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Nina In New York: On Fear And Parenting

Stinkbugs (credit: CBS 2)

Stinkbugs (credit: CBS 2)

A lighthearted look at news, events, culture and everyday life in New York. The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.
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By Nina Pajak

Now that my daughter is a year old and rapidly morphing from a baby into a fully-realized (insane) person, I find my thoughts on parenting transforming along with her. In particular, I’m more aware of (read: worried about) my own foibles. And specifically, how not to perpetuate them on my progeny.

Take, for instance, my paralyzing fear of most insects. Just recently, I was spending a night at my mother’s house in the suburbs. I was peacefully lying in bed when suddenly a hideous stinkbug jumped into bed with me. Or flew or crawled or whatever creepy thing it is they do. What’s a stinkbug, anyway, and since when do we have them in New York? Don’t we have enough to worry about without a new form a pestilence descending upon us?

Anyway, the stinkbug leapt onto the pillow beside me, yadda yadda yadda, thirty minutes later I was shaking and sweating, the bug flushed and a 2002 copy of Let’s Go Europe! was sitting in the bathroom trash can. I spent the rest of the night trying to figure out whether I smelled a “stink” and fighting a serious case of the creepy crawlies.

And as I lay in bed, covers to my chin, maniacally scratching at phantom itches where imaginary stinkbugs were undoubtedly crawling all over my body, it occurred to me: I need to figure out how not to turn my daughter into a crazy person.

How, indeed?

Last week a giant spider fell into my boot in our garage. Thankfully, the baby was asleep and I could freely freak out in front of my beleaguered husband, but what if she’d been awake? What if I’d had to brave the spider in front of her? What happens when the day comes that she asks me to kill a bug for her? Or worse, what happens if she’s one of those kids who catches bugs and wants to keep them in a menagerie of nightmares?

I know I’m going to have to be stoic. I know that the thing to do is to shove my very real phobia deep, deep down where she won’t be affected or influenced by it. This could, very possibly, be the most daunting parenting task I’ve been handed down yet.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg. I’m terrified of the ocean, what with the being eaten alive and such. During my daughter’s first trip to an aquarium, I had to fight the urge to recoil my whole body when standing over the monster shark tank. I triple check the door locks and peek in closets before I turn in for the night. I’ve been known to get out of bed and run downstairs to make sure I haven’t left the gas on the stove. I walk through subway stations like a surgeon who just scrubbed in.

In short, I’ve got a few hang ups.

I know that no matter how hard I try to pretend to be a normal, well-adjusted humanoid, I’m bound to screw up my daughter in some way. And she’s bound to develop hang-ups all her own. Some of them may even be borne out of a desire to do the polar opposite of the things I do. Some may come out of nowhere. Some may grow tangentially to mine. I wonder: is my phobia of insects and sharks in any way related to my father’s bee allergy and my mother’s life-altering experience of having to save my little brother from a near-fatally aggressive undertow? Maybe. But they both think I’m completely nuts, so it’s really hard to pin it down.

I want to protect her from all the ills in this world, and that includes the ones that stem from me. But I suppose it’s futile. And if the worst thing I do to her is ruin her for potential careers in entomology and oceanography, then I’ve probably done an okay job as a mother. For better or for worse, my daughter is the newest addition to a long line of lovable, high-functioning neurotics. I want her to be the best of all of us, but I guess that still makes her one of us.

As long as her dad is willing to be the family bug-killer for life, we can figure out a way to make this work.

Nina Pajak is a writer living with her husband, daughter and dog in Queens. Connect with Nina on Twitter