When Life Hands You Dragons

For much of my life, I have been afraid of the dark. When I was little, I’d wait for my roommates to fall asleep (originally I shared a room with three siblings, then one), then I’d creep out into the hall and turn on a light, THEN I could fall asleep. Later in life one of my brothers objected even to the light that came into his bedroom through the crack under his door, so I’d stay awake until he fell asleep, then put a towel over that crack, turn on the hall light, and fall asleep.

The reasons for my fear of the dark are probably rooted in my mother’s exhaustion. By kid No. 6, she was a big believer in “allowing” babies to cry themselves to sleep. One of my oldest siblings vividly recalls trying to study for his high school biology final with a textbook in one hand and a baby cradled with the other. Why? Because that ‘damned baby’ would have screamed for hours if he hadn’t picked ‘it’ up. The screaming baby was very likely me, who remains particularly close to that brother to this day.

My little brother and next-up sister ALSO had an exhausted mom, though, and they were never afraid of the dark. My superpower as a kid was anxiety, to the point of panic attacks. I could imagine the vilest monsters ever to ooze forth from the blackest pit dwelling under my bed. Snakes the size of school buses were waiting to slither up from the woods when darkness fell, and oh, the hideous, insatiable beasts the lurked in the closet. (The nuns have much to answer for.)

What plagued me was a very powerful imagination–so powerful, I can now make my living with it (knock wood).

What shifted this imagination from mostly a burden to mostly a blessing is a lot of therapy (weekly for five straight years back before for-profit health care was a thing), and also the acquisition of some simple cognitive tools for charming the snakes and disappearing the monsters. What never helped me sleep better was any sort of rational argument, as in, “You’ve awakened safe and sound in the morning for years now, Grace Ann. What makes you think tonight is the night the banshees will steal you away?” Or my un-favorite, “It’s all in your head. Close your eyes and go to sleep.”

I’m grateful as heck now for the imagination that went in all the wrong directions when I was a kid. I wish I’d found a few more coping mechanisms a lot sooner, but the ability to manipulate ideas, pretend, ponder, and cogitate my way through problems and challenges has been my light sword in adulthood. I wish I had seen much sooner the great gift those  monsters under the bed represented.

What problem did you have to solve or cope with as a kid? Did you reap any reward from the experience or develop a useful skill? To one commenter, I’ll send a $50 Amazon gift card, because I don’t yet have any advanced reader copies of Love by the Letters (but I should soon)!


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67 comments on “When Life Hands You Dragons

  1. When I was little I often laid awake frightening myself with my sometimes lurid and gruesome imagination.Now 70 years on I still have to calm down my over the top imagination concerning my loved ones.IF they go on long journeys or are doing something risky my brain goes on overdrive and I can see disaster looming.To stop myself I slap the side of my face and say “Stop it ” then I think of something else completely different and this calms me.Unfortunately one of my granddaughters suffers this condition but she is having sessions to help her deal and cope.She is 13 years old and shows signs of being clever I hope the support and love she receives from us all will help her.A good imagination can became something special and take us to wonderful places and to give a lot of pleasure by means of books,story tellers,artists all do this.Take us up up and away.Being a writer you take us on board and I am so glad you enjoy and want to carry on sharing your imagination.Next book sounds delightful I’ve already pre_ordered.

    • Interesting that you distract yourself with a physical sensation (slap), and a stern lecture… and it works. I ride dressage test patterns if all else fails. A-enter working trot, X-half salute. Proceed to C, working trot, at C track right…
      I get really good at the first half dozen moves in the test, after that… try, try, again.

  2. I realized post hurricane, when there was no electricity (so there were no streetlights, no house lights, no NOTHING) how unnerving true darkness is. I hadn’t really been afraid of the dark until then. So I totally sympathize, Grace!!

    • When I was eighteen, I moved into an apartment in town, and oh my! The cheap curtains weren’t nearly enough to block out the street lights, so I didn’t need a night light, didn’t have to explain anything to my room mate. Town living had its advantages…

      I once toured a cave, and the guide at one point turned off her flashlight to show us what “natural darkness” really felt like. It was AWFUL. The darkness was so dense, I could feel it against my skin… or so I imagined.

