At age eight I was master of the universe. With my special brand of magic I could avoid any malady or unfortunate event. I had a plan for never growing old, never thinking mean thoughts and never facing danger. Here’s how it worked:

Each morning I’d begin the day by touching the light switch in my bedroom six times with my right thumb and six times with my left. This little ritual would ensure that nothing bad would happen to me up until lunchtime. Mid day, I’d recharged the OCD force field by eating only even amounts of food. Six bites of carrots, two halves of a sandwich, twelve French fries. The counting was a bit exhausting but the payoff was huge. The ritual would ensure that I was safe till bedtime. At night, when the real dangers lurked in the form of robbers and ghosts and spiders I stepped up the compulsive behaviors to include measuring to make sure my pillow was in the exact middle of the bed, kissing each stuffed animal in my room six times and washing my hands for sixty seconds. Usually I was so exhausted by all these protective measures that I’d drift into blissful sleep the moment the routine was over.  Somehow I really and truly believe that these small acts of inane repetition could actually keep me safe and secure.

To avoid ever becoming elderly and frail I held my breath every time I passed someone over the age of seventy. This was particularly difficult when our school music class took a trip to serenade at the local nursing home. There was no singing for me, I was too busy nearly passing out from lack of oxygen.

To avoid any sort of bad luck I made sure to never tear the toilet paper off of the roll in a jagged and uneven fashion. I was sure that if I could break the tiny paper square off clean, I was going to have a good luck day. I’d just keep tearing off little squares until I got one just right. “What’s taking so long?” My friends would ask in the bathroom, “Are you pooping in there?”

“Yeah” I’d say, “Now leave me alone!”

And I had to look out for my friends and family too, who would I be if I had this secret power and did not use it for the good of all those I loved. I believed I could keep everyone alive forever and ever if I just patted my heart and gave a little squeaking sound every few minutes. I even convinced my little sister to join in.  After all, looking out for our entire community of family and friends was a big task, far too big to tackle alone, “You just have to do a little clicking sound after I do my squeak and that will take care of grandma and grandpa and all our extended family” I informed her. I can only imagine what that year’s annual eighteen-hour drive east was like for our parents. We both sat in the back clicking and squeaking through eight states. It’s a wonder we made it there alive.

If I had really been savvy I would have opened a little OCD pharmacy. People could just come in with a neurotic thought or worry and I’d provide a little ritual to rid them of their fear.

Customer: I’m worried I’m going to die some day.

Me: Well, just wiggle your nose twice every time you pass a cemetery, you know like  Samantha on Bewitched. Just do that and you’ll be immortal. NEXT!

I could have made off my mental eccentricities.

At some point towards the end of second grade these rituals just got too time consuming. So I took a huge leap and started trying to wean myself off of them. “What would happen if I only touched the light switch once with each thumb… Oh look I lived through the day. Tomorrow I’ll try not doing it at all.”

Eventually the rituals just disappeared.

Suddenly I had mountains of free time that had formerly been spent clicking and counting and tapping. I could start having some fun. I could become less anxious.

But then I had a child. And the anxiety came back with a vengeance. Within minutes of giving birth I was coming to terms with the fragility of human life and my own mortality and an intense fear of baby snatchers and spiders that might want to snack on a newborn. So occasionally in my weaker moments, I bring the rituals back. Like if my daughter has a fever I suddenly find myself making extra sure to tear off an even sheet of toilet paper and give the light switch a bonus tap. I just can’t seem to help myself. After all, if I could control the universe, if I could spare my kid from ever getting sick or being bullied or coming face to face with a giant spider, I would. And if there is even the slightest chance that one of these routines works, it’s worth it. For hundreds and thousands of years people have called on all manner of forces to get through tough times and irrational fears. So what’s wrong with occasionally reaching out to a light switch? It is a source of power. And given all the overwhelming neuroses that come with being a parent I’ll take all the help I can get.

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