the smell of my desperation has become a stench

Don’t Even Get Me Started on Tornado Warnings

When I was a kid I was obsessed with making sure that all the lights in the house were turned off when they weren’t being used. I would follow my older brother and sister around the house turning off every light just as they turned them on, chastising them constantly, “Don’t you know what you’re doing?”

There were times when I had to make sure that the same light was off, six times in a span of ten minutes. I would think, maybe I made a mistake the last time I checked, maybe I didn’t turn it all the way off, maybe I need to go check again.

Actually, what I was really thinking was, my God, there is a limited amount of fossil fuel on the planet and my family is going to be personally responsible for depleting every ounce of it, and if I don’t go once more and check the light in the bathroom to make sure that, yes, the four previous times I checked I was right, it’s off, I’m going to be an accomplice, and we’re all going to die in the dark.

I suffered a similar obsession with making sure the water was turned off. My mother would force me to stay in my room when she was washing dishes, because if I was allowed anywhere near the kitchen, I’d turn the water off between each dish she washed.

It drove me crazy, sitting in my room hearing the gush of water escaping down the kitchen sink knowing that I was related to the person who was going to waste every drop of water in the world.

I don’t necessarily think I was a crazy kid, alone in my obsessive-compulsion. I think I can safely blame the public school system in Tennessee for every fear I had as a child, from having a barn animal land on me in a tornado to dying from just looking at poison ivy.

I seriously thought that not washing my hands was just about as dangerous as a Russian nuclear attack, and I figured that since I could really do something about the germs on my hands, the germs they warned us about in the film strip we saw every year, that I was really making a difference in the world. Gorbachev would know that I washed my hands all the time and would thus be reluctant to blow up my house.

Dare I ask — and I may very well regret this — what were you obsessive-compulsive about as a kid?

  • Still Obsessive Compulsive

    2002/10/04 at 8:19 am

    My obsessions change every week. I never did outgrow the need to know why. I still annoy the crap out of people by asking why all the time.

  • Ariel

    2002/10/04 at 8:25 am

    At 9, I developed an insane sex phobia. It was provoked by watching Three’s Company and suddenly “getting it,” realizing that every single thing that happened on the show related to sex. I was horrified. Then, suddenly, everything EVERWHERE was all about sex. I was reduced to tears. My father had to have a talk with me about how “making love is a beautiful thing,” which only made me cry harder. For two years, I was totally and completely obsessed (and terrified) of anything remotely sexual.

    …Oh, how times have changed.

  • P.J.

    2002/10/04 at 8:50 am

    As a kid I was actually obsessed with honesty. I would never ever ìfibî to my parents for fear that I would burn in hell or something. I remember the first time I “lifted” (nice term for stole) a G.I. Joe action figure from Longs Drugs when I was about 9 or 10. I couldn’t eat or sleep for a week until I actually walked downtown (not a very big town at the time) to Longs and returned the action figure to the store manager. He couldnít have cared less, kind of laughed at me, thus ending my compulsion with honesty.

  • ismat

    2002/10/04 at 8:51 am

    Among many, many other things, I was obsessed with myself. I still am, I think. But being the enormous dork that I am, I stressed over College and My Future in the fourth grade. I wanted perfect grades and perfect test scores. I worked my ass off for them. I think this is partly due to being the child of a professor/Pakistani parents. Funny thing is, as soon as I came to college, all that changed. Thank god.

  • Aubrey

    2002/10/04 at 9:18 am

    I remember, in my pre-adolescence years, that I would not, COULD not, ever get so mad at my parents that I would either 1) tell them that I hated them or 2) use any swear word stronger than ‘ass’. The very thought of my parents feeling that their only child would HATE them was just too much for me, and I thought the f-word would send me straight to hell. (Note that this was around the same time that I called Christie Dean a slut for ‘frenching’ 3 boys. The trollop!!) Then puberty hit. ‘Nuff said.

  • jimmypage

    2002/10/04 at 9:34 am

    kid…. well, i was still acting like a kid in high school, so… i’d have to say i was obsessive-compulsive about smoking pot. before, during, and after school. of course, we (my close friends and i) were very good students, when we wanted to be. but it was our time to have fun. so we got super-high and schemed on which colleges we wanted to attend and how we’d get in. it worked. i *highly* reccommend this course of action to any high-schoolers who do NOT have an addictive personality. love u d00ce. -jp

  • Jen

    2002/10/04 at 9:42 am

    I would count things. If we were driving in the car I would could everything that passed by the window, the faster we went the faster I tried to count.

  • flutterfly217

    2002/10/04 at 9:45 am

    I had this weird thing where I would count the fingers on each hand in the SAME EXACT ORDER and sequence. If I was off by any miniscule amount I had to start all over again. I also had a string of words that had to go together. Once one word was said the rest in the group HAD to be said. Golly, I was weird.