  3. I am a Worrier. I worry we will run out of milk during a snowstorm. I worry my family won’t be dressed warmly enough for gallivanting around in above mentioned snowstorm. I worry I won’t have clean underwear for a big interview/concert/lecture/luncheon etc. etc. or someone in my family won’t. I worry I won’t have my Christmas cards out or gifts for everyone I need to gift or ?????? for the holidays. I worry that because I left the dinner dishes out overnight one time, we’ll have ants or mice or ??????? When I was a kid, I worried I would forget my history project or homework or forgot to study for an important exam or ?????? The typical nightmare of “I’m naked and I forgot to study and now I’m called upon to give a presentation” was a daily occurrence.

    I’ve overcome the worry by being as prepared as I can for every contingency and then, I’ve learned to let it go. The act of making sure to do dishes right after dinner calms me and I know, if we suddenly have ants or mice, it isn’t my fault. For years, I was a church musician professional and did my Christmas shopping in October and got my cards out Thanksgiving weekend. That way, if I needed an extra gift, I had plenty of time to take care of it and have traditional times to decorate and bake cookies so everything gets done. I make shopping lists every week, do one Big Shop, and try to stay on top of the milk and bread situation. I do laundry as regularly as I am able and I HATE doing laundry, so my worry about clean underwear is not unfounded. This year, I have a new laundry system as part of my resolutions and, so far so good! Every holiday season for about ten to fifteen years, I’ve gifted my spouse and kids with various cold weather items such as flannel lined jeans, warm woolly socks (women LOVE them, men tend not to except when the temp dips below ten degrees) and fuzzy flap hats. While laughing about my gifts which they consider *gag*, they do use them when needed, like for this weekend’s snow and bitter temps.

    For the most part, I’ve overcome the worry by being prepared and then, letting it go. The *letting it go* is key.

    • The be able to let go is a gift, or perhaps, a hard won skill? I was all fretful about the weather, because I’d missed a riding lesson last week (tree surgeons got here early to avoid weather), and oh, heck, what if I only get one lesson for two consecutive WEEKS….?!
      And from somewhere came the thought: Grace, you are being ridiculous. SO WHAT if you miss a few lessons? You are doing this for fun. You went years without riding and civilization didn’t end. Why are you on this hamster wheel?
      Sometimes, I think I get on the harmless hamster wheels to avoid getting on the serious ones.

  4. Most of my childhood fears were reality based. I was the oldest girl in a rather dysfunctional family. I always felt instinctively that I should be responsible for my younger siblings. No one ever told me I was, I just felt I should be. I think it taught me self reliance and empathy.

    I was also raised during the cold war. I had nightmares about nuclear bombs. There were fall-out shelters all over the place and we had drills once a month. We would dive under our desks when the siren went off. But somehow I just knew that that desk just wasn’t going to provide much protection when that bomb was dropped. I don’t think I learned anything from that experience.

    • Like the “ALICE” drills kids have to do now. No proof they make anybody safer, but they surely do remind you that you are NOT safe… When I was a kid we had bomb scares and the big deal was simply… get out of the school and stand there shivering until nothing blew up.
      By second grade I had figured out: Phone in a bomb threat, empty the school, then blow up the equipment shed, right near where the first graders are supposed to assemble. Duh.
      It’s a tough time to be a kid, but the cold war wasn’t any picnic either.

  5. My childhood coping story is an emotional one. I am 62 years old. When I was very young child I overheard the story of my parents marriage. My mother’s sister found a letter from my dad (who had moved away to live with an older sister to find work) to my mom which indicated she was hiding a pregnancy. My aunt gave this letter to my grandmother without my mom’s knowledge. My mom was 17. My dad was 19. One day shortly thereafter, my mom was given a grey suit to put on and told she was getting married. My mom was brought to the local courthouse where my dad was being held in a jail cell until the ceremony (my grandmother worked for a lawyer and somehow something happened to issue a warrant for my dad’s arrest). One of his older sisters was with him. My mom was crying saying she was sorry. A judge married them and my aunt took my dad with her and my mom went home with her mom. They did not live together until I was nine months old. Nobody knew I knew this story. My parents argued a lot. My mom cried a lot. I spent many nights also crying listening to them argue believing it was my fault. If not for me they would not have gotten married. If not for me they would not be arguing. I felt unloved and unwanted. The reason two people were forced to marry. So most of my childhood was spent pretending I didn’t know this story. Trying to be good so they would love me. I was a sad little girl. I had an imaginary friend who I talked to and played with. I loved to read and escape into the world of books. I still escape into books when I want to escape. Of course grown up me understands the story differently. But I still was a traumatized and sad.

