It was the most benign of moments. We were standing in the laundry room. I was folding Dave’s boxer shorts, trying to talk to him over the competitive interruptions of Gwen, who is evidently in the throes of an Electra Complex. Seriously, can I have a conversation with my husband without you honing in, you…you…little Harpy?
Yes, that is basically the exact thought that ran through my brain as I stood there folding my husband’s underwear, competing with my six-year-old daughter for his attention. Then a low rumbling sound interrupted us all, along with a series of slow, rolling shakes and flickering lights.
Dave and I froze and stared at one another, silently trying to decipher the source of that faint thunderous sound and tremors moving our house. My mind quickly ran through a list possible explanations. Train? No, we’ve moved from the houses situated near commuter trains. Boiler exploding? Holy shit, I hope not!
“Is that an earthquake?!” Dave asked.
“Holy shit, I think it is!” I responded.
Gwen, who was standing between us, immediately began shrieking. Her eyes widened with terror.
“It’s okay, Gwen,” I said, instantly sorry we’d forgotten she was listening to our every word.
“I don’t want to die!” She screamed. “We’re all gonna die!”
Rather than running to David, she ran to me and jumped up, demanding to be held. As soon as I picked her up, her arms locked around my neck, almost completely cutting off my air supply. She continued emitting a series of hysterical screeching noises in my right ear, which promptly began ringing.
Despite her terror, I was slightly annoyed. I know, what kind of mother exhibits annoyance at a moment like that?
And I’m admitting it to the world at large – to my tens of readers. I am the type of mother who feels annoyed when faced with the possibility of temporary hearing loss and suffocation.
Mostly, as I stood there turning blue, I recalled that time last year when Dave treated the kids to a viewing of 2012. Don’t you remember? It was that John Cusack movie that tried to profit on the public’s fear of the apocalypse. If not, trust me, you didn’t miss much.
Well, that movie was rated PG-13. Dave rented it a year ago yet, Gwen only recently got over the phobia that developed after watching it. To help her work through that intense fear of earthquakes and general world destruction, we told her earthquakes never happen in Maine. Not ever.
We’re so fucking smart.
Last night, Mother Earth demonstrated that we are, in fact, a couple of morons. An earthquake centered just about five miles from our house sent us this message and it was delivered via a good shaking and some deep rumbles.
“You lied to me,” Gwen sobbed into my neck. “You said there were no earthquakes in Maine.”
Oh, the guilt of a mother is a real mother…
I’m a writer, not a seismologist for Christ sake. Granted, I knew I was making a bit of gamble when I told Gwen Maine never has earthquakes. At the time, that little voice in my head actually said, “Oh, you’re going to regret that someday, stupid!”
Now, I usually pay attention to that voice but last year I truly believed the chances of a 4.0 earthquake occurring in Maine were slim. By west coast standards, our earthquake was pitiful. I know this. You know this. Gwen did not know this.
Gwen’s frame of reference for earthquakes involved gaping, man-eating cracks in the earth. She was expecting hot magma, death, and destruction. She was waiting for that moment when we’d plunge to the depths of…of… I don’t know, Hell? And what did Dave and I do? Did we run like the guy in the movie, protectively sweeping his children into his arms whilst dodging explosions and fissures? No. We stood in the laundry room staring at one another like a couple of dopes and holding onto underwear.
It’s not difficult to put yourself in the shoes of a six-year-old and know the extent of her terror when you’re writing a memoir using your own six-year-old voice. When, on a daily basis, you…I, relive the fear and confusion of my six-year-old self. When I recall that break in trust – that moment when I realized my parents were human and maybe weren’t the smartest, or strongest or most beautiful two people in the world – that parents are sometimes wrong.
And so I was wrong.
Last night Mother Earth gave me a not-so-subtle reminder that in the future, maybe I should take a slightly less lazy approach to quelling my daughter’s fears. Like, maybe I should have explained fault lines and cited statistics and discussed tectonic plate shifts with my then five-year-old. But I didn’t. Instead, I looked at her, sighed, and then took the easy route. I soothed her fears with a know-it-all statement about earthquakes never happening in Maine and, a year later wound up being choked, rendered deaf in my right ear and eating my words.
Today, I discussed tectonic plate shifts, fault lines and whatever basic seismology is available to me via the internet. Overboard? Maybe, but Gwen lost a little bit of trust in us last night. Education is the best way to combat fear, right? My goal is to rebuild her trust and let her know that we were as surprised by those tremors as she was.
Gwen is better today. She’s interested in the kid-friendly earthquake information I’ve been reading with her. Her nerves are no longer raw.
Now, let’s just pray that Frankenstein doesn’t appear.