  • Anonymous

    2002/10/04 at 9:50 am

    My father fueled an obsession by repeating daily “don’t walk on the grass” and keep your hands off the walls” The problem is, I can’t stop doing these things now into my 30’s! I’m a girl who jups as if I’m burned if I stumble a little too close to a lawn or lean against a white wall! Adding to my difficulty with the lawn stepping fear was the fear of stepping on a crack (you know, possibly breaking my mother’s back…you know the rhyme) If I stepped on one, I’d say countless prayers of forgiveness (being the good Catholic school child I was) It’s amazing I got through my childhood without being struck by a car since the only safe place to walk was the street.

  • Tasha

    2002/10/04 at 10:02 am

    I WAS the most obessive child ever. I had the water fear for sure. When I was younger I lived near Philly, which is prone to at least one tornado warning a year. I would pack my suitcase with clothes, books, and stuffties just in case we ever had to evacuate to the basement. I was a careful kid.

  • The Inmate

    2002/10/04 at 10:04 am

    I also suffered from acute bacteriophobia as a kid. The first time I saw the movie “What about Bob?” I actually said out loud “Hey, I used to do that!” in reference to Bill Murray’s character using tissue to open doors and use pay phones. More amusingly, I developed a severe fear of choking. If I ever ate anything that was wrapped in plastic I would hold my saliva for hours afterward, worried that a tiny piece of that plastic bag would somehow be sent the wrong way down and block my windpipe. I was 7 or 8, and I was so much into medical knowledge I became a major hypocondriac. Reading an article in Reader’s Digest when I was 10 convinced me that a relatively serious cold was actually Cystic Fibrosis. My parents can probably remember more of these than I can. In many ways I still am a hypocondriac, but now I worry rationally instead.

  • jennkneephur

    2002/10/04 at 10:38 am

    I still am obsessed about wasting water or energy. Also, closing cupboard doors and emptying my recycle bin on my computer. Growing up a child of the 70’s/80’s I was terrified my dad was going to get drafted. I kept this fear to myself forever until, when I finally admitted being scared, my dad told me that they didn’t have the draft in Canada. Who knew?

  • Kerry

    2002/10/04 at 10:52 am

    I was obsessed with not getting worms. It started because I went outside barefoot after it rained once, and when I came back in, my mother told me I could get hookworms from going outside barefoot. She then explained that hookworms are so tiny that they can crawl the skin in the bottom of your feet, but that they get really huge, and eventually grow bigger than the person they are inhabiting, and then the person dies a horrible painful death. She also informed me that if I stepped barefoot anywhere a dog has ever pooped, or anywhere there is a puddle, I would get hookworms.

    I still refuse to go outside barefoot for any amount of time, even though I now know that hookworms aren’t the things from Alien.

  • Sarah B.

    2002/10/04 at 10:54 am

    I grew up in Oklahoma, so tornadoes were old hat to me, but I was constantly narcing myself out. Once I went to a slumber party where I was the cool 4th grade girl in the midst of worshipping 3rd grade girls, and I told a really filthy joke. The next day in the car, I immediately fessed up to my mom and cried and told her I should be grounded. Instead, she made me call the mom of the birthday girl to apologize, and tell the joke to her. I was mortified, and still am to this day, but it stopped me from confesssing, thankfully, before high school.

  • zoe

    2002/10/04 at 10:55 am

    I too, have the same water obsession. I cannot handle people keeping the water on between dishes, between rinsing their mouth, when they are applying soup on their hands. I can’t stand it. I also close doors obsessivly, everytime I leave a room that has one, even when they shouldn’t be closed.

  • dooce

    2002/10/04 at 10:57 am

    you know, Sarah, that means you have to tell me the dirty joke. give it up. now.

  • Chad

    2002/10/04 at 11:05 am

    Speaking of nuclear missles, we lived in Va. Beach and every time I wa in bed and a jet went overhead I thought it was a nuclear attack. I came crying down to my parents one night and I can imagine them having that half giggle/half jeez-he-is-growing-up thing later that night.

  • Austin

    2002/10/04 at 11:12 am

    To this day, when setting my alarm at night, I turn it on, then hit “Alarm” over and over to make sure it’s set for AM instead of PM. Every. Single. Night. Mind you, I don’t change the time on it from day to day, so I should just turn it on and be done with it. I SO CANNOT just turn it on and be done with it.

  • ryan

    2002/10/04 at 11:31 am

    Heh, 2 things I can recall. First, I always had to make sure that everything was properly put down on a table or surface, well away from the edge, I was always worried that something was going to fall of (not be knocked off by something hitting it, but just fall off all on its own). Also, I always used to step over cracks in the sidewalk or lines anywhere I was walking, my foot could never touch the lines. Heh.. talk about taking a long time to walk up and down brick paved drive-ways… sheesh!


