A humorous excerpt from Following God One Yes at a Time: overcoming the six barriers that hold you back. Fear is the barrier we most often face:
After a supper of bologna and fried potatoes, the only way to stretch a small budget around a big family, my younger sister Lisa and I were told to go our parent’s bedrrom as soon as we finished doing the dishes. We were instantly nervous. Personal attention from our busy mom that didn’t involve being fitted for an outfit she was sewing did not usually work in our favor. We slowly finished up our evening chore without the usual ribbing and jostling and competing, both of us replaying in our minds all the possible sins we may have committed that somehow had been discovered. We rehearsed alibis and made up excuses as we wiped the plates.
Mom was perched on the edge of her bed, waiting for us when we sidled in, keeping our backsides well out of reach in case she had any plans to mete out some swift justice. The room was small, like all the rooms in this tiny house; a house that had grown, room by room, but could never keep up as our family had grown, child by child. The seven girls all shared two rooms and four beds, only our brother was allowed his own private cubicle in half of the closed-in porch our dad had added when Jim was about 10 years old. We did not sit on mom’s bed nor were we invited to. We backed up against the wall, just over an arm’s length away.
We were both so skittish it took us a while to recognize that mom seemed even more jumpy than we were. She seemed to be having a hard time finding the right words as she fumbled around, starting and stopping several times. However, we didn’t let down our guard, just in case this was the preliminary to her request for a full confession to our latest crime. In a small house in northern Saskatchewan where six months of winter kept us indoors for long periods, there was always some sin of which we could be accused as we tried and failed to get along with our boisterous siblings.
In our nine- and eight-year-old brains, the muddled truth of what our mom was trying to explain was slow to seep in. It seemed like she was trying to warn us that some time soon, we would start to bleed. Bleed? We were horrified! We had been spanked on several occasions but never hard enough to cause a bruise – and now we were going to bleed? We backed up until we were flattened against the wall as though someone were measuring our growth with a ruler and a pencil. We were too scared to ask “When?” since it might be imminent so I asked where this blood would come from, planning to protect that part of my body from her grasp.
“In this general area,” Mom replied, looking down and making a circular motion with her right hand over her lap. I felt faint. That was a large area.
“Well, what about Jimmy?” I asked, wondering why he wasn’t involved in this inquisition. Any uprising in the family big enough to lead to blood usually had him in the middle of it. That’s when mom realized how confused we were and that she was going to have to simplify things quite dramatically before we could catch the drift of what she was trying to convey.
“No, this is only for girls,” mom explained, looking right at us for the first time. She most likely decided that since she was telling us about something we later – much later – came to understand was menses, she might as well throw in a little moral teaching as well. Her next comments were so vague and we were so innocent, I never figured it out until somewhere in my mid-30s. “You need to know…it is a sin to touch yourself…,” she paused, unable to continue and simply circled her hand above her lap again.
We were completely baffled. How would we manage to clean ourselves after using the bathroom, we wondered? We asked and were assured that toilet paper was still allowed as well as a soapy washcloth on bath night – Saturdays. “What about if we’re itchy?” we asked in unison. As you can well imagine, any child who only gets a bath once a week and lives where mosquitoes were as thick as London fog during our brief summers, is often scratching! Suddenly we worried that if a mosquito bit us through our thin little shorts on our bony little behinds we would be sinning every time we scratched the spot. Life was suddenly very complicated! Mom sighed, seemed to grow quite agitated, shook her head rapidly and simply said, “That’s all. You can go now.”
My sister and I skittered out of there as fast as our little legs could carry us. We quickly went through our nighttime routine of brushing our teeth, putting on our homemade pajamas and crawling into the bed we shared. We both lay awake for a long time, unable to talk about what was scaring us both out of our wits – our mother’s attempt at telling us the facts of life. Instead we cried soundlessly, wiping our tears on the sheets in the dark, and wondered when and where this bleeding would start. We were very careful to keep our hands on top of the blankets. That way we wouldn’t unwittingly brush against our lap area and commit a sin.
As time passed, the memory of that traumatic encounter began to fade until one day Lisa excitedly announced that she had started bleeding before me, even though I was supposed to start first because I was older. Skeptical I asked her to prove it. She tugged up her “pop top” an inch or so, rolled down the waistband of her “peddle pushers” and showed me a small scab; it was well within the area our mother had indicated with her circling motion so Lisa figured it counted. By this time, I thought I had figured out what mom had probably intended to say and, feeling quite smug with my superior knowledge I just laughed and told her the scab was the result of scratching a mosquito bite until it bled. Then I corrected her ignorance by telling her that the place she needed to be watching for blood was her belly button; that was obviously the reason we had that little dent in our tummies, I informed her, knowing not it’s origin or any other good reason for its existence.
Fear, in this case exacerbated by gross ignorance, can jump up and bite you when you least expect it. Had we been able to grasp the “facts” of the “facts of life” our modest-to-the-point-of-prudish mother felt compelled to share with us, we might have been slightly scared, but we would not have been anywhere near as terrified. As it was we were thrown into a state of dread regarding our future because of T.M.I. – too much innuendo! Poor mom. Life had not equipped her for such things and, as far as I know, Lisa and I, her fifth and sixth children, were the only ones she ever attempted to enlighten. It was the mid-1960s and she was probably panicked by what she was hearing on the radio about “love-ins”, wife swapping, divorce, and the sexual revolution of that day.
As children, our imagination can run away with us pretty quickly and terror is only a heartbeat away. Sadly, as adults, many of us have not learned to harness that runaway fear response. Ted Kuntz writes, “When confronted with a situation where the outcome was unknown, I noticed I often responded by imagining the worst possible outcomes.” The human penchant for making mountains of molehills feeds rocket fuel to our fear.