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How to Conquer Fears and Fool Your Foes
A Fear of Snakes
Let's start small
I over-stress! I tend to just stress sometimes over the silliest things. As a diabetic, stress is the worst thing for me. So over the years I've tried to control my stress by conquering my fears. How? Well I meet them head-on.
At the risk of advertising my age, I am reminded of a song from my childhood by Jim Stafford in which he was trying to impress a young girl by giving her a pond frog. The young girl's response began, "I don't like spiders and snakes." That line very often became my theme song when I would holler for Daddy to hurry to my room to kill a spider, or I would hear the neighborhood boys talking about the snakes that another neighbor had brought back from a fishing trip. As I grew old enough to go hunting with my dad, I constantly looked over my shoulder to see if a snake was coming after me from a nearby branch.
When my husband and I moved from our home in Kentucky to a rural area of Indiana, his major concern was that I would be homesick since I was almost 35 years old and had never been away from my family or my hometown. However, my major concern was how many types of poisonous snakes (4) resided in the state of Indiana. I made phone calls and sent e-mails so that I would know what to look out for. It wasn't long after we moved that we started seeing an occasional snake. A few times the older gentleman next door would come with his gun after receivng my frantic call that a large snake was on the basement porch right where I needed to go.
One night I had just walked out onto that porch to feed Poppers, my Netherland Dwarf pet rabbit. As I neared the end of his cage, with just a faint porch light to see by, something above caught my eye. Thinking that I saw a rope hanging from the porch beams, and wondering why a rope would be hanging there, I started to reach up for it. Then I realized that it was reaching back. I, of course, made the obligatory scream, and ran inside for my husband. He came out and confirmed my fears that it was, indeed, a snake. The snake had knocked down a bird's nest leaving two babies dead on the porch, and it held a baby in its mouth as it eased itself up to the roof and slithered away to the driveway level of the house where it coud plan its next attack from the safety of the bushes.
However much I hated snakes, one day I found myself in a friendly chase. I was chasing it! I had been on the riding mower in the front yard area of our 20 acres when I spied a long tail-like creature tryiing to get out of the way of the mower. It seemed scared. I couldn't blame it; those blades were sharp. But suddenly I found myself feeling sorry for it, and wanting to see it up close. So I disengaged the blade, parked the mower, and jumped off. I moved fast across the yard to catch up with it. It quickly moved across the gravel driveway and into the side yard. So did I. It made it across the side yard, down a slight hill, and into the woods. "Oh no," I thought to myself, "I'll never get to see it now." But the snake thought he was going to fool me. As I got closer to the edge of the woods, I saw him there. He was only about two feet in, and was attempting to hide beneath a branch of green leaves. He was turned watching me. I stopped, leaned down a respectful distance from him, and laughed. The little green fella was trying to scare me with all of his might, his tongue darting in and out of his mouth at me. I looked at him and realized that he was actually kind of cute, and I told him not to worry that I wouldn't hurt him. Later when I called my mother back in Louisville and told her about it she stated, "I never thought I would have to tell a daughter of mine not to play with snakes. Leave the snakes alone!"
Don't get me wrong, a still have quite a healthy fear of snakes. However, I can appreciate their beauty as well. Last spring one of the elementary teachers hosted a nature expert who shared an entire treasure trove of lizards, snakes, frogs and other creatures. In trying to prove to myself, and anyone else, that I wasn't scared I patiently waited for my turn and then I held one of the most beautiful snakes I believe that I have ever seen. The snake actually looked somewhat concerned when I spoke to him in babytalk to tell him (or her?) how pretty he was. Sometimes when you meet your fears head-on, they become much more manageable.
A Little Bit Larger Now
The first day of my first teaching job, I did not want the students to know that I had never taught before. That is a good way to be eaten alive. So, I walked into my new classroom and played the part. And I did it for several weeks to follow. When the students finally did learn that I was a first-year teacher they were surprised. They told me that they thought I'd probably taught for several years because it seemed that I knew what I was doing.
The actual truth of the matter was that I was scared to death. I loved teaching 8th grade, but in this position I would also be teaching high school sophomores. I spent my student teaching in three 10th grade classes, and I hated it. Sophomores scared me. What if they asked me something to which I did not know the answer? What if they used my small stature to try to intimidate me? What if I were not any good at my job? What if...