    • What a story that is, and what an impact it had on you. I’m glad you have some perspective on it now… they might well have married anyway, they might have been happy, they might have done more to MAKE each other happy… They might have arranged an amicable separation or divorce, gotten counseling…
      But you were dealt the cards you were dealt, and you found books at an early age. It’s not an entire consolation for unhappy parents, but it’s a much better coping mechanism than many people choose.

  6. As a child I was very shy and would hide behind whatever adult I was with when I was introduced to another adult. I was fine with meeting new people my own age, it was just the adults. This situation continued through adulthood, until I made the conscious effort to not appear shy but outgoing, even though I was quite shy. To this day, few people who know me realize that I am still a shy person… I hide it better now.
    What this taught me was that if I could engage others in conversation that would encourage them to talk about themselves instead of putting the spotlight on me, I find that I am less shy, well sort of.

    • This is so interesting, because I don’t come across as shy either. I meet new people, cast around for a genuine question that might draw them out, and away we go… All the while, I’m wondering, “Can I just go hide now? Is it OK if I leave early? Have I been sociable enough yet?”
      I like people–they fascinate me–and I want everybody to be happy, and I don’t anybody to feel left out or as if they aren’t worth spending time with. But it’s an effort to put on the Social Grace. That hasn’t changed no matter how old, confident or self-accepting I get.

  7. I am not consciously afraid of the dark, but sometimes woke the household screaming if I wound up with a blanket over my head, the power went out, we were camping etc. My sister with whom I shared a room needed even more light, so light there was. (I learned that I could stage manage nightmares, but not the total dark.)

    I, too, remember the air raid sirens and fall out shelters. I grew up near a military base where pilots were trained, and my great fear was the Viet Cong, not that I had any idea who they were. Now, if I am actually asleep, I can sleep through sirens and “bombing” runs or in the flight path of an airport.

    • The words “Viet Cong” scare me. One of my brothers served in Vietnam, and came back hale and whole, but I was in elementary school at the time. I recall being unwilling to watch the news (Walter Cronkite, of course), for fear I might learn my brother was dead or taken prisoner. If I happen to hear that snippet, “And that’s the way it is…” in Walter Cronkite’s voice, I want to clap my hands over my ears. I’d forgotten this…

  8. I was a daydreamer and very unorganized as a child. On report cards, teachers wrote, ” stares out window.. in her own world…”. As a highschooler, I learned to use lists and to always (as much as possible) put it away now and not later (later never comes). I am still a daydreamer which I believe is a great coping mechanism for stress but I am a little more organized which helps keep the stress down.

    • Or you might be among that vast horde of girls who carried the burden of Attention Deficit Disorder, but because you didn’t bounce around like a pinball or yell or carry on like a boy with ADHD, you were simply “dreamy, air-headed, disorganized, scatter-brained, blonde…”

      I’m nowhere near as organized as I used to be. I know I’m a visual thinker, meaning that if I can see something on my desk–a bill to be paid, a form I need to send in–I will make the time to do it. If some well meaning individual comes along and files that bill or form away so it’s out of sight? I lose track of it. Unless I can SEE the list, I’ll lose track of the list.
      But stick it in front of my face, and I’m a buzz saw.

  9. I have what is now called dyslexic tendancies in some academic groups – dyslexia but a moderate form. When I was a child, I had a horrible time learning my letters and numbers – and my spatial awareness was all but nonexistant. My sister and her best friend mocked me and told me our mother said I was stupid and would never learn anything. Ironically, this mocking made me more determined to work and overcome my learning problems. Which taught me ways to study – which helped me be the only one of us children to earn a college degree. I’m still horrible at spelling, math is still not easy by any stretch of the imagination, and please don’t risk anything on my estimates of sizes or distances. I also found that I love to read. And as long as I’m not too physically and mentally tired, I can easily forget how hard it was to learn well, everything.

    • That is such a sad, common story: You are very bright, clearly. Bright enough to compensate for learning disabilities without any help from the educational professionals. Bright enough to know your sister was wrong, and your mom SHOULD have told her so. Bright enough to get through college with one cognitive hand tied behind your back…. I want to grab your sister by the shoulders,”Who’s stupid now, HUH?”
      But you are well educated and a happy reader. The BEST revenge.

  10. As a young child I was very happy, I was always excited to see what each day would bring. Age 12 was a tough one, I went from public school with my friends, to an all girl Catholic school where I knew no one. Sleep and books were a good escape. I loved my room and my canopy bed. I remember reading The Chronicles of Narnia and how much I enjoyed them.

