The Spider in the Bathroom

the spider in the bathroom • daddy-long-legs, a child & fear itself

I hear her calling from the bathroom. ‘Katie,’ she says, the end of my name sounding like the beginning of a wail.

I rush in to find her standing naked on the bath-mat, covered in bubble-bath suds and shivering. She points towards the ceiling.

‘There’s a spider,’ she says. ‘And he’s moving.’

A tiny daddy-long-legs is tucked alongside the white cornice. He’s a small dark speck and seems immobile.

‘He’s only small. He won’t hurt you.’

‘But he moved. He might fall into the bath.’

I look at the bathtub full of warm water, the exact depth and temperature she’d specified. She had been in the bath for less than five minutes before the spider incident.

‘Are you going to let that little thing stop you from having a lovely warm bath?’

She shrugs.

‘Hop back in. You’ll be fine,’ I say.

‘No. You have to get rid of him.’

I contemplate how I might reach the spider and transport him to safety. I can’t get to him and keep the bath water intact. I’m not going to take the easy way out and spray him with flyspray. I don’t kill spiders.

‘I can’t reach him,’ I say. ‘You’ll have to learn to coexist.’

She frowns at me and her bottom lip starts to quiver.

I want to say everyone is frightened of something but we carry on anyway. I’m frightened of you, little one, you are a strange small creature inhabiting my house. And yet, here I am pretending to take care of you. We’re learning to coexist.

‘Go on,’ I say, ‘finish your bath.’

‘No,’ she says, crossing her arms.

‘Then dry yourself and get dressed,’ I say. ‘Don’t catch cold.’

I walk out of the bathroom, wondering if I’d made the right decision. Would a real mother have killed the spider, killed a tiger, killed anyone to save their offspring? Surely I’m here to protect her from all life’s terrors, real or imagined.

Or maybe I’m not. Maybe we all have to learn to coexist with spiders?

The next morning, when I go to the bathroom, the daddy-long-legs has disappeared from his spot on the ceiling. He must have realised the danger he was in. Because tonight, worn out from a million other questions and preferences and requests for help, I probably would have killed him for the sake of peace.

•••

Should kids be saved from domestic dangers or forced to face their fears? What would you have done?

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10 thoughts on “The Spider in the Bathroom

  1. Sorry Katie, but being terrified of spiders, I’d do exactly the same. I’d probably hate you. Being honest here.
    I nearly have a coronary when I have to deal with one in my house. Admittedly daddy long legs don’t affect me but huntsmen and that ilk….OMG I cannot so much as look at a photo of one.
    It’s easy just to say ‘face your fears’ but sometimes it is harder than that. And I don’t think in this case that trying to teach her a lesson was the best strategy. Esp for someone so young who you don’t know all that well? Having been in the step parent situation, being caring and accepting of fears as well as likes while a challenge, does make for a better relationship. I’d probably talk to her about it and let her know you didn’t want to belittle her fear.
    I know I’ve been quite full on with this, but having a similar phobia, I wouldn’t cope with you saying that kind of thing to me!!!
    Interesting article though, you made me think!!!
    Carolyn xx

  2. With all respect to the arachnophobes of the world, I think I’d advocate a middle ground. Depending on the age of the child (younger than 5?) and the degree of terror (white with terror? trembling?), I’d either stand on the toilet and scoop the spider up in a glass, or tell the kid to get a grip and finish her bath. In any case, no matter how you handled it, I’d strongly suspect that this one episode won’t have any impact on your relationship with your step-daughter. It’s how you interact over the long term that will tell the true story.

    1. She’s 10, she didn’t seem particularly traumatized and I suspect the tears were manufactured. Thanks for the reassurance that I’m not doing any permanent damage 😉

  3. Being a spider lover, I’d probably have tried to convince the kid the good of the spider and maybe actually make them like it, but I also have extremely little patience for children so maybe I’d have just walked out too :p I think a lot of people prefer to just acquies to their child’s silly fears rather than work to help them through the irrationality of it all though and that’s how you wind up with adults afraid of ridiculous things.

  4. I read this on the day you posted it and didn’t have chance to comment, but it’s played on my mind enough to return to it. I appreciate that I can’t completely relate to this scenario, as I’m not a step parent, but I can imagine it from the point of view that if my husband and I were no longer together and my daughter was staying with him and a new partner. I that situation I would hope that woman would take the opportunity to make my child feel loved in my absence. I think where children are concerned we have to respect their feelings and not trivialise them or make them feel like they are silly for having them. What may seem pathetic to us can feel as big as our toughest life dramas to them. I’m not saying I make a big deal out of things like spiders, but in the process of dealing with it I think it’s always possible to acknowledge their feelings – a sense of self worth is built up on the foundations of childhood after all. I don’t kill spiders, but would’ve made an exception and taken the chance to be the hero there!

  5. I think this is a post that is obviously about way more than spiders. 😉

    I see that she is ten, and I think that though there was no harm done, next time you might approach it differently and say that you totally can’t reach it but let’s get out of here and wait for her dad to get it out safely, something that validates her fear and allows you to be sympathetic, along with you not stretching beyond your comfort level (or literal reach) to assist. I hope that makes sense.

    That said, I don’t think you have forever ruined your relationship. These things take time. ((Hugs))

    1. I’m still not sure about validating an unrealistic fear … I tend to believe that feeding negativity only makes it worse.
      Interestingly (for whatever reason) by the end of the visit she was confident enough to check out a spider in the kitchen without freaking out.
      But I get what you mean about being dismissive. I think I took the middle ground. If I was being harsh, I would have forced her to finish her bath (which I didn’t).
      It just goes to show that kids/relationships/life in general is terribly complicated.

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