I overheard a therapist in a gift shop once carry on about how delighted she was to find the perfect sculpture for her office. I couldn't bring myself to look at it, but I knew what it was by how she cheerfully described its features.
And I knew how very wrong she was in assuming she'd found a perfectly "safe," nonthreatening object to use as decor in her practice.
I milled around a bit, pretending to look at things nearby. I bit my fingernails, tried hard to mind my own business, but in the end, I caved. I did it for humanitarian reasons. If she had a patient like me, they'd both regret her purchase.
So I told her. And she looked at me like I was crazy. She was about to purchase a frog sculpture. That's right. A frog.
They terrify me. Toads, too.
Stupid, irrational, ridiculous, nuts -- and true.
No one in my family can explain the orgins of this fear, but everyone is well aware of it. I guess my frog-terror shrieks are memorable.
My dear mother, God rest her soul, thought she'd help me conquer my little quirk when I was about 7. She enrolled me in a community ed class on amphibians and reptiles. We were supposed to handle them. I think I may have touched the tippy top of one horny toad head. And I'm pretty sure that kicked my fear up a notch to full-blown phobia.
To my horror, toads in summer think they rule Houston's grassy patches as soon as the sun sets. Any young man who dared date me between May and October had to carry me across our infested lawn to the front door so that my feet never touched a blade of grass. And even then I kept my eyes squeezed shut until we got inside, because toads tended to lurk beneath the doorstep. And they never jumped away from me. Never! Always at me. Explain that. Thank God my steady beau in those days was a lifeguard with sizable shoulders and I was barely 100 pounds soaking wet.
Which reminds me, imagine how many pool parties I had to skip for fear of seeing the little urchins hopping their way into aqua-blue heaven.
When my first-born was about 3, he came running up to me full of glee, wiggly toad in hand. I had to think fast that time and put on a brave face (as we all know what little boys are made of).
I believe that's when I first dabbled in the art of guilting my children.
Oh, honey, that poor little frog. I just bet his mother is terribly worried about him. She's probably crying her heart out now thinking she will never see her little frog boy again.
All happiness drained from his sunny face and big fat tears welled up as he turned to take froggie back home. Not that I waited to see where that was.
Yes, I preyed upon my preschooler's lovely sense of empathy. Do I regret it? Not one bit. I suspect I nipped in the bud years of torment. (He turned out just fine, not to worry.)
If anyone has ever tried to tease me with a frog, I'm sure I've repressed the memory. I wish I could say I've felt remorse seeing flattened frogs on roadways. Never have. More like pure relief, one less creepy hopping thing in the world. And, yes, I've heard a thousand times how perfectly harmless they are. Doesn't matter a whit.
Mr. B once told me that when he first learned to golf, he'd find little frogs caught up in his cleats. You can be sure that's one sport I will never take up, no matter how beautiful the courses are supposed to be. I'll run the Iditarod 5, 10, 20 times before I set a spiky shoe on a golf course.
So the secret's out.
Maybe that's why I moved 1,300 miles north. Not that we don't have toads or frogs in Minnesota, but I wear big honkin' boots and make sure my pants are thoroughly tucked into my bulky socks if I'm going to be anywhere they might be. And I don't look down. Ever. Easier that way to spot bears, which I much prefer.
I have to say, the arctic circle sounds better and better every summer. They don't have frogs in Alaska, do they?
Global warming? La...la...la....I can't hear you.
Illustration by Tony Segale
(I couldn't look at pictures for this post. And Mr. B just told me I'd never make it in Australia or New Zealand, because frogs there can get to be 3-5 pounds! Does anyone know if that's true?)