    • I think a lot of us escaped to Narnia… My transition went the other way, from Catholic elementary school to public middle school. I HATED elementary school. The Sisters of St. Joseph are a teaching order, but the nuns I got were nasty, unhappy people who should never have been turned loose in a classroom. I have never stopped being grateful that after a year when I was badly bullied, my mom pulled us out of there. Go, Mom!

      I’m sorry your experience was so daunting. Twelve is not an easy year for most us, under the best of circumstances.

      • I think I had the Sisters of St. Joseph in Falls Church, VA, for a while in elementary school. They were a tough group. The Dominicans in Piscataway, MD, were better.

  11. I’ve always been creeped out by dolls and stuffed animals. I used to believe when I was very small they came alive at night and watched me while I slept. I started putting a blanket over the large basket at the end of my bed every night that held my stuffed animals and dolls. This way if the blanket showed that it had been moved I would know that I was right. Never could tell if the blanket had been moved, but I still find dolls and stuffed animals creepy. Of course, I have a daughter that loves the darn things. She has a whole chair piled high with the darn things.

    • I had an army of stuffed animals, but no dolls, other than an anatomically impossible Barbie. Maybe THAT should have scared me…
      I was creeped out by the cold bedroom floor, by the shadows of tree limbs shifting around on the curtains, by the sound of mice skittering around in the heating ducts, by, by, by…
      I was easily creeped out. It’s a good thing nobody mentioned the concept of stuffed animals coming to life, or I would have been in a real quandary.

  12. I was forever lonely as a child. My parents were busy and my brother was quite popular while I have always been shy. I think I developed into an introvert because of circumstances more than natural tendency, but it is now a lifestyle I thoroughly enjoy. I would much rather be home with a book than socializing, but I wonder if I could have become an extrovert like the rest of my family.

  13. When my sisters and I were younger, our family lived in a very old house. Everyone knows that old houses make noises, however the apartments across the street was former funeral home. Everything the stairs would creak or the wind would whip up and make noise, my sister’s would tell me the spirits were coming to get me…. So I always rearranged my room but had a mirror that would allow me to see my bedroom door and the top of the stairs, no matter where I was all I had to do was look up and I could see the mirror. Of course now we laugh about it but I still remember the paralyzing fear that would take over when I heard noise at night. I don’t have any amazing coping stories, I think from years of dorm life and having children have swung my fear or spirits coming for me, it’s more so the creepiness of small children staring at you or whispering your name in the night that get my heart pounding.

  14. When I was little, and sometimes later, my parents called me Tallulah (for Tallulah Bankhead, because I supposedly overdramatized everything). When I was about four, my brother (age 5 oer so) read us the Encyclopedia Britannica article on snakes, with all the lovely photos, just before bedtime. I woke up in the middle of the night and screamed because I saw the red and blue snakes crawling on my headboard. I can still see them in my mind’s eye, almost 60 years later. I apparently scarred my little sister by telling her that snakes crawled up inside toadstools to sleep, and she was afraid of toadstools for years. I also apparently told her that the rings made from mink skin that my dad brought home for us from some trip would summoned their kin, who would jump through the window at night and eat us. I don’t remember any of that. I used to be afraid of the dark and of bad things under the bed, but I imagined I had a cloak of impenetrability to cover me in the dark, and that I’d fly over the bad things to escape, I had a lot of flying dreams. I also used that imagination to get me through insanely boring school by inventing stories in which I could live, and be somewhere else. I worried that I was going crazy, until one day I realized that I was only bored, and that one day it would be over. I hope to use my imagination now by writing historical novels. Still working at my law job, so it’s slow going.

  15. So sorry you suffered as a child and feared the dark…
    My only fear as I was growing up was that I would run out of time to do everything I wanted to do..My dad was 40 when I was born my mom 37..I have know idea how they kept up with 3 children, being an over the road truck driver and teacher, raising a family etc.in the 50’s and 60’s…
    Loved my childhood and we always had tons of books to read..

  16. Love the story. Because I was the youngest by 12 years and the only girl, Mom and Dad put me in the “guest bedroom” downstairs. Only problem was, it had a door to the front porch and sometimes folks who didn’t know would knock on it. Also, we lived right across the street from the high school and the smokers would sometimes relax on the porch. Ah, the oddities of childhood! Take care and best of luck on your new releases!

  17. As a kid I always shared a room with a sibling. When I finally got my own room I was afraid to be in there by myself. I would make excuses to sleep in another room with someone else. I guess with age and time I finally outgrew the fear. Or I guess it could have been the music I played low at night or a tape that I would play. At least then I didn’t feel alone in my room.

