Tuesday, July 06, 2004


My mother has always been one of those overprotective, ultra-prepared, ready for any emergency types of people. Over the past few years, she discovered the Internet, and now forwards me every Internet hoax story about some woman who reportedly was abducted from her back yard, along with tips on how to defend myself against attackers.

• Act like you’ve fainted and he won’t be able to carry your body weight.

• Hold your car keys like brass knuckles and jab them into his throat.

• Pretend you want to kiss him, and then pop his eyes out with your thumbs.

These were my bedtime stories growing up. There was no Goodnight, Moon or Where the Wild Things Are. My mom read me passages from a survival book on edible roots and berries, just in case I was ever lost in the woods. Instead of Rock-a-Bye Baby, I was lulled to sleep by the theme song from Cops. It was a little like having Linda Hamilton from Terminator 2 as my mother, except without all the explosives and tank tops.

I thought this might end when I went away to college, but it only got worse once I was no longer under her watchful eye. When I lived in the dorms, she wanted to buy me a rope ladder for the window so I could escape in the event of a fire. That might have been a good idea if I hadn’t lived on the 19th floor. Yeah, that’s great, mom. Once I climb out on that rope ladder, I’ll only have to plummet seventeen stories to my death instead of all nineteen.

For Christmas a few years ago, she gave both my brother and me some sort of homemade survival kit for our cars. It consisted of a Ziploc bag that contained:

1. Big wad of dryer lint
2. Waterproof matches
3. Candle
4. Two pieces of kindling
5. Empty tin soup can

“Wow, mom. That’s really… wow! I mean, gosh. You… shouldn’t have?”

I still don’t really know what the purpose of this voodoo kit is. Am I supposed to start my car on fire as a flare if it breaks down on the side of the road? Cook up some roadkill raccoon while I wait for the Forest Rangers to arrive? Nevertheless, I indulged my mother by thanking her and putting the bag in my trunk. I don’t have the heart to tell her that the candle melted all over everything, so I had to throw the whole kit away.

For all my reluctant participation in my mother’s madness, you would think I would reject such overprotective behavior in my own life. Quite the opposite, I’m afraid. I recently spent time with my nephews who are six and four years old, and caught myself spouting out random pieces of fearful advice like:

“Don’t run with a sucker in your mouth! You’re going to choke on that!”

“Swimming? No, you just ate. We can’t go in the pool for another two hours or you’ll drown.”

“Hold onto Aunt Jenny’s hand. I don’t want some bad man to kidnap you and make you work as a carnie!”

All my years of dismissive eye-rolling and cries of, “Awwww mom!” did nothing to prevent my hyper-cautious DNA from kicking in. I knew it was time to surrender when, for her birthday last year, I bought my mother the ultimate gift from Hammacher Schlemmer: a combination seatbelt cutter/flashlight/windshield smashing tool to be used in case you accidentally drive your car into a lake. You just can’t fight genetics.