According to a recent Associated Press article published in their “Oddities” department, a teacher in Ohio has sued her school district for discrimination.
Maria Waltherr-Willard of Mariemont, Ohio, is not a minority. Her picture shows a middle-aged woman with short hair, glasses, red lipstick and three strands of pearls over a pink turtleneck sweater. In other words, she looks like 90 percent of the school teachers from my childhood.
So why was Waltherr-Willard discriminated against?
Well, she’s afraid of children. Duh.
What, you think someone who is pedophobic doesn’t belong in a classroom? Geez, I bet you think nurses shouldn’t be afraid of blood either.
The AP reported that Waltherr-Willard “said that when she was transferred to the district’s middle school in 2009, the seventh- and eighth-graders triggered her phobia, causing her blood pressure to soar and forcing her to retire in the middle of the 2010-2011 school year.”
And all this time, I thought high blood pressure and anxiety was part of the job description for middle school teachers. But the lawsuit states that, “The mental anguish suffered by [Waltherr-Willard] is serious and of a nature that no reasonable person could be expected to endure the same.”
Oh. OK then.
Now, I’m no stranger to phobias. I know firsthand that one person’s anxiety is another person’s punchline. When I was in labor with my oldest son, I walked up eight flights of stairs because I was afraid of getting stuck in the elevator. I’ve flown once in 15 years. I’m afraid of cats that stare at me and purr. And one time, after a particularly strong static-electricity zap, I cried and asked my husband, Dustin, “Would I know it if I had been electrocuted?”
He didn’t answer.
But I am not afraid of children.
Or am I?
After I read the story about Waltherr-Willard, I took inventory of my feelings around my own young children:
Ford, 12, is a preteen. Shudder!
Owen, 10, won’t eat vegetables. Panic!
And Lindell, 6, likes to moon people. Terror!
Maybe I’m pedophobic after all. I mean, I do have high blood pressure, and the fact that my children want dinner every single night does cause me “mental anguish.” Helping a 6-year-old put on his gloves and snow boots in the morning is more stressful than any reasonable person might expect to endure. And, well, have you ever watched a kid learn to ride a bike without training wheels?
But wait. Let’s not panic. Dustin always tells me not to jump to conclusions. It’s important to look at the facts, to assess symptoms.
So, do my children scare me? Have they caused me high blood pressure and mental anguish? Do I have pedophobia?
I made a list to sort it out.
I feel afraid when …
• My children pour their own syrup.
• Lindell yells from the bathroom, “What happens to Legos that go down the toilet?”
• Anyone younger than 30 says “uh oh.”
• I overhear my kids say, “Maybe Mom won’t notice,” or “Let’s not tell Mom.”
• I look between the sofa cushions.
• Someone earnestly tells my 6-year-old wearing a cape that “believing in your dreams” is all it takes to “fly.”
• I see my son’s laundry in the closet.
• My kids try to cook or clean to “be helpful” on my birthday.
• Neighbors see the tennis balls, popped balloons, and rubber chicken stuck in the tree in our backyard.
• I hear shattered glass and someone yells, “It wasn’t me.”
• My boys use passive sentences (“The window was broken.” “The milk spilled.”)
• Anyone gives my children sharp objects or science kits that include “experiments.”
• Santa brings a 300-piece Lego set to a 5-year-old.
• Santa brings drums.
• Our lodging includes bunk beds.
• The living room suddenly gets quiet.
• Even the dog doesn’t want to follow the boys.
• A teacher tells me my son is “full of personality” or has “a lively disposition.”
• The boys and their friends run inside the house looking for “jugs of water,” “duct tape,” or “a really long stick.”
• My 6-year-old asks anyone, “Do you want to see something funny?”
• My preteen wants an email account.
• A child with all his adult teeth says he has a loose one.
• I overhear my kids say, “Let’s pretend the whole house is the Death Star.”
Yeah, come to think of it, I’m anxious quite a bit. Being around children is similar to having your heart, guts and nerves exist on the outside of your body. “I just mopped the floors” and “careful, that might be dangerous” mean nothing to them.
So, you know, this whole pedophobia thing is seeming kind of fishy. According to the lawyer representing the teacher in Ohio, it is a real disease. And maybe it is. But to me, it’s sounding a lot like plain old parenthood.
Maine author and columnist Sarah Smiley’s writing is syndicated weekly to publications across the country. She and her husband, Dustin, live with their three sons in Bangor. She may be reached at www.Facebook.com/Sarah.is.Smiley.