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Death by Children

Itsy bitsy all consuming fear of spiders


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My son is sasquatchian. His shoes are collections of remarkable biodiversity. Our doorways all have an arch worn into the lintel where his head knocks the wood away. When he was a baby, we called him bam bam for his chimp-like strength, which hasn't waned in the least. He can palm a watermelon. He's strong. He's tall. He's afraid of spiders.

I worry that it's my fault. Well, sort of. All kids are born with a nascent fear of the micro- and the multi-legged. They are genetically predisposed to run wildly away from anything squirmy and squishable because those things are poisony. This fear diminishes by half as soon as any self-respecting kid discovers a magnifying glass or a flyswatter. They suddenly have dominion over an entire class of organisms; a dominion they gleefully demonstrate through garden-hose-ant-hill-tsunami-disaster-modeling.

Only a handful of species remain on the short list of things that make kids go AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA and run flailing away: little spiders, regular spiders and really, really big spiders.

My son's fear of spiders comes from his fascination with them. As soon as he could read, he shut himself up inside a chair fort in the kids' section of the library and read every book about spiders they had. I expected him to emerge with a healthy respect and scholarly delight in our arachnid friends. Instead, he crawled out pale and concerned.

Dad: What's wrong, kiddo?

Kiddo: Did you know there are more spiders than people?

Dad: Yeah, sure.

Kiddo: That if you put them all together they would fill up nine football stadiums?

Dad: Gross.

Kiddo: That no matter where you are, you're always within 10 feet of a 100 spiders?

Dad: I did not know that.

Kiddo: Neither did I. Until now.

And thus, a completely normal fascination morphed into a neurosis. I enrolled him into Boy Scouts to assuage his fear and teach him The Outdoors. This was a mistake. We arrived at Camp Stranglehold in the middle of summer when the heat and the rain had driven the insects into an orgiastic frenzy. The air was tumescent with nine bajillion varieties of OH MY GOD WHAT IS THAT?! Fear walked, crawled, wriggled and leaped on six legs in a writhing, seething, buzzing, visible mass throughout our campsite. About 3 in the afternoon of the first day, the boy tries to ask for more pants when something soft, pale, and prehistoric lands in his open mouth. He spit it out and it flew away like nothing had happened.

And here, friends, cohorts, fellow bad parents, is where you may recognize how my peculiar humor does not serve my progeny well. Instead of handing him my bottle of warm Kool-Aid, instead of patting him on the shoulder while offering a comforting chuckle, I said: It's ok, it's just laying eggs.

And it did not get better. Late that night, after hours of carefully wrapping him in a cocoon of mosquito netting, after talking him down off the ledge into a doze, I laid my own head down on my cot and began to drift away. Just as I shifted into REM, the kid whispers across the tent, fully Blair Witched, Dad, I have to pee.

Now please understand I am exhausted. I'm extricating myself from a deep sleep and I'm just not thinking. I open the mosquito netting, unmummify the boy in the dark, help him get his shoes on, click on the flashlight, slowly open the tent flaps, hand the light to the kid and gently push him out.

Into screaming.

In the dancing circle of torchlight, the bugs crawling across the ground were so thick it looked like migrating wigs. Roon stopped screaming long enough to tell me he was peeing in the tent. I didn't stop him.

Today he was getting ready for school when I realized he'd been in the shower a long time.

Dad: You ok?

Son: [silence]

Dad: Son!?

Son: I'm trapped.

Dad: Whattaya mean?

Son: There's a spider. I saw it on the windowsill but now it's gone.

Dad: Son, come out.


Dad: It's ok, it's probably looking for water.

Son: Get away from the door! [crash].

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