  18. I was beaten and degraded (yes, I know….not two separate things!) as a child. It took me years to release the fear and rage those put in me. Now I am thankful for the experiences because they have helped me to be a compassionate and loving person. I understand boundaries better and I pass out love and light to all in my ambit easier.

  19. Wow Grace! No wonder you ended up helping kids through the “nightmare” of courts! Love you for that. I wasn’t so much afraid of the dark as what lurked out of the closet and under my bed…guess I had quite an imagination as well 🙂 Didn’t got to the writing side tough, I craft and create with textiles & paper. I had a close relationship with my Momma and she was a font of wisdom in seeking options, bless her heart. I had to close my closet door, check under my bed before I went to bed and have Momma leave the hall light on. My issue was thumb sucking that we figured out was a conditioned reflex to the cold satin on my bed. Momma turned my blanket around and the habit broke! She was the best mom ever doing it all by herself with Dad working nights and her family half the country away in North Dakota. I became a creative problem solver from the challenges I encountered though out my life. Many blessings to you Grace <3

  20. My worst problem growing up was my endless questions. I truly hungered and thirst for information. My parents bought me books like Tell Me Why since I was about 3 or 4. My kindergarten teacher allowed me to visit the school library during free time. I just loved to research funny things. I would spend summer vacations researching things like name derivations and what names meant. I would read a book like Blue Willow and then research about willow plates. I would read a story by Madeline Polland then connect it to Macbeth and Edward Confessor. I would read a story about King Alfred the Great and then research that period of history. If I was stymied then I would use my imagination to fill in the cracks. My problem became a useful tool to satisfy requirement in school. If the teacher or professor assigned a project on an obscure or broad topic, I could use my hobbies. Today I read and not favorite authors always trigger my research bug. For example, after I read your book My One and Only Duke, I researched about prisons. Thank you for your great books. Since I have discovered you, I have bought three copies of the Heir because I read them to pieces. I am starting to wear out Virtuoso and Will’s True Wish. I have replaced the Soldier once too. Have a blessed day!

  21. I was diagnosed as Learning Disabiled in the second grade. Over time, I’ve learned to embrace my unique way of thinking.

  22. To this day, I need a nightlight at home in my room and in the hall, and have a phobia of staying at a friend’s place or hotel. Because if I wake up and there is no light, I will turn on a TV, no sound, just light. I think this stems from waiting up, in bed, for my dad to come home from work. My mom always left a light on in the hall for him. No rhythm or reason, just another brick in the wall of life.

  23. As a kid my big problem was that I could not listen my favs music because my step father thought that my favs musician were all crazy and had a drugs problems and I don’t understand until now, he thought that if Injust listen their music I would being a addicted. It’s crazy, night?! But it was a very big problem to me because music was my scape from my loneliness because my mom was divorced and my dad (he was my hero, obviously) lives about 9 hours from my “new home” with my “new dad”… it was a nightmare because music always will be my paradise…. so, I spend crying almost every day… 🙂 But, thanks God, now I can choose my one and this “little” grace is very much enjoyed!! 🙂 PS: Sorry for my dusty English… 🙂

    • And… so… I always felt deprived of a right that I believed to be inalienable: to choose my own music to listen to, and this feeling if I was deprived of a right made me to be revolted when rights are denied without a solid reason for it. Now, guess how I make a living? I’m a lawyer!!! 🙂 I am sure that I am so happy to help my clients get the rights that are denied to them because in each one I see myself and with them, every moment, I dry one of the thousands of tears that I have shed.

  24. I always felt like the odd-man(girl)-out when I was growing up. Always felt like I was in a shell and invisible. Hated having to get up in front of the class to recite anything….I always imagined everyone snickering behind their hands, even though now I know they weren’t. It was just my imagination running wild. I decided in adulthood to get over this obsession when I became a singer in a local country band…talk about taking the bull by the horns. Now you can’t shut me up! LOL

  25. I also had a crippling fear of the dark for most of my life, well into adulthood in fact. Unfortunately in my home growing up, bedtime and the hours until morning was the time that a real monster roamed in our house. I won’t go into specifics, but like 1 in 4 girls, I’m a statistic of sexual abuse. Luckily, I’m now married to an amazing man with a healthy and happy family of our own that we guard fiercely. I can honestly say I haven’t had to sleep with the light on in nearly a decade. Thanks for the safe place to share some truth, Grace. XOXO

  26. Does reading too late into the night count? Because I definitely did that! Come to think of it, I still do that. Seriously, I was never good at falling asleep. I haven’t really solved that, but I do help my kids with it. I know they got it from me. I tell them my strategies, and I let them read way too late, too. Of course, we homeschool, so they can sleep in a bit later.

