Watching for Trouble (FOWC)

When I was very young, my mother told me of a man who, against all rules of safety, put a sharp knife with its blade up in the cutlery cup of the dishwasher, left the appliance door open, slipped on a wet spot and flew across his kitchen onto the knife tip, which pierced his heart. He died.

From this and many other lessons, we learned the consequence of breaking life’s cleanliness and safety rules, repercussions that could seriously undermine your health or happiness. I’m still sometimes an anxious watcher for this kind of trouble.

For instance, colds are rare for me, but when they come, they’re always preceded by two or three days of slight dizziness, dislodging my balance and often making me feel as if I’ve over-drunk and have mild whirlies.

I’m always surprised by the dizziness, and inevitably wonder if there’s cancer or a tumor waiting to clutch my brain and kill me. No matter how many times the cold sits waiting while the dizziness plays out, I am briefly certain I should have a CAT scan.

She was a disaster forecaster

My mother was a (neurotic) public health nurse, excellent at forecasting disaster, loving when teaching us how to scrub with bleach, easily prompted to explain bacteria and the particles that live in dust. We washed our hands, over and over in our house from a very early age.

To be fair, she knew exactly what to do for croup (wrap in a blanket, face open, stand outside in sub-freezing weather until breathing clears) and actually encouraged my grandfather, a doctor, to use small amounts of cocaine melted on a spoon as a drip in my brother’s ear for his endless earaches.  I’m convinced that helped create his drug addiction, which took hold in his teens.  I don’t think that was a consequence my mother thought of.

The point is my mother kept us safe, but she opened us as children to a world of potential tragedy. She instilled in us a way of approaching life that requires a preliminary step, a stalling of your forward motion, just to make sure everything is really OK, before you bound ahead with the vigor and joy you’re entitled to. I mostly overcame all that as an adult, but the anxiety returns reliably, as with this cold. I guess you can never buck childhood lessons.


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