    2002/10/04 at 11:33 am

    My dad’s superstitions rubbed off on my me. Don’t rock a rocking chair with no one in it, don’t open an umbrella in the house, always put on the entire pair of socks before you even THINK of putting on a shoe… But the knocking on wood is still with me at 31. Yep, I’m a wood-knockin’ junkie.

  • Joy/ex southern babtist

    2002/10/04 at 11:47 am

    I was obsessed with making sure there were never any wrinkles on my bed…from the sheets to the bed spread…and even the pillows had to be perfectly shaped.

  • Stv.

    2002/10/04 at 12:14 pm

    My bad thing was reading signs. I learned to read really early, and was was apparently really proud of this. I’d walk down the street, reading off traffic signs, store signs, signs held up by the Hare Krishnas outsite the temple on the corner. Take me into a supermarket and I’d try and read every label I saw. It must have driven my folks nuts. To this day, I still occasionally blurt out signs in store windows and billboard messages, althought I’ve managed to get over the label & traffic sign thing.

  • erin

    2002/10/04 at 1:07 pm

    Two things: first, I can’t buy something that was first on the shelf, I always reach for one way in back. I don’t want something that other people have handled. Second, I can’t stand even numbers, such as groupings on the wall, things on a shelf, bracelets, etc. Third, I have to add one more so it can be odd, I’m obsessive about time.

  • Kelly

    2002/10/04 at 1:13 pm

    Germs. I went through this big phase where if I thought there were any germs on my food, I wouldn’t it.

    Naturally, my older brother used this as an easy means of always getting my portion. Mom would turn her back and Chris would stick his finger in my food. Then, I’d freak out while he vehemently denied doing anything. Being “l’enfant terrible,” I was rarely believed.

    Poor mom. Poor me. I didn’t eat a decent meal for years.

  • Jane Doe

    2002/10/04 at 1:35 pm

    When I was between 9 and 12, I was obsessed with prank calling. I would accompany my mom on her errands and take a notebok with me. I would write down phone numbers that I saw on ads, on the sides of buildings, on vans and trucks…

    Then I would get home and lock myself in my room with my little brother. We would prank call all these places and say stupid things that only a nine year old and her seven year old brother would find funny.

    My mom caught on once *69 came on the scene and our “victims” started calling back.

  • Kevin

    2002/10/04 at 1:53 pm

    I used to be and still am afraid of getting worms and germy hands. I saw an Animal Planet show where a masseuse went to pee and a worm came out of her underwear. They even showed footage of worms inside an actual intestinal tract. Then they said that if someone had worms, they had to take medication to kill the worms and shit them out dead. Gross. And regarding the germy hands, I always carry hand sanitizer with me and use it after reading a library book or handling money. The end.

  • Sarah B.

    2002/10/04 at 1:57 pm

    Okay, I thought of one I do now: when in a public restroom, I always tear of the square of toilet paper that’s hanging dow and use the ones after it that no one has handled. Now that I think about it, that’s not obsessive, it just makes sense.

  • peggy

    2002/10/04 at 2:58 pm

    I wanted to be Japanese, because all my little friends were. It was the shiny, black hair thing. Utterly slayed me.

  • Joseph

    2002/10/04 at 4:09 pm

    Your web site is so intense. I spoke with you a while back, before you ‘took a break.’ i’ll be reading your site again.


  • Tess

    2002/10/04 at 5:01 pm

    I was obsessed with death. I still am.

  • David

    2002/10/04 at 5:32 pm

    I used to have this thing where if I turned round in one direction, I’d have to turn round in the opposite direction so that it all balanced out. I was a weird kid.

  • Melissa

    2002/10/04 at 5:58 pm

    VOMIT. I was so freaked out by puking, I used to make my mom touch my stomach and tell me if she ‘felt any puke in there’. I think it came from my yearly bout with a bad stomach bug. It used to keep me up at nights and it still bothers me to the point of saying ‘I’d rather die than barf.

  • ME

    2002/10/04 at 6:47 pm

    Earwax. I used to think that earwax, if left unchecked, would grow out of you ear in a cylindrical manner. It would grow out of your ear like one of those Cadbury Fingers chocolates. Then, the only way to deal with it would be to take a pair of scissors and cut it, and dig the rest of it our with your finger. To this day, I can’t stand having any “excessive” ear wax in my ears. It’s a wonder I haven’t picked straight through the ear canal to my brain.

