Sunday, April 11, 2010

Life Doesn't Frighten me

Sylvie’s auntie is visiting us in Vermont this week from Minnesota. I wish she lived closer—not just because Sylvie and her sister adore her, and that I find my sister of one of the more awesome humans in the world—it simply has made a huge difference having her around.  The little family emergencies, dinner and bedtime routines, and daily chores are just a little easier having a third set of dependable adults hands near.  I write that, not to guilt Aunt Carrie into moving out here (she reads these posts!), but because she is one of those people that helps our daily routine be a bit more manageable. 

But having a third party around—even if it’s extended family—also means I have a heightened sense of how we’re handling stress.  And honestly, sometimes our life just frightens me.   

I’ve had one of those weeks from hell that put the faith of even the most faithful to task.  It started with yet another rejection letter from a potential job I was quite excited about and ended with my sweetie almost getting run off the road by a reckless car driver on his afternoon bike ride. My current job situation, that assures my entire family medical insurance, is uncertain past next month.  We had a successful care conference with Sylvie’s many care providers, but the meeting made me horribly late for one of my undergraduate classes I teach.  Our babysitter had a sinus infection, and we need to start looking for more personal care assistants for Sylvie help since our PCA we’ve had since September is leaving next month.  Oh yea, and Sylvie’s seizures seem to be getting longer and more intense.  They leave her stunned a little bit longer after they have subsided.  Moreover, as gorgeous and congenial as she is when she wakes in the morning, between 3-7pm Sylvie’s regular and relentless crying/moaning jags are almost unbearable.  Haven’t I read somewhere that the sound of crying children is being used as a form of prison torture?

In addition, one of the most influential professors and mentors I had in graduate school, Dr. Julie Graham, died earlier this week.  She was one of those activists, teachers, scholars, community members that had a huge influence on the many people she worked with around the world.    And as her obituary stated, she was one of those people who was guided by the belief that the unexamined life was not worth living. She will be missed.  My laundry list of hardship goes on….sometimes my life frightens me.  

I keep telling myself: it’s of no use feeling frightened or depressed or pissed off for very long.  And then I see my glorious sister with my children, and I sigh relief. Or we have a nice Sunday brunch with friends. Or I take a walk to the park with the sun shining so bright that no grim thought is able to endure.  Or I remember how one person, like my former professor, can really influence a large amount of people just through the sheer conviction of people’s hidden values and potential. (Julie handwrote an inscription on one of her books I purchased at a book reading years ago that I was an inspiration to her!  It still feels comical, but I wish more people told each other that!).  These are the little carrot charms that give me energy to move along and forge ahead.

When my daughters were first born, some friends gave us a funky rendition of Maya Angelou’s poem “Life Doesn’t Frighten Me At All” illustrated with paintings by Jean-Michel Basquiat.  Basquiat’s pictures are a little unsettling, and I suppose some wouldn’t think it’s necessarily an appropriate children’s book. But I started reading it a lot when we were in the middle of getting Sylvie’s diagnosis.  Somehow it made me feel better, and it still makes me feel better.  It’s the kind of kick in the pants I sometimes need to keep caring for my family, being present for my sisters and students, and taking care of myself.  So take that!  I’m not afraid of life (or death!):

Shadows on the wall/Noises down the hall

Life doesn’t frighten me at all

Bad dogs barking loud/Big ghosts in a cloud

Life doesn’t frighten me at all

Mean old Mother Goose/Lions on the loose

They don’t frighten me at all

 Dragons breathing flame/On my counterpane

That doesn’t frighten me at all.

 I go boo/Make them shoo

I make fun/Way they run

I won’t cry/So they fly

I just smile/They go wild

Life doesn’t frighten me at all.

Tough guys fight/All alone at night

Life doesn’t frighten me at all.

Panthers in the park/Strangers in the dark

No, they don’t frighten me at all.

That new classroom where

Boys all pull my hair/(Kissy little girlsWith their hair in curls)

They don’t frighten me at all.

 Don’t show me frogs and snakes

And listen for my scream,

If I’m afraid at all/It’s only in my dreams.                              

I’ve got a magic charm

That I keep up my sleeve

I can walk the ocean floor

And never have to breathe.

Life doesn’t frighten me at all

Not at all

Not at all.

Life doesn’t frighten me at all.

Kirsten Isgro is a professor of Communication Studies at the State University of New York and the mother of 4-year old twin girls. 



  1. Kirsten, this was the perfect post for me to read as I contemplated my fears all day today. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us, for writing so honestly of what you fear, for acknowledging the ambiguity --