned the telescope to its regular resting place it occurred to me that if the sky cleared long enough for Lamont to get a clear view of Mars, the trip hadn’t been the total washout his early texts would lead one to believe. Those texts were only snap shots from their weekend together, mere grains in the hourglass of their time. I also knew I’d only miss more as there were more journeys away from mom.

And that’s okay.

I could insist on joining them at the beach, but instead, I am looking forward to the excitement in the air, second only to Christmas, prior to their trip and the joy on their sun-browned faces as they tumble out of the car on their way to greet me on their return. I am looking forward to hearing the stories they collectively are suitable for mom’s ears and confronting Lamont with a smile when one of the boys accidentally shares something mom doesn’t need to know. But, as much as I love and will miss them, I am also seriously looking forward to a few moments to myself (like the occasional bathroom break).

I don’t need to see all the moments to be content. I am not afraid of missing out. I just want a clear sight when it comes to the moments that matter.


Please forgive me – a letter to the dog

We pulled out your crate this week, unused for the last three years, and brushed off the cobwebs, only we didn’t do it for you. Another four-legged creature joined the family and needed a place to sleep. I think you would have liked her. She’s a mix of Lab, like you, but Boxer too, which was always your favorite playmate. But she’s not you.

Then again, you might find her strange. She doesn’t chase after cats, or squirrels, or stare at a mysterious nothing in the corner of the room making my neck hairs rise. When we go on walks, I don’t worry my arm might be torn from its socket due to the strength of her pulls. She doesn’t jump on arriving guests, or feel the need to defend the household from the threat of the evil vacuum. Nor does she enjoy running in front of my shins as I attempt to descend the stairs just to ensure I’m paying attention.

People we meet keep telling me she is perfect. But she’s not you.

You would be proud of the boys. How well they’ve adapted to an animal in the house once again. They grin and tell me how happy they are to have her. They’ve helped me bathe her, comb her fur, and brush her teeth. They’re teaching her fetch and sit and shake. She’s so patient with them too. The boys have draped themselves over her body and used outside voices near her ear, and yet she still she wags her tail at their arrival.

We tried to make you proud of us as well. She is a rescue like you were once, but an older pup. We estimate she’s around four years old, but with signs that suggest those years weren’t always easy. When we met her, Kiddo announced proudly that we hadn’t found her, she had found us, echoing the words I once used myself to describe our first encounter with you.

Your dad tells me our family feels complete once again. But she’s not you.

She’s smaller than you were, but only just slightly. She is tall enough that I can scratch her head with my fingertips without bending over but light enough for me to carry when she is feeling particularly stubborn. She has a pink leash and collar, which would have appalled you were you not color blind, but she doesn’t seem to mind. She just seems happy to have found a family.

The other night, after the boys had gone to bed, she hopped on the spot on the couch next to me and laid her head on my lap the way you used to do. Soon I found myself growing tired as I listened to her rhythmic snore. I glanced over and saw tan fur where there once lay black and I had to blink away the tears of my surprise. In my weary state, I’d almost forgotten it wasn’t you. I thought I was ready, but it hit me so hard, just then, how much she’s not you. In that moment, I realized how different a brain’s readiness can be to one’s heart’s.

I felt so guilty. Guilty that I was enjoying her warmth by my side. Guilty that we couldn’t do more to keep you there longer. Guilty I am happy to once again see a bowl on the ground.

But she really is a good girl and I was the one to suggest we bring her home. In fairness to her, I am trying to remember all your flaws as much as I recall your virtues. How you could clear the room after a meal. The books of mine you destroyed. That incident with the bunny.

The trouble is, I loved you with your flaws as much as you loved me with mine.

I remember those early puppy weeks before you were house-broken and the pain inflicted on my arms by your needle sharp teeth and all the reasons we chose not to adopt a puppy this time. I remember wondering if we’d made a mistake back then, injecting your brand of chaos into our lives as I surveyed the damage that once was my living room. But mostly I remember how much we grew to love you over the years that followed. If the decision to bring you home back then was a mistake, it was the best mistake we’ve ever made.

She’s only been with us a few short days and is getting to know us as much as we are getting to know her. She’s not you, true, but she’s herself; a dog who is sweet and mostly well-mannered. A dog who deserves to be loved for who she is rather than considered somehow flawed for who she’s not.

So please forgive me if I eventually allow my heart to stop comparing, as difficult as that seems now. When I scratch her behind her ears or throw her a ball to chase, it doesn’t mean I miss you any less. It will just mean I’ve finally allowed my heart to grow more.

Boxer Lab Mix
Newest member of the family

It’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas

It was the morning of the annual Christmas celebration in my neighborhood. Roads around a park would be shut down for a couple of hours while kids decorated cookies, made crafts, danced to a live band, and of course, met Santa. My neighborhood homeowners dues can feel pricey at times, but on this occasion they seem worth it.

I was looking for my camera as Kiddo approached me. “Mom,” he said. “I know it’s not going to be the real Santa.”

I gulped as I glanced around the room. LT was nowhere in site. Shew, the situation is still contained. I frantically thought how best to handle the line of questioning I was sure would be coming next.

Now I have a few issues with Christmas, how it has taken over the entire month of December, is annexing November, and has even begun to bleed into October. It even has a small outpost in July. Yet at the same time I absolutely adore the look upon the kids faces as the decorations go up (which is the only reason I have forgiven my siblings for the 6ft tall bilingual singing Santa they ‘gifted’ us with several years ago and perhaps a story for another day), and I can’t help but smile at their excitement as the holiday specials begin to flood the airways.

Only this year, as we watched a few of the movies, I began to notice how many feature a character rediscovering their Christmas spirit after meeting the real Santa and it troubled me. Just a year or two ago, Kiddo would never have thought to question the authenticity of Santa in the park. But now? . . . Darn you Holiday Classics! Darn you, every one.

I looked into Kiddo’s eyes, still unsure how to respond.

“I know it is one of his helpers,” kiddo offered, oblivious to my discomfort.

In that instant it felt like a little bit of Kiddo’s innocence fell away. “Yes, it probably is,” I said while hoping that LT would remain in the other room awhile longer.

Luckily the conversation ended there and we arrived at the park a short time later. The band was rocking out holiday tunes and the hot cocoa was delicious. After taking a ride in a horse-drawn carriage, we got in line to meet Mr. Claus. Before long it was our turn. For the very first time, LT wasn’t afraid as we placed him on the bench next to the man in the red suit. Without missing a beat, Santa insisted that Lamont and I join the boys for a group photo while instructing the prior family to stick around and take our picture. I was impressed. The man knew how to run an assembly line. Once photographed, he turned to each boy and listened as they tried to recall their wishlists. Afterward, he looked at them both and announced with authority that they had been good rather than asking them if they had. I watched in awe as kiddo’s eyes widened.

As we walked away, Kiddo turned to me and said, “mom, I know that Santa has helpers, but I think that might be the real Santa.”

“I think you might be right,” I answered as I saw a little of his boyhood wonder return, if only for a moment. And I meant it. After all, I certainly got what I wanted from Santa this year.