Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Girl Afraid

Have you ever wondered how far heredity goes in making up who you are as a person?  What about beyond physical traits, like fear, or is that something that we learn?

This past weekend we came across a snake on a trail we were hiking. I am very afraid of snakes and was haunted by them as a child in my nightmares and terrified of them in real life.  I made a concerted effort to talk to Molly and Jack about the snake and to show it to them as an exciting addition to our hike.  I was proud of myself for keeping a brave face in front of my kids even though  logically I understand that a skinny little garter snake isn't going to harm anyone. I don't want them to be afraid of something because their mom has an illogical fear.  I know I wasn't exactly conquering my fears like Indiana Jones but it was a big step for me.   They thought  the snake was cool and even commented they wanted to see another snake.

Indiana Jones
"Why did it have to be snakes?" photo courtesy of Wikipedia

The other night, at 4AM, I heard a lot of coughing, whining and whimpering from the nursery.  I waited a few minutes and it didn't stop.  I got up and went to the nursery to investigate.  I found Molly, crouched on the floor behind the door.  She told me that there was a snake in her bed.  My first thought was, "that's ridiculous" followed by, "What am I going to do if there really is a snake in her bed?" It was 4AM anything could happen.  After some cuddles, a drink of apple juice and a thorough check of her bedding, she was satisfied that there was no snake in her bed and was content to go back to sleep.

As I climbed back into bed I was concerned.  I had tried so hard to be brave in the face of a snake so Molly and Jack wouldn't be afraid and now it seemed it was all for nothing.  I did some research and discovered that fear can be inherited.  Earlier this year Science News reported that, "Mouse parents learned to associate the scent of orange blossoms with a shock. Their children and their grandchildren startled in response to the scent — a sign of fear — even though they had never smelled it before. Offspring also had more neurons that detect the orange blossom scent than mice whose parents weren’t exposed to the scent."   The article concludes that, "Ancestral experience could be an under appreciated influence on animals’ and people’s brains and behaviours."

My mom has told me stories about my Grandfather (Jack) up at the cottage carrying a cane/stick with a fork on the end of it in case he came across a snake.  It turns out he was also terrified of snakes.

Even though I set a brave example for Molly and Jack, maybe we should still have a conversation about being afraid and what that means, even if it means me admitting how I feel about snakes.  This week nature beats nurture, but that's okay because I'm a little more Indiana Jones than I was a few days ago.

To read  14 tips on dealing with nightmares click here.

To read about how my dad and my sister used my fear of snakes to terrorize me at a theme park click here.

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