My mother was a fear monger in our household. She'd work herself into an internal frenzy of the what-if-they-get-hurt kind, and pretty soon we were all terrified to try anything new.
It wasn't her fault, really. Her own father had forbidden Mom and her nine siblings from doing anything remotely risky. And who can blame him? I wouldn't want to foot the emergency room bill for 10.
As a result, Mom had never learned to swim. She tried taking lessons later - I have to give her credit for at least trying to overcome some of these fears - but could never bring herself to jump into the deep end.
I remember sitting on the sidelines at my brother's soccer games and watching her visibly stiffen whenever play got a little rough. Unconsciously, and much to my humiliation, she'd make these distinct whooping noises - kind of like the sounds our dog makes when the baby is crying. Her animal instinct, I suppose, to protect her young was audible.
I'll never be "that mom," I thought. Other moms, by contrast, cheerfully rooted on their kids without a note of fear in their voices.
But as it turns out, that kind of thing is hereditary.
On a recent trip to Tweetsie Railroad, an amusement park in Blowing Rock, my 5-year-old decided he was ready to ride the Scrambler by himself.
It's been a long time since I felt real fear toward an amusement park ride. Perhaps in response to my mom's apprehension, if not the potential ridicule of my peers, I had tackled every roller coaster and hastily assembled country fair ride I had encountered as a kid. Phil and I went on the Intimidator at Carowinds the first summer it opened.
It's a different matter, though, when your own child is the one whose fragile body is being hurled at top speed among a few tons of heavy metal.
As I stood on the sidelines at Tweetsie, my imagination went wild. What if my boy decided to climb out of his seat mid-ride? No one was there to stop him.
Phil insisted he'd be OK. Easy for you to say, I thought. You didn't carry him in your womb for nine months. You didn't get up to feed him night after night when he was an infant. You don't have to stand here on the sidelines with your motherly instinct kicking in, trying not to whimper like a dog.
As my little boy whirled around, much to my surprise, he was actually smiling. He was not afraid. He was scrambled, but not scared.
Then he and I locked eyes for a moment, and I noticed that his expression changed. Instantly he mirrored the look of concern, if not outright fear, on my face. Then the ride whisked him in another direction, and I couldn't see his expression anymore.
I vowed to pull myself together and - no matter what - pretend I wasn't afraid. I doubt I appeared much less like a dog as I pulled my stiff lips into a half-snarl and tried to smile. I used the camera to cover my face as I shouted things like "Good job, buddy!" "What a big boy!" and other things I had heard the non-whimpering soccer moms shout from the sidelines all those years ago.
Finally, the ride stopped and my big boy emerged, unscathed, from the Scrambler. Never again, I thought. Even if he is, years from now, the only 17-year-old riding the Intimidator with his mother, he will never get on one of those rides alone again.
My mother is still a fear monger, and probably more so with her grandkids than she was with me. If she had her way, they would wear helmets everywhere. If she had seen my son on the Scrambler, it would have been the one and only time she did go off the deep end.
But I owe her an apology. Although she was the only soccer mom who showed fear, I secretly suspect that every mom is "that mom," to some degree or another, whether they show it or not.