by Lillian Csernica on July 2, 2015
NOTE: Today’s post does not include graphics or illustrations. It does include links. If you want to take a look at what I’m about to discuss, go for it.
Today I did something that could be considered very brave or very silly, depending on how you feel about the key element. While I was out today running errands, John asked to stop at the pet store and “visit the kitties.” (He feels bad for them since they don’t have homes yet.) After paying his respects to each of the cats, John wanted to see the other critters. I sent him off on his own for a few minutes while I looked for something I needed. When I caught up to him, he was eager to show me the rodents and the birds and one other very unusual creature.
A pink toe tarantula. (I am not making this up. That was the name on the sign beside the container.)
John knows I don’t like spiders, so he promptly reassured me. “You don’t have to worry about that right now,” he said. I’m never sure exactly what he means by that statement, which he makes whenever he doesn’t want me to think about a particular subject. So I asked him where the tarantula was. In its cage in the reptile aisle. I must have gone pale or given off some other obvious sign of discomfort, because John reassured me again.
Some years ago, my husband accused me of teaching John to be afraid of spiders. I saw a spider, I screamed. John will imitate the ways he sees other people respond to situations. I am the person he looks to the most for this behavior modeling. (That’s done a lot for my character, believe me.) So John learned that spiders are scary and when you see one you scream. The first time I heard John scream, I was in motion before I consciously knew I’d started running down the hall. John was about to take a shower. In the shower stall hung one of those big, skinny spiders that Americans call “Daddy Long Legs.” They don’t scare me. I tolerate them because they will catch and eat mosquitoes. Michael can’t slap mosquitoes when they land on him, so I’m all for anything that kills off any mosquitoes that get into the house.
I told John the Daddy Long Legs wasn’t a bad spider. He was our friend because he helped make sure neither Michael nor I got bitten by mosquitoes. John was not entirely convinced. I got rid of the spider. We had to go through this a number of times with spiders of varying sizes. If I find any arachnid bigger than a quarter inside my house, it meets the zero tolerance policy with an abrupt squish. I know some people who will catch the spider and release it outdoors. I salute the courage of those people. I can’t manage that, at least not on my own. Other people have done it for me.
Back to today. John had discovered this tarantula, and he thought it was interesting. He warned me away from it, which was very kind of him. I had a sudden need to prove to my son that I could look at that tarantula without screaming. It’s just a bug. I’m larger and stronger by several orders of magnitude, right? So I asked him to show me to the reptile aisle. Truth be told, I really wanted to know if this tarantula actually had pink toes. Spiders don’t have toes. Their legs end in a sort of hook that helps them cling to the surfaces they climb. That’s true of redwood tarantulas, which are plentiful here in the mountains where I live.
Why is it that every time I’ve ever seen a tarantula in a pet store, it’s been trying to climb up the walls of its container? And why has the light source always been behind it, making it look that much bigger and scarier?
I’m not the best judge of these matters, but the tarantula in question did look larger than a fifty cent piece but smaller than a silver dollar. That means it wasn’t a baby any more, but it certainly had not achieved its full adult growth. I was looking at the bottom of it, and it wasn’t moving, so I didn’t have the panic attack that tarantulas usually bring on. I confess I did reach back to hold the hand of my big, strong, sixteen year old son. I made some observations about the tarantula, John said something, and that was that. We had a look at the tarantula together, and Mom didn’t freak out.
John will remember this. He will remember that there is one less thing in the world Mom is afraid of. Maybe some day when he’s scared, he’ll remember that I found a way to be brave enough to look at the little tarantula and see it for what it really was. Maybe that will get him through a tough moment, and give him the model he needs for getting through others.