  27. I’ve been terrified of the dark since I was a small child. If anything, it’s gotten much worse, but I don’t really feel it’s unfounded. The more I know about things that could lurk in the darkness, the more I try to keep my windows covered at night and make certain I’m home before dark. When getting home before dark isn’t possible, I die a thousand deaths between my car and my front door.

  28. I was afraid of the monster under the bed. My first major purchase was a chest bed with 6 drawers and no space under the bed. Actually bought another chest bed for my house in the mountains. I sleep much better in both places now.

  29. I was the eldest, and so felt like I was the best (with good reason ☺). But I was also a fat kid, and fought body issues for years.
    I compensated with humor, and later with music. Still do.

  30. We moved frequently, as in when I started 10th grade it was the nineth school I attended. I learned to really, really love reading, and I actually learned to get out there and make friends fast, since I wouldn’t be around that long.

  31. Once I realized that my parents weren’t infallible (when our house burned down when I was 13), I thought I could deal with all my fears by controlling as much of my environment as possible. I’m still dealing with it.

  32. As a child, I had so much anxiety when attending school that I would throw up. I would get sick about once a week in first grade.

    As an adult, my childhood issues have made me empathetic towards my child. Empathy is my superpower. 🙂

  33. I was terrified of lightning. My mom told us horror stories of lightning come into houses through phone lines, electric sockets and TVs. Every time there was a storm we had to run through the house unplugging everything, we couldn’t use the bathroom because lightning could even travel through the
    plumbing pipes and we would usually go sit in the car because my mom said that was the safest place. I was determined not to pass that fear on to my children and so when they were young we would read or play board games during storms. I am sure I cringed at every strike but I tried hard not to freak out. Fortunately none of them are afraid of storms and enjoy watching them but safely inside their homes.

  34. What a wonderful brother! I had a fear of physical punishment which helped fuel my advocacy as a guardian ad litem for abused and/or neglected children.

  35. I was afraid hitler was in my tiny closet and that he would come out and get us all while we slept. This was during the war and I didn’t sleep well until the war was over. My brother slept in the same room and slept like a log. Because of him I couldn’t have a nite-lite either. Now I put black duct tape on the blue lights shining from my electronics. I like it really dark.

  36. I had a similarly exhausted Mom. I was the youngest of nine, and I was an anxious, fearful mess. I still remember how ill-used I felt when my older sister made me take the bed next to the closet. I would lay paralyzed in the bed, having to pee so bad but terrified to stick so much as a foot out from under the covers. Therapy did help eventually, but the good thing about anxiety is that you anticipate all the things that can go wrong, in every possible way. If you learn the tools to keep it from overwhelming you, it’s like a super-power. You are like Mary Poppins, with a purse that holds every required thing someone could need. You are an efficient but thorough packer of suitcases. You can nip a bad situation in the bud, because you see where it’s going. It’s an extra level of awareness that keeps you, and the people around you, comfortable and safe.

  37. I am the oldest child of parents who were very young. (16 and 18 respectively.) When I was 5, my sister was born and 6 at my brother’s birth. My parents worked crummy, low paying jobs. They were also very overwhelmed with parenthood, among other adult circumstances. So tempers were frequently short. To stay out of the field of fire, I started cleaning and organizing. Anything I could. At 5, I remember telling my mother when she got home from work that I had cleaned the living room and hoped it stayed straightened.

    That’s the beginning of my life long saga with OCD. I hate having people at my house because they actually use items (that are meant to be used). I’m nearly nauseous waiting to ensure they return it to its correct place. My house is never, ever cluttered- I simply cannot bear it. I will go without sleep to straighten.

    I am practically driven mad by coworkers who halfass any task. I have tried meds, therapy, meditation, etc, but my anxiety unfortunately presents as irritation and anger so it’s very good that I work from home and can have a yell at my computer screen sometimes.

    The GOOD thing- your books actually allow me to be a (relatively) normal person and totally forget the dishes or dusting or vacuuming (which I despise). I love, love, love getting lost in your stories and have read most of them several times. I even have them as audiobooks so I can do mindless tasks at work and be distracted from random annoyances. Thank you, thank you for sharing your amazing talent!!

  38. Bullying. My mom yelled at me for letting words bother me. I was cutting and attempted suicide before I finally got the help I needed. But it makes me a better ECE because I can speak to the kids from my heart on how to be kind.

