Just before Thanksgiving, the cooking questions started. Two extremely intelligent, competent women of my acquaintance were traumatized by culinary red alert situations -in one case, cooking a turkey, in the other, making roux. Both friends had, I believe, been placed on high alert by what I like to think of as Tales of Trauma. “I brined, it was too salty, I didn’t brine, I didn’t put the foil on in time, I basted, I didn’t baste, the timer thingie didn’t pop up, I browned my roux, I didn’t brown my roux, my roux was lumpy, my sauce didn’t thicken” etc. ad nauseum. I explained in a calm and level tone that there was no rocket science involved in either operation. I have brined, not brined, basted, not basted, tented and not tented, and the turkey is always pretty good. The only thing that really matters is that you have a meat thermometer to prevent the untimely deaths of family and friends. As for the roux, it always works if you follow the directions and whisk the lumps out. No terror required.
The Thanksgiving-related fear got me thinking about all the times that people have knowingly, and possibly gleefully frightened me about various things with Tales of Trauma. Dental work is a popular arena. I have had many root canals and had my wisdom teeth pulled over the years, and I have noticed that many folks have a story to tell about The Pain, The Vicodin, The Infections, and The Days Off Work. I know that bad things happen, but what is gained from telling someone bound to endure a root canal about the time that you/your spouse/your child/a guy from work had a botched procedure and ended up howling in pain in the middle of the night? Is it a kind of hazing, like law school or a fraternity? Does it give some strange satisfaction, or confer some invisible mantle of status? As it turns out, I have never required anything more than Aleve after a root canal, never had a bad result, and always felt rather better than I did before. I like telling people exactly that.
Women are victimized by Tales of Trauma regarding all manner of “female stuff” from mammograms to childbirth. Speculums too cold, doctors too rough, stirrups too humiliating and questions too embarrassing. It benefits no woman or girl to frighten her about medical examinations that are essential for maintaining health, and can be lifesavers. I do, of course, appreciate a gentle, compassionate physician or mammographer, but if I have a complaint I direct it to someone in a position to make a change rather than repeating my stories endlessly to those about to face the annual music. Because, seriously, why?! Why does anyone feel in any way better because they have bragging rights as Most Abused Pelvic Exam Recipient 2010?
Childbirth is, perhaps, the traditional apex of Tales of Trauma. Birth stories including minutes logged in labor, level of excruciating pain, episiotomies (ick), and epidurals administered too late are legion. Five seconds after my pregnancy was confirmed I found myself recalling, in crystalline detail, every story of morning sickness, pre-eclampsia, spinal taps, and all manner of painful and frightening possibilities that I had ever been told. (And if you grow up female, you have been told those stories, or at least overheard them, hundreds of times). As it turned out, I had a complicated pregnancy that featured pre-term labor, eight weeks of hospital bed rest and a preemie. I have made it my personal mission to tell every pregnant woman who asks that even with the “bad stuff,” I was not often miserable, and I had a beautiful, healthy baby. I can’t stop wondering, though, about the equally common choice to create a Lifetime movie in the presence of other women who may be haunted by the notion that pregnancy and childbirth are horrors that must be endured.
If someone asks a direct question because he knows that you have basted, had a root canal or worried through a battery of genetic tests during pregnancy, an honest and thorough answer is always warranted. It is compassionate, in fact, to share your experiences with a worried sort who is facing something unknown. Sometimes it’s incredibly comforting to know that you are not the only one who had raw turkey close to the bone, or those weird fake contractions. There is a line, though, between sharing useful information (“dating is harder when you’re older, but I met and married somebody at 35 and I know it can be done”) and recounting Tales of Trauma calculated to cause stress and panic (“It’s awful out there – every guy I meet has something wrong with him and one just stole all my money and my Cartier watch”).
As is so often the case, I have no answers, and no solutions. Instead, I extend an invitation to join me in taking the pledge against telling Tales of Trauma. There’s so much really scary stuff in the world, why manufacture more?