Thursday, April 2, 2009

The fear of fear itself

Motherhood is synonymous with change, and with that I mean more than our bodies and schedules.

With Nino, one conscious decision I've made, is to never transfer any of my fears onto him. No stray dogs, creepy crawlies, leaping off the bed so precariously close to the wall, kind of fear. Also, water. And running so fast that the only thing that is likely to stop him is gravity itself.

I'm wondering today if I made this choice because my parents were very effective in transferring their fears onto me. Both, Mum and Dad. I can't swim, even though I learnt how to. I've never fallen down hard in life (literally, although life tends to even things out emotionally) - yes, never more than one scrape. Mum's fear of animals transferred onto my sister, who can actually have a meltdown when faced with an exuberant pet dog. And this is inspite of the fact that Mum is one of those people whose childhood was filled with more animals than people. My grandad was a veterinary doctor and every possible animal lived in their huge government house.

One of the biggest fears ever, for both me and the elder sibling, is driving. My sister conquered that sort of, when she moved to Gurgaon, with a husband who's travelling for half the month.

I conquered that fear three days back. Don't be mistaken. I know how to drive, I've even got my license, even though it's long expired. I dread driving. In my youth, I fantasized about driving down long undulating highways in a red car, my favourite music and the wind in my hair. But I couldn't actually do it in real life. I've never driven a two-wheeler, even when friends my age were driving one to school/college. My dad forbade it, he insisted I'd get into an accident everytime I'd drive. It's not you, he used to say. Other people don't drive safely.

Nino's Dad taught me to drive the car sometime after we got married, and I'd mustered up enough courage to venture to work, run errands. Then, I banged the car. Nothing major, just rammed it into the gate when I was trying to park at too fast a speed. That was the bit I needed to let my fear conquer me. I soon got pregnant and gave up on driving amid juicy taunts from everyone else who knew me. I tried to make it cool, I even made it sound socialist and idealistic. It was easy, because I din't need to depend on anyone. I'm the unofficial ambassador of the humble rickshaw, and I've taken it everywhere I needed to go, and at every time conceivable.

And yet, I've learnt with time that it's not convenient. I now live in an area where getting a auto is as much luck as it is timing. Fares can be astronomical. And they refuse to wait till I fetch Nino from school. If he has playdate with friends, some of whom live on the outskirts of the city, I can't get a rickshaw to take me there. It was a handicap, in several ways, because it was a fear, a dread of trying, of doing something, and that's not a good thing to have in you, is it? Most of all for the fact that Nino had realised that it was 'odd' that his mother din't drive. He heard the ribbing at home and from my friends. And he sensed my fear.

All this time, in these four years since I've been married, my father-in-law filled in for me, quietly, unlike the rest of the family who goaded me to conquer this 'stupid' mindset. Whatever his work schedule, whatever his plans, he worked them around mine and Nino's needs. It was something given, something I din't even have to ask for. He never joked about my fear, never mentioned it. I know it must not have been easy, but he did it with a big wide smile, always, and everytime.

He, and my m-i-l, left for the US this week. Three months of a holiday, together, perhaps for the first time, by themselves. He was very concerned before he left about how I'd manage Nino's school, my work, the errands. Maybe you should give it a try, he finally told me, before he left.

And I did. I tried it. I survived. I haven't hurt anyone so far. Ofcourse when I get down from the car, I'm shaking. I can't type for several minutes. And I still panic, preparing myself mentally way before I'm actually going to walk down towards the car. Its not a bit as relaxing as people make it out to be. I'm sweating huge streams even though the a/c draft is on full force.

But it has been a milestone for me, one I hope to keep. I've earned my son's respect too. Very good girl, mama, he says, leaving me to wonder if he does realise what courage this has taken. I called my mum up last evening, wanting to tell her that I'd begun to work on beating this irrational fear. I wondered why I was telling her so late, so many days after I'd already begun. As she heard me out, she exhaled and I knew, right then, that my delay in telling her had been a subconscious reaction, because I was afraid she'd shake my resolve. She doesn't approve of my driving, thinks its too dangerous and that I'm putting Nino at risk. I was hurt and I din't say much, something maybe she also realised, because she told me before I put the phone down, that I must avoid telling her 'such things'.

I wanted to tell her it was unfair that she was shackling me with her fears and then I realised there are several such things that I've manged to break free off. I've never blamed them for my handicaps, but I got too comfortable with these fears and that has been my individual cross to bear.

Today, as I look at my son's shins and elbows and temples, all covered with multiple grazes/bumps everyday, I marvel at how he nonchalantly brushes my concern aside. Even when he dislocated his elbow as a two-year-old, he told me how to hold him so that I don't hurt him. He asked me to stop crying. He catches and studies lizards and bugs and spiders and I study them with him, hovering around to make sure his touch is gentle, and that he doesn't hurt himself. I've never shown him my grimaces, and I'm the first one to push him when he hesitates to try something new, something different. Because it is the unknown that is forbidden and what we fear, right? When it is known, it becomes a decision of choice. And then, no matter what you choose, that decision is acceptable, because you've been there, and you've learnt the lesson.

