Ode to a brave toddler

Ode to a brave toddler

People often ask how they could become a ninja like me. 

That’s easy, I say. You could train like a maniac for 20 years. Or you could carry a cooler up the hill to your island cottage and walk nose-first into a spider web. 

Nothing sharpens your reflexes like getting this effing thing off your face without dropping the stupid cooler on your feet. 

Spiders are our friends, I’ve lied to myself and to my kids since they were little. They’re our friends because they eat other bugs. 

But mom, they’ve objected since they were old enough to understand what obnoxious defiance disorder meant, spiders are gross. 

They are great horror villains for a reason. They sit there and spin their web, then lurk in the darkness waiting for some poor lost soul to get caught in it and die in a futile attempt to get out. They wait until the meat is cold to eat it, too. Psychos. 

Do the bugs know they are doomed? Does it make them thrash more? Just thinking about it can send a shiver down your spine. 

And then there are dock spiders. If you’re fortunate never to have encountered one, you might want to block your ears right now because what I am about to describe could give you nightmares for the rest of your life. 

Dock spiders are the biggest ugliest thing around lakes in this part of Canada, if you exclude snapping turtles. They’re big. Some as big as your hand. They’re black, and menacing. And they move fast. 

They are not actually dangerous, cottage enthusiasts swear. I guess that’s only true if you consider dying of a heart attack to be harmless. 

As their name implies dock spiders typically live on the underside of your dock, between the wood planks and the water. They scatter when they hear human feet. It’s true that you rarely see them. Usually, I mean. 

For some reason, this one had a strong, committed relationship with our toilet seat. 

When we first got the place on the island my eldest was two and a half. She was potty-trained, of course. But not outhouse-trained. 

Actually, “outhouse” is too nice a word for what we had. It was a shed built out of particle board, at the bottom of a hill where nothing drained. Previous owners had used this pit to do their business and the memory of their fish fry was embedded into the thin walls. 

The throne itself was a box on which someone had screwed on a plastic toilet seat. There was no light — if you had to go at night, you brought a flashlight with you. It made everything so much scarier than darkness, bringing every spec of dust on those walls into sharp contrast. It’s like you were surrounded by three-dimensional shadows that moved and crept around noiselessly. 

I hated it. 

This spider had made its home between the cheap plastic toilet seat and the platform into which it had been screwed, and nothing on this earth could change its mind. I was paralyzed with fear, never wanting to go near the outhouse except for, well, you know. When I had to. 

My then-husband refused to do anything about it because, quote, dock spiders aren’t dangerous and I shouldn’t be so silly. 

No wonder I left him. 

It was my beautiful little toddler who rose to my defence. She picked out a plastic spatula from the kitchen drawer as her weapon and used it like the warrior she is. Any time she or I had to go, we’d go together and before she allowed either of us to go near the seat she would bang her spatula all over the wood structure to scare the massive black spider away, thereby guaranteeing her a very secure place in my will. 

She has no memory of that spatula which, for all I know, still hangs in that shed even now that there’s indoor plumbing in the main building. But to this day this now very accomplished and wonderful teenager looks under toilet seats before using them. 

Even though she, like me, is a ninja. Spiders are scary like that.

This story is part of a collection of short creative non-fiction stories published by the Huntsville Literary Association.