Well part of life is that there are always going to be "what ifs." I used to dwell on that, but when you are responsible for a hundred or more teenagers every day, you have to learn that you don't have time to dwell on things that "might" happen. You have to focus on the things that do happen, and be prepared to be calm in the face of anything. Did they ever ask me things to which I did not know the answer? You bet they did! So I earned their respect when I told them I didn't know, but that I would find out and get back to them. Did any of them try to intimidate me because I'm only 5 feet tall? Of course! But they (and I) learned that I don't intimidate easily. When they realize that, you earn a bit more respect. Was there ever a time I could have done better? Well, I am human after all. We learn from our mistakes through reflection, and hopefully continue to improve.
Within my first two years of teaching I managed to hold my own against a parent whose child never did wrong, a student who was flipped out on drugs, and a perverted administrator who showed up drunk at my apartment one night. I'll admit that there were times when I felt like that little girl who wanted to scream for her daddy to come and squish the spiders. But I was an hour from Daddy, and two hours from my husband and needed to squish them for myself. I overcame my fears by returning to my classroom, bright and early,every day and setting an example for the kids. You don't give up
The Face of Fear
Did I Happen to Mention That I'm No Bigger Than a Minute?
Most of my teaching career I not only have been vertically challenged, I've also hovered around 105 pounds.When I was a student in elementary and high school I was always the smallest in my class and was horribly bullied -- at Catholic schools no less. But as a teacher I've been known to stop fights. Usually if I am stopping a fight between boys, they later claim that they are so surprised to see me actually in the middle of them, that they just stop fighting. If I am stopping a fight between girls (which I think is more dangerous because girls don't fight fair), I can get really loud. That usually stops them in their tracks.
My second year of teaching I went with a group of English teachers to the annual convention of the National Council of Teachers of English. Believe it or not, a group of English teachers can really have a lot of fun, and we did. We loaded up on free materials from the convention vendors, and loaded up on sugar at The Cheesecake Factory. We laughed so hard during an impromptu game of alliteration, while loaded up on the cheesecake sugar, that we felt like we were busting. Although we worried substitutes not following our lesson plans and keeping the kids on task while we were away, we were learning new skills and techniques and having a fun time as well. That is until one afternoon.
During a break in the day's more interesting workshops, some of us took a lunch break and then headed back to the hotel for a short rest. When we headed back toward the convention, my friend Cheryl and I followed our usual path through the hotel, into the mall, and across the mall toward the pedestrian walkway to the convention center. As we neared the edge of the shops, going into a wide hallway, we observed a guy and girl near the far wall. The guy towered over the young woman, who looked like she'd been bruised before. The look in her eyes was that of a deer in the headlights. It appeared that the young man was holding her there against her will. Cheryl, who isn't much bigger than me, and I could not just keep walking. We stopped and asked if everything was all right, to which the man said yes. Then I looked directly at her and said, "Miss, is everything all right?" I could tell that it wasn't, but she looked too scared to tell me that she needed help. The man continued to say, "I told you, we're all right. You can go on." While my friend went for security, I stayed a few feet from the two of them and continued to question if she were okay while he continued to try to get me to leave them alone. I said, "I want to hear it from her." I could tell that he was silently forcing her to tell me that they were fine. I still was not going anywhere. I kept his hands in my view, but looked into her eyes as I repeatedly told her that she was too good to be treated that way, and that she deserved to have a good life. She was ready to cry. I believe that he was just about to reach for a weapon tucked into his boot when security arrived and took care of matters. I don't know what happened after I left, although I've always wondered. I have to admit that I had been terrified, but there was no way I was going to leave this young girl who displayed all the signs of abuse. Had something happened to her I would never have been able to live with myself. I think that Cheryl and I both shook the rest of the day.
To this day we find ourselves talking about the event and hoping that that young woman is living a safe, happy life somewhere away from that horrible man. And while we wouldn't recommend it, we both feel satisfied that we had the guts to do something. I told my husband, my parents, and my sister what we had done that day. Of course, I got an earful from all four. They all said, "Donna Kay, what if he would have pulled out a gun or a knife?" Sorry, I couldn't worry about the "what ifs", I was too busy facing my fears.