Front Porch Fears

At my house, we're all scared of something different. My son can't handle loud noises, so when we turn up the music, or the garbage trucks screech through the early morning, or, heaven forbid, he's caught outside during weather-siren tests, his brow clenches and fear settles into his shoulders. This means he's also afraid of thunderstorms, but in a generic, thunder-is-loud sense. My daughter, on the other hand, is terrified of severe weather because she conjures specific pictures of tornadoes ripping the house from its foundation and scattering her life and her stuffed animals all over the south side of town.

 Big storm, not from the porch

Big storm, not from the porch

My wife likes thunderstorms, but she gets just as panicked and upset as my daughter when spiders race out from behind doors or down the walls. Arachnophobia is a fairly popular fear, but she takes it seriously, shrieking and cowering with real terror at the big ones and the fast ones. She can dispatch with the little and slow ones, but whenever she does, she comes seeking praise and reassurance, because every spider smear in a Kleenex represents real and significant courage.

Our family's fears may not be unique, but this summer, our front porch became a weird sort of terror epicenter. When people talk about "confronting fears," they mostly mean it as a generic, internal sort of process. Not for us. We established a battleground. We drew lines against our phobias, at the concrete steps and the railings and walls of the house behind us.

 Front porch lightning

Front porch lightning

The first skirmish was my attempt to help my kids conquer their noise and storm fears. One early summer night, as the meteorologist warned everyone south of our house to take cover, we sat on the porch, because nothing solves a fear of weather like a presentation of its beauty. The lightning came fast and bright, and the thunder rumbled low enough to not bother my son. Both kids started on my lap. Then they stood. Then they ventured off the porch. Then they asked if they could record the storm on their tablets.  As they stood in the yard, faces illuminated by their device screens as they spun to capture as many flashes as they could, I knew I had won.

Then the weather sirens went off.

My son started hyperventilating and ran to the basement. My daughter heard the weatherman say the word "tornado," so she started crying. I showed her on the radar map that the "potential" tornado was dozens of miles away, that it could never hurt us. It didn't matter.

Three months later, I still need to show them the weather forecast every night to prove that no storms are on the way. And when severe weather is imminent, I shield my phone screen and insist that it's just going to rain. Just simple rain, nothing to worry about.

 Front porch, with my wife

Front porch, with my wife

My wife's turn came later in the summer. One afternoon I mowed the lawn and walked through an enormous, Indiana Jones-sized spiderweb between the porch and the tree. On my next pass, I noticed the artisan sitting in a potted plant. He was big enough that I gave him a wide berth.

The next day my spider friend had moved from the plant up to the porch rail, where he was spinning a magnificent web in the corner with the post. I crept closer. It was fascinating watching the strands come out of his backside and his legs work to place each thread. At dinner that night, I gave him a name, and our family had a new pet - Johnny Eight-Legs.

The kids were on board. They started capturing ants and throwing them into the web. Each time, Johnny would scamper out from the corner and encase the offering in silk. My son found a dead moth and stuck it to the web. Johnny ate off of that thing for a week. I don't mind spiders, but on such a generous diet, Johnny got big enough that even I had to pause and take a breath when I saw him. Once I did, though, and moved in closer, I saw how beautiful he was. Like the storm, an appreciation of nature can quiet the apprehension.

 Not Johnny, but another spider from this summer

Not Johnny, but another spider from this summer

But not for my wife. She refused to come on the porch, and the few times she forgot, if Johnny moved, she shrieked and ran. I tried to tempt her to study him, but she refused. I pushed harder, and she explained that this was not a game to her, that her fears were real and awful and I was not helping. All the more reason, I told her.

I checked Johnny every night before bed, and every morning when I woke up. When the family returned from a weekend away, I made sure the spider was okay before I did the same for the cat. And then, one afternoon, he was gone. I don't know if anything eats spiders, or what they do when the weather gets colder, or if he just needed a change of scenery. But I wish he would have stayed. There's no way anyone else out there will be as welcoming, or as generous with the ants, as we were.

That leaves me, I suppose, and my front porch fears, but I don't know what I'm scared of. Crushing loneliness? Epidemic disease? All those front porch moments going away?

Something like that.

 

Eric Rasmussen