Fear Factor


It is always humbling to discover precisely how human you are, how
prone to the same frailties, foibles, and garden-variety neuroses as
the zany unwashed masses who watch "Fear Factor" religiously,
believe Miss Cleo really is psychic, and trample one another at
Wal-Mart for a shot at a dirt-cheap DVD player. Most days, you like
to think you've got it more together than these folks. Then, every
now and again, something happens to remind you just how deluded you
are.For me, this time around, that something was the onset of
parenthood. In the predawn hours of August 19, my husband and I
found ourselves in the maternity ward of Washington's Sibley
Memorial Hospital gawking, cooing, and shamelessly slobbering all
over our newly delivered son. Tom has already proved exceptional in
all the expected areas: eating, sleeping, pooping, belching,
spitting up all over Mommy just as it's time to dash off to day
care. But, while my son seems to be smoothly navigating the
transition from womb to Washington, I find myself staggering over a
number of unanticipated bumps along Maternity Lane. Don't
misunderstand: I was braced for the endless feedings and unexplained
crying and mysterious rashes and near-daily pilgrimages to the
pediatrician. Yes, I wish someone had warned me that, when nursing,
it's best not to eat a platter of spicy nachos unless you want to
spend the next 24 hours listening to your gassy newborn shriek at a
pitch and volume capable of shattering the champagne flutes in your
neighbor's china cupboards. But my learning curve is steep when it
counts, and Tom seems to have forgiven me my early gustatory

Less easily rectified is the overwhelming feeling of vulnerability
that a tot brings--a vulnerability that, in my case, slides not
infrequently into full- blown paranoia. Baby sleeping less than
usual? Must be gravely ill. Sleeping more than usual? Ditto. Having
a fussy morning? Something I ate has poisoned him. Quiet for long
stretches? Oh my God, he has suffocated himself with the
leopard-print bumpers on his crib! I told my husband those were a
tragedy waiting to happen!! And this doesn't even take into account
the lurking dangers posed by Other People. A few hours before my
son's night nanny arrived for the first time, it suddenly occurred
to me that I had no proof that this woman was who she said she was.
What if Diana--assuming that was even her name!--was in fact some
fiendishly clever baby-napper who had intercepted my call to the
placement agency and made plans to spirit my wee piggy-poo away into
the darkness as soon as everyone in the house was asleep? As it was
too late to phone the agency, I settled for double-locking every
exterior door in the house- -and then hiding the key. If this
so-called "nanny" wanted to steal my boy, she was gonna have to
bust out a window to do it.

You'd think being back at work and thus focused on something other
than my child for a few hours each day would improve my condition.
Wrong. It's not that I worry about the hellish abuse or malignant
neglect Tom might suffer while away from me. Quite the contrary:
I'm confident that his crack team of day care providers is far
better equipped to handle my tot's developmental needs than is his
frazzled mommy. The fabulous Dorlene, for instance, is unlikely to
interrupt poor Tom's nap every ten minutes by noisily hovering over
his crib to make sure he's still breathing. And, when my
fat-cheeked cherub occasionally fails to approach feeding time with
the proper gusto, Dorlene almost certainly will not become
convinced that he has contracted the newest superstrain of
influenza and must be immediately medevaced to Children's Hospital.

Rather, my work-induced paranoia comes from reacquainting myself
with the dark and dangerous events ever transpiring beyond the warm
and snuggly borders of Babyland. While on leave, I considered it my
near-sacred duty to ignore any newspaper, chat show, or political
blog threatening to interrupt the bonding process between baby and
me. Another Black Hawk down over Iraq? Can't worry about it now,
have to sterilize bottles. The Bushies concocting stories about
mid-air chats with British Air pilots? Sorry, bath time. Some
Austrian bodybuilder-cum-movie-star with a history of steroid use
and a rep for treating women with less respect than his jockstrap
gets elected governor of the most populous state in the nation?
Actually, that one was funny enough to penetrate even my
self-imposed isolation.

But my vacation from the news is over. Now, on top of obsessing
about my son's eating habits and the consistency of his poo, I must
fret about rising mercury levels in his future tuna
sandwiches--compliments of the Bushies' latest "reform" of the
Clean Air Act. Then there's the Newsweek report on how postwar Iraq
is becoming the hot vacation destination for Al Qaeda freaks. And,
oh yes, The Washington Post notes that some three dozen radiological
warheads-- ideal for the construction of smallish dirty bombs--have
disappeared from the Transdniester Moldovan Republic, a former
sliver of the Soviet Union now providing one-stop shopping for
global bad guys in search of hard-to-find weapons. Just what my
nerves needed. Pre-baby, I was mildly troubled by the thought of a
nut-job jihadist unleashing something unpleasant on the streets of
D.C. Post-baby, the idea is almost paralyzing. I'd pack up the
family and head for one of the seemingly safer flyover states, but
USA Today says our nation's capital is one of the only areas of the
country not yet under assault by a killer flu.

So what's a neurotic mommy to do? I've begun to think a less
anxiety- provoking job might be the answer. And, ironically, the
White House may be just the island of tranquility I seek. In
Bushland, our foreign endeavors are always going 100 percent
according to plan, and there's no domestic ill that can't be cured
with a big ol' back-loaded tax cut. Better yet, a refusal to read
the paper or watch the news is considered a plus, at least if
Bush's bubble-boy boasting is any indication. I may not be able to
change the world around me. But I can willfully disregard whatever
aspects of it I find inconvenient. If that doesn't qualify me to
join Team Bush, I don't know what would.

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