Most people don't put driving their own cars on lists of things they hope to do before they die. I did. I've ticked that out, one big bright red tick, and I'm a proud woman today. I dont' know if Nino will ever remember this week, this time when I pushed my boundaries, and faced my fears. When I changed, for the better. I know I will, always.


ps: my father-in-law is elated I'm driving. He said 'good girl', too. :)


OrangeJammies said...

You make me SO proud, Nino's Mum. Just so, so proud that you are who you are. I know we've never met, but I feel like boasting about you to the world today. And I think I will too.

In love with my life said...

Way to go, girl. Let me go muster up some courage to do the same thing...

I have not touched the wheel in a few years..i am a champion two wheeler rider, and have a license et all.

My dad absolutely detested driving and resisted all attempts to drive when i was growing up..i now use that as an excuse " I really don't enjoy driving"," i think i am like dad"...blah blah. Sometimes i can't justify that to myself.

Dad and conquered this phobia at age 52!!! Maybe i should really be inspired and start NOW.

preetischronicle said...

Good girl! Calls for a celebration! I know that feeling, when we conquer something we so feared.
Good thought, sometimes we do pass our own fears to our offspring knowingly or unknowingly. Like the previous comment, my dad is fearless too at 70+. But me, I am just the opposite.
Its one of my things to tick off too before I die!

Sujatha said...

Fantabulous, NM! High-five! That is a tremendous accomplishment (my dad never drove - he came home shaken the first time he tried to drive and that was that!). And how sweet is your father-in-law! Also loved your description of Nino in this post.

Swati said...

Good girl!

And you have left me a bit of a thought-seed about my fears, and how I am handing them down too. Hope it germinates...

choxbox said...

GOOD GIRL nino's mum!

sometimes, our parents fears/attitudes make us do the opposite things..

S said...

You finally did it !!! I am so happy for you.

Broom said...

Good for you. the fear of driving (and most things) will go away after a couple of weeks of driving.
Also I want to tell you what an amazing parent you are.

Sands said...

Kudos to you. I know exactly how you felt though. Last year after an accident that happened out of no fault of mine, it took me 3 months to drive through that road again. I couldn't stop driving because living in this country you are crippled if you don't drive. But the fear ran deep for months.

ra said...

congratulations! we share some fears...our parents sound similar! I've found that repeatedly doing what scares you takes the fear away eventually.

Solilo said...

Good job NM :)

VJ said...

Congrats NM:-)
I can completely relate to this.
I still am not able t conquer my fear of water even after learning swimming !!
I am sure you will start enjoying driving soon... dont give up.

Nino's Mum said...

OJ - you made me cry. those words mean a lot, coming from you. thankyou.

InLove - you too?! I want to hear all about it when you do. hugs.

Preeti - this inherited-fear syndrome is something I've just realised, but as chox says, it can work the other way around too.

Suj - Thank you... honestly, when I wrote this, I thought most of you would say, cool, but hey no big deal. Thank you for your kind words: they mean a lot.

Swati - big tight hug. :) you give me food for thought so often, I'd like to reciporcate once in a while!

chox - Thank you! True, what you said, about fears working the other way round as well...

S - :) thank you... welcome here.

Broom - thank you! how have you been?

Sands - that's the part that let me get so comfortable with this fear: in India you can get around easily without knowing how to drive. It's so much tougher there, specially when you've been in an accident. You're very brave.

Ra - :) really? and i hope regular driving will make me less jittery!

Solilo - thankyou!

VJ - how about we both get on to conquering this fear of water too? :) let me know what you think.

maidinmalaysia said...

no way... somehow it doesn't fit in with my pic of who you are : the not driving bit, i mean.

nino's mum big fear acc. to me would be -be alone in a room full of scorpions for three days or something

Tharini said...

Wow. Its fascinating to learn on more side of you. And to know that you are on your way to conquering it. Its liberation itself, is it not?

I am glad your in-laws are out of town. :)

Nino's Mum said...

MiM - I would think so too: but that's the bit with fear, it's irrational, right?

T - Liberating yes, not fully conquered though. I wrote about conquering too soon: it's more like a first step towards facing it.

Suki said...

Yay! I can't imagine how tough that would have been. Major congrats to you!

VJ said...

I am ready NM.. lets do it !!!
where do we begin?

nitya said...

I am so proud of you, girl. And I am sure Nino will grow up into an awesome young man - after all his mom has set that kind of an example...

wordjunkie said...

Congratulations!On getting past the fear, and on a lovely post too.