For a week straight my son is fixated on the vacuum, a driven, crazed sort of obsession that borders on the insane. He says, “Bacoon,” and makes a whooshing noise with his little baby lips and points furiously toward the basement stairs.
“Do you want to see the vacuum?”
“Yes,” he says in a way that means, Yes! Why are we wasting our time with this wooden tricycle and PVC-free blocks? Bring me to that dust-covered vacuum!
But the moment we reach the concrete floor of the basement, the second that two-foot purplish canister comes into view, my brave toddler is petrified. He’s clingy and shy and refuses to be put down. We do this drill dozens of times a day and yet he’s nowhere closer to being at peace with this silent monster.
Exasperated, I say, “Why are you so afraid?”
As soon as the question leaves my lips there are three things that come to mind that I am scared of, things that are as silly as an unplugged vacuum. That’s the beauty and pain of motherhood: Most of the hard questions you ask are ones you actually need to hear.
So instead of being irritated, I really look at my son and say as bravely as I can, “You don’t need to touch the vacuum, but you can if you want to. It’s safe.” And then, because he’s 19 months old and these are magic words, I ask, “Can you give it a high-five?”
He looks at me once to make sure I’m being serious and then extends his palm and hits the hose. A day later, he’s high-fiving it without me holding him, and last night he gave it a hug.
Today, he didn’t even mention the vacuum. Not once.
There’s a rose garden here in Seattle, a lovely little space right outside the zoo that is crammed with blossoms and buds right now. And, even though we go to the zoo at least once a week, I walk the long way to avoid getting near it. It sounds silly, but here’s the truth of it: I got married under that gazebo the summer I turned 22 to a man who broke my heart. That’s an understatement, but this is a short piece so I hope you’ll just take my word for it. And, while I know in my brain this garden is just soil and flowers, it feels a little like walking past my own grave.
So much good has happened, enough redemption and grace and love to fill a novel—I am safe and loved, remarried and a mom—but still that little garden looms. Fear is a tricky thing. Sometimes you don’t even know it’s there—or that you’re ready to face it—until someone asks the right question.
Yesterday, I walked by that garden, so close my sleeve grazed the stone entrance. Tomorrow I think we’ll go in and look around; maybe I’ll even high-five that gazebo.