Imagining disasters

My imagination is never so vivid as when constructing and presenting potential disasters to my inner eye having to do with my kids. Today, while in the shower and contemplating the cooking we were going to undertake this afternoon and evening and what tasks would be kid-help-friendly, a scene appeared fully fleshed and compelling in my mind, of Hazel cutting her fingers off with one of the sharp knives. I shuddered and felt my heartbeat kick up a few notches. I remembered reading something somewhere sometime (not helpful, I know) in which, as I recall, it was stated that what we read and visualize can ape actual experience in the way we process and remember it. I may have gotten all of that wrong.

Oh, here it is! I found it! Cool, huh? “The brain, it seems, does not make much of a distinction between reading about an experience and encountering it in real life; in each case, the same neurological regions are stimulated.”

When I was pregnant with Hazel, I read a blog post by Besty Shaw, who blogs for She has two daughters, and when the younger one was two years old, she got her hands on a cup of scalding hot tea and pulled it over onto herself. She suffered very serious burns and had to be transported by air to a Boston hospital where she spent quite a long time. Needless to say, this was a traumatic event for everyone involved. The account of it moved me deeply, and physically too. It was one occasion where something I read reached me on such a profound and immediate level that I was very conscious of the need to never have anything hot around my baby, once he/she (I didn’t know the gender until Hazel was born) had arrived. Obviously, nothing can compare to actual experience, but my reaction was so visceral that I never forgot, never had to put a cup of tea back, because I never had one to begin with.

All of this makes me wonder if, on some level, the horrific things we imagine happening to our offspring seem sufficiently real to us that we hesitate, protect, react, prevent with a vigor enforced by the sense, in some part of our brains, that we’re responding to real experience, to lessons learned painfully.

Though I have mused about how quickly and irrevocably life can change with a simple act like driving into the wrong lane, I didn’t have a penchant for imagining sliced off fingers or crushed skulls before I had children. I now have more understanding and compassion for the protectiveness we display for our kids. It’s hard not to want to wrap them in cotton and stick them in a room when the house, let alone the outside world, is so full of death-traps just waiting to put them in the ER and/or take their lives.

Electrical sockets, medications, knives, stoves, plastic, washing machines, refrigerators, stairs, bathrooms, furniture, cords, sinks, food, plants, ad infinitum, are all dangerous, can all maim or kill your tiny little precious child. Sometimes I feel like I’m walking around with a cartoon speech bubble permanently floating above my head that contains nothing but writhing exclamation points, shrieks and moans.

I think maybe I need to leverage this, and write a bunch of short stories that are about nothing but disasters. It would certainly get the creative juices flowing.


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