Thursday, August 31, 2006

The March Against Fear

The little girls in our neighborhood love me. There is a cohort of four, two sets of sisters, although the oldest of the four, I'll call her J13, isn't always part of the group. She is a little girl only infrequently now, and sometimes just out of kindness, to humor the others. J13 and her little sister, F7, show a normal level of friendliness.

It is J9 and her little sister J5 who have no boundaries. They were the first people we met when moving into the neighborhood. They ring our doorbell, daily and repeatedly, asking for me to come out and play. They call through open windows, hoping to attract our attention. They flounce over before parties to show off their fancy dresses. They gift me with drawings and lollipops, fill our driveway with hoola hoops and Bratz dolls, costume jewelry and diminutive purses. There was even an awkward incident where they became my cheer squad, chanting my name and jumping up and down from the minute I turned my car onto the block until I got out in the driveway. And the questions! Frankly, it is all a little overwhelming.

J9, J5 and F7 are obsessed with our cat Meshoe. Virtually every time I see them, "can we see your girl cat?" is the first thing from J5's lips. And I'm a little conflicted on this issue. My girl cat is an indoor cat through and through, the ultimate scaredy-cat. Her refuge is under the futon in the spare bedroom, where she can crawl so far back she's essentially irretrievable. She retreats there whenever we have company, or the doorbell rings, or an electrical storm passes through. Sometimes a lawnmower or a garbage truck or a loud stereo is enough to send her scuttling.

So when I take Meshoe outside to visit with the girls, it is a highly traumatic event. But due to her paralyzing fear, my girl cat is very gentle, allowing herself to be stroked by many small hands with no danger of scratching. In this particular case, she is the perfect ambassador for cat kind. Because when I first met them, J9 and J5 were scared of cats. And dogs, and bugs, and spiders, and snakes. I could go on...

Emboldened by my success with the cat, I've broadened my fear reduction campaign. I managed to convince them there are no tigers in the woods behind our houses. My latest triumph was with the cicadas, or their shells at least. I found one and picked it up to show them. Of course, the initial reaction was fear and disgust bordering on horror. I didn't ask anyone to touch it, just explained what it was, handled it calmly, and set it down nearby. Then I found another, and set it by the first.

This piqued J9's interest: she thought I should have them facing south instead of east. So I realigned them according to her directions, and found a third one. By now she was into it, and got brave enough to want to touch one herself. I held my hand outstretched, flat and steady, with the cicada shell perched on my palm, and let her take it on her own terms. She examined it closely, then placed it in the line with the others. Now the game was on... After J9 had found a few on her own and safely transported them to the marching grounds with no ill affects, J5 worked up enough bravery to get in on the action. Two for two: mission accomplished, sweet victory!


Erin said...

Wow! That's great! That must have taken a lot of courage for the girls, as those cicada shells can be quite freaky to the layman.

What's up with the dark one towards the right?

Sara said...

The dark one to the right was actually an adult cicada, much of which had been consumed or rotted away. I did not get into the details of this with the girls, simply telling J5, "good find!"

Mary Stebbins Taitt said...

I LOVE your fear reduction and education campaign, it's just wonderful.

Sara said...

Thanks, taittems. I think this particular instance worked so well because I was able to make a game of it. And a much cooler game than playing house, if you ask me. I have yet to succumb to that.

I also banned them them from killing anything except mosquitos while in my yard (they stomp ants and spiders and such in the driveway). We'll see if that sticks.