  39. Had a similarly exhausted mother with six kids, but I was the second oldest. About the only inside job I did well at age 10-12 was to rock to two youngest as babies to sleep. Mom would just laugh as the stick skinny me then would throw on jean clad leg over the arm of the rocker, snuggle the baby between my thin chest and skinny leg and push off with the other foot. But they’d be asleep in minutes.

  40. I don’t remember any real fears. Being afraid of anything growing up. I mean, we would jump out and scare each other. But that’s it. I must have been very lucky. Or I have hidden it away somewhere deep in my brain.

  41. The biggest problem I dealt with growing up was something that most families experience now : divorce. My parents divorced when I was about 10. I remember my parents arguing one day after one of my brother’s ball games, while my brother and I were in the car. I remember just covering my ears and crying. It was hard knowing that your parents weren’t getting along and that sometimes it felt like you had to choose between them. Thankfully I have a very loving and supportive family, and my mom has been re-married (for 16 years) to a great guy.

  42. My mother basically told me
    She didn’t love me.

    As a sensitive 13 yr old, having lost my dad and brother through divorce, and having to move in with a stepdad and stepsisters, I was feeling very vulnerable, and in need of reassurance. I’d been moping and withdrawn for some time when my mother confronted me in my bedroom, demanding to know what the problem was. I screwed up my courage, thinking she might now see what I was going through and out her arms around me. In a small voice I said “I think you don’t love me”.

    “Well how can I love you when you’re like this??”

    I was frozen in shock. I was numb as she enumerated the ways my ‘sullen’ behaviour was affecting her. Inside I’d reached rock bottom. All my fears that my mother didn’t love me had been proved true. I had reached rock bottom.

    I looked around inside my head as she went on. At the bottom of this mental ravine with its rocky walls and vertiginous sides, I noticed it was cool, and calm, and peaceful. I realised rock bottom isn’t so bad. All uncertainty had been removed. The only way is up.

    I also realised I wasn’t alone. I had ‘myself’ and I have been my own best friend and cheerleader ever since.

    This moment provided a mental ‘floor’ for all the anxieties that an intelligent, sensitive and diligent kid can produce. Instead of becoming a neurotic, introverted adult, I learned to adapt, using my own internal resources to mould myself, be ambitious and successful. I developed an extroverted persona to be more successful in my career, and realised very early that no matter what, rock bottom isn’t so bad. It made me braver.

    I can’t say that I sailed through life ever since. I still have anxiety and and I created a rod for my own back with my ‘split’ personality. But that early lesson has given me positive strength.

    I have moved on and now have a good relationship with my mother. I see her for what she is – and what she isn’t – and I am glad to have her in my life, and for the lessons she gave me.

  43. I was born in 1960 and my sister, who I shared a room with till I was 6, was 10 years older.
    We grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and my sister loved the Peter Max posters from the Fillmore and other concert venues. These posters, while I can appreciate them now, were very frightening when I was a child as they were all over our bedroom wall.
    After numerous nightmares, my parents brought in a friend who was also a psychiatrist. He took one look at our walls and said, “take the posters down”.
    It worked, but my sister NEVER forgave me… That, and I made her the middle child and took away her “only daughter/princess” status. But that’s another story…

  44. I have always been the outsider—and never knew why! As a child, was the last picked for games, nobody asked me to birthday parties, in school my loud voice (yeah, I was a frequent flyer on the comment train) earned me the knickname, “Loudspeaker”! Early on, I retreated into an internal world of imagination and dreams. Used to amuse myself by creating elaborate stories that went on for days. I remember the earliest story/dream was at about age 4 1/2. No, I never wrote them down. Growing up in the 50s I was not the team player, but the kid sitting over yonder (name the place) not interacting. Early and overenthusiastic reading fueled my dreams and imagination. This ability to retreat into my head has stood me strong, whether finding a remote woman’s bathroom over in the engineering building in college to sit and drift, or making stories up about fellow passengers on the train to Boston, or coping with no social dates ever, few friends, and puzzled parents. Taught children for over 40 years and they didn’t seem to mind my outsiderness. Now in my 70s going into my imagination has finally triggered the ability to write the stories down, and helped me cope with increasing immobility and declining health. Relief is just a dream away!

  45. As I was reading the early part of your post I thought about how your monsters were indicators of your imagination. Then you went on to say that!

    I wonder how many kids with similar issues never made the transition you did. Did they go on to have anxiety and other nervous disorders?

