I know that the Halloween season has come to an end, but the terror that grips me, that stalks me, carries on. In the middle of the night, I hear a sound, is it the house settling, or a small demon lurking in the darkness? Are the wails I hear an apparition, La Llorona, a savagely horny stray cat, a distant choo-choo train breaking down, or the anxiety-made-manifest that I helped to create?
As I write this, she is but feet away, lurking in the darkness, waiting for me to strike the keyboard slightly too hard, or shift my weight to cause the sofa to creak only as loud as the death rattle of a Tardigrade, or for me to think a little too hard, any excuse to renew her campaign of methodically torturing us into submitting to her ever-shifting will. No matter how many tithes we pay at the alter of this small, vengeful demi-god, it’s as effective as scolding a tornado into submission.
Shhh! Stop reading so loudly! She can hear your eyes moving. And, whatever you do, don’t blink. Fill a small ramekin with water or saline solution and occasionally dip your eyes in it so you don’t have to blink.
Sleep, precious sleep is the only respite either of us have. Me, a small gift from the heavens granting me a moment of tranquility-frosted anxiety as I await the next eruption. The preschooler, a moment to heal her vocal cords.
It’s a hostage situation where she’s her own hostage. “You all better do as I say, how I say it, but sometimes hearing the subtext and anticipating that what I say to do isn’t what I actually want, OR I’M GOING TO DO THINGS COUNTERPRODUCTIVE TO MY OWN SELF-INTEREST AND HUMAN GROWTH. That’s it, give me the snack that I’ll eat a bite of and decide that it’s not what I wanted. And none of this guarantees that I won’t blame you in therapy.”
Every moment of every day is dread. Dread for her safety, dread for my sanity, dread for her future, dread for how my dread is affecting her, dread that I’m dreadfully dreading the existential dread that’s causing a spiral of dread.
The closest equivalent I can think of is when I was driving an 11 year old Nissan on discount, refurbished Walmart tires, on a winding road through hills with no guard rail separating the road from the edge of oblivion during a deluge. The windshield wipers were more of windshield smearers and going downhill was an exercise in steering into the hydroplane.
I keep waiting for that fear to slide into the background as my conscious accepts this new reality, for the extraordinary to become the mundane. Yet, the ferocious unpredictability of an emotionally volatile preschooler, doesn’t allow for the relief of tedium.
Maybe this is why people say “being a parent is the most rewarding experience,” because it’s also the most arduous trudge through a leach-infested swamp of nonsense surrounded by thorny rosebushes during a thunderous hailstorm of poopy kaka, and any break in that storm feels like an astounding relief. This is Stockholm Syndrome.