Natural World Challenges

Posted Thursday, 03 January 2019

My children’s New Jersey nursery school took annual autumn outings to a local farm. The students, ranging from ages 2 to 4, each picked a small pumpkin from the pumpkin patch. They ambled through fields stripped of summer corn. They ate frosted cookies shaped like colourful leaves and drank apple cider from plastic cups.

One year, I was a parent chaperone for my daughter’s class. I brought my 1-year-old son along as well, because I thought he would enjoy himself. It was a chilly day. I had dressed my children warmly but neglected to bring my coat, scarf or gloves. As we settled onto bales of hay for a tractor ride, the sky opened up and it began to pour.

I had multiple umbrellas stuffed into the diaper bag I always lugged around back then. I held one over my daughter who sat to my left and one over my son who sat on my right. Unlike the Hindu gods my ancestors worshipped, I had no spare arms with which to cover myself. Cold rain dropped squarely on my head and dripped into my sodden clothes as I kept my children dry. It felt like ice trailing agonising pathways along the length my back. My hands went numb after a few minutes. The hay I sat on grew wet and poked me through the maternity jeans I still wore due to obesity, not pregnancy. 

This was exquisite torture. I was freezing, soaking wet and would die of pneumonia. My children were too young to lament at my grave in the manner I longed for. No offspring would make a scene and throw themselves onto my casket, proving to onlookers that I was loved beyond measure. My children were so little, they would probably nap through my funeral.

Within a few days, my husband would fall in love with a new woman who would snicker and gloat that I had died on a hayride. They would all forget me. I cried a little but no one noticed because my tears mingled with the rain.

The tractor trundled along the rutted paths. Each bounce drove sharp strands of hay deep into my soft, fat thighs. After an eternity, the ride ended. The children, teachers and parents scrambled off the wagon. I was shaking and miserable, having barely escaped death by exposure. 
I looked around at the other chaperones expecting some acknowledgment of the hell we had endured. I thought we would embrace, like soldiers who had survived a bloody battle. The other adults brushed themselves off and laughed a bit, ignoring my penetrating gaze. It is very unsettling to give knowing looks to others who do not understand what you are conveying. 

The teachers assigned each parent a few spare children to drive back to the school. Everyone hustled their wards into their SUVs, blasted the heat and zoomed away. As I drove back to the preschool in a warm car filled with chattering children, it occurred to me that perhaps my relationship to the outdoors was not as robust as others’. Every time I go outside, I sense my death is imminent. This can’t be normal.

I want to do better. I want to be like all the people who just get on with it, like the Lagosians who walk through blazing heat without sweating or really even noticing. But when one is a nervous wreck, how can they conquer their fear of the natural world and embrace the outdoors? 

Mona Zutshi Opubor is an Indian-American and Nigerian short story author and memoirist. She is studying for her MSt in Literature and Arts at the University of Oxford.




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