    My parents divorced when I was 9 and my mother suffered from anxiety and depression practically her whole life. Mine was not an easy childhood but I managed probably from shear stubbornness.

    Thanks for sharing and although I’m sorry you suffered from monsters as child I truly appreciate your imagination now.

  46. I was a bed wetter as a child but not because I peed in my sleep or lost muscle control. I was wide awake, I had to got to the bathroom but I was way too afraid to to get out of bed and have the large snakes under the bed grab me. Sometimes i was not so paralyzed that I was able to whisper for my Dad to come get me. If by fluke they could hear me, the light went on and I was able to get out of bed, but more often I was unable to even whisper… I was afraid of the dark, I was sure the wild indians were going to burn our house down with us in it…I had a great childhood with parents who loved me, I lacked nothing. However I had an extremely vivid imagination and I have also thought this was how I handled stress or things I did not understand. I also suffered in silence, never told my parents how frozen with fear I became but when I asked for a nightlite for Christmas,Santa loved me so he granted my request. I also learned and made sure, on my own, to go to the bathroom before I went to bed so I did not have to go when I was awakened by night terrors. By the time I was 7 years old these critters disappeared from under my bed, and to this day, I do not remember my dreams anymore. The good Lord, or Santa or Maturation, all slayed these dragons for me, and I am so thankful.

  47. Fear of an apocalypse that would require survival skills in the woods. For years I pursued outdoor adventures to give me the sense that I could survive if I had to. And, the best part was that I really enjoyed backpacking, rock climbing, and rappelling even if I was 40 and didn’t do well with heights. I did it, and the confidence I gained is helping me continue to stay strong and continue going to work every day even after I turned 80. Confidence is a wonderful thing.

  48. I had a beloved uncle that babysat for us. I was the youngest being somewhere between two and four. Besides teaching me to smoke cigarettes and drink Pepsi, he told us spooky stories about the man in the wall. We always clamored to hear more. However, I had never been able to sleep next to the wall, even now. Nope nada never gonna happen! These days, I suspect my dear uncle would be in jail for child abuse.

  49. We were pretty poor when I was a child and one thing I learned from my mom was how to make something to eat out of what you’ve got. As I child I can remember dinner being a ‘veggie tray’ which mom made out to be a fun thing instead of a sad thing or sometimes we’d only have bread and eggs, so she would fix eggs in a basket. I can remember eating all kinds of unusual concoctions that you wouldn’t dream of having for a meal. To distract us girls from the disappointing meals, she would make the meal an event, she would light candles and turn off the lights or she’d throw a blanket on the floor and we’d have a picnic in the living room.

    When my husband first became disabled I ended up having to do the same thing with my kids. Every night wasn’t something fabulous to eat, but we made it work and we had full bellies. Some of my kids’ best memories are some of the strangest meals we had and the same goes for my memories as a child.

    ***Mom told me to always to keep a box of powdered milk in the cabinet, oatmeal, dried noodles and canned tuna and I always have them on hand. And those items saved us more times than I can count.***

  50. When I was very small, I watched a clip of a black and white movie of a gigantic tarantula bigger than a house, menacing a woman inside said house. Have been terrified of spiders ever since. However, when my eldest child was born (he’s 15 now), I realized I hated the idea of the spider crawling on the baby MORE than I was afraid of the spider. So I was finally able to squish the ones in the house that wandered into view. All the ones outside are allowed to stay alive and eat mosquitoes. Now, of course, I have a daughter who loves spiders so she just shoos them away from me.

  51. When it is cold and depressing here in Vermont I get out my Grace Burrows books and start reading them over again. I keep them all and they are getting dog-eared but I love every one.I wait in anticipation for the next one to come out.
    Thanks you for writing them.

  52. I wet the bed until I was 9 years old. My brother, who was awful to me, would take my dollies, pull their pants down, and seat them on pots to make fun of me. He also jeered at me EVERY day because I was fat as a kid, and he told me I was fat and ugly and no one was ever going to love me. If you tell a child something enough times, the child believes it. He tortured me if I got any attention, and he would chase me frequently to pinch me. One time my mother yelled at him for something he was doing to me so he drew the face of a witch with the word Mama under it, he Scotch taped it to his dresser, and he threw steel darts at it. When I was 4 or 5, he constantly told me the boogey man was under the bed and was going to get me. I spent a lot of time as a small child, being terrified of him. I have never seen such sibling rivalry as he had. He was 5 years older than me. He gave me anxiety. Yes, the problem I had was my brother.