  • Kath

    2002/10/04 at 7:25 pm

    This subject is irresistable–I think every kid must have irrational fears and obsessions. I had the water saving one, but I know where it came from: my grandparents had a well and one summer when we were visiting they were having a little dry spell, so they asked us not to use any more water than we had to. They suggested we turn off the water while we brushed our teeth, etc. I became obsessed with that. For years I couldn’t stand any waste of water, although I have relaxed on that. I was also very worried about my family’s finances, although my parents didn’t talk about them with me. I wore shoes that had worn a hole right through the bottom because I didn’t want to be demanding or something (my mother was horrified when she found out). Another weird thing: I used to play the piano alot, and I had this image in my mind that the high note keys were little tiny things and the low notes were really fat big blubby things, and I would walk my fingers down the piano from the top till I got to the low notes where I had this fear of being of suffocated by giant blubbery fat things. Weird, huh? Did anyone else, after they learned to type (I’m showing my age), start “typing” every word that came into their head? That drove me crazy for several years.

  • Michele

    2002/10/04 at 8:23 pm

    When I was about 9-10 I’d hold my breath when we passed a dead animal in the road because I was afraid I would breath in it’s soul. I don’t know what that was all about! Now that I’m older I have more normal obsessions like I can’t use the first grocery cart but choose one that I deem as cleaner if it’s further back in line. Another thing I did was this weird thing while I watched tv. If there was an eyeball or tunnel and the camera started to travel in I’d close my eyes because I didn’t want to be sucked in. Dooce, thanks for shoing me I’m not alone out there!

  • Michele

    2002/10/04 at 8:30 pm

    Oh and like Melissa I have a MAJOR vomit phobia. I can’t hear or see someone do it or I am obsessed for months that I will get the same illness or food poisoning that person had. I can trace it to having a bad food poisoning episode too. If I think someone might puke I get so panicky I practically hyperventillate. Yes, I’d rather die too!

  • Keith

    2002/10/04 at 9:42 pm

    I’ve never sat down on a public toilet. I still have that obsession/compulsion.

  • botti

    2002/10/04 at 9:52 pm

    when i was a wee one i had to check my body every night before sleep for anything green because if i had anything green on me it meant i had cancer. i also had this bad habit of saying everything my older sister said at the same time she said it. she got so mad once she locked herself in the bathroom and i waited outside the door for 15 minutes until she came out and when she saw me we both screamed “mommmmmmmmm!!!!!!” and she ran to her bedroom and never came out!

  • walker

    2002/10/04 at 10:19 pm

    As much as I hate to admit it, I used to, and still do it sometimes, walk according to the tiles on the floor.

  • Tara

    2002/10/04 at 10:23 pm

    Austin! I do the same thing!

    Sarah B. – I do that as well. And yes, it makes perfect sense why we do it. I do the same thing with the paper towels in the public bathrooms too. Because you know, I have seen how people “wash” their hands.

  • April Gem

    2002/10/05 at 5:00 am

    If I saw any kissing, necking, or any other kind of foreplay on TV or in a movie, I absolutely had to pee. I couldn’t hold it; I simply had to, had to, had to NOW.

  • Pam

    2002/10/05 at 6:48 am

    I agree with you about the public school systems’ infuence on our fears. That whole hide under the desk thing during the cold war was pretty scary. And, more recently, I had to pick my son up from school when he was 7 because he had just viewed a dental health film and was totally convinced that he had gingivitis and insisted on seeing his dentist. And don’t even get ME started on my whole fair-ride-bolt-man theory.

  • jennifer

    2002/10/05 at 8:08 am

    i used to add up all the numbers displayed on my digital clock and then, you know, add up the digits in that number, and so on until i got to one number. then i could only close my eyes and go to sleep if the one number was three or seven. if i woke up, i’d have to repeat the process. weirder than that, it turns out my best friend at the time did the same thing. but her okay-to-go-to-sleep numbers were different. i think something like 9 and 5.
    now i’m obsessive about locking the doors and windows at work. a worthwile obsession, but i have actually gotten up in the middle of the night to drive 20 miles, just to check.
    getting over that now, by having a system of checks and balances. this is good, considering i work 35 miles from home.

  • arnold

    2002/10/05 at 9:37 am

    Argh. I thought I was reasonably balanced until I read Keith’s post. I used to hate public restrooms as a kid. More recently, I used to work at a record company in Hollywood. I usually had no problem waiting til I got home to use the restroom (urinals were OK though). On occassion though, I’d drive home to South Pasadena when the need became great. I still hate using public toilets.

  • Vera

    2002/10/05 at 12:56 pm

    I used to be afraid to death of diarrhea. Not vomit. Diarrhea.
    I also used to look at cars’ license plates and see
    1) if the letters in it could be rearranged to spell a word.
    2) if the numbers in it could be rearranged to make an arithmetic equation. 2, 3 and 6 worked. 2, 3 and 5 worked. Even 2, 3 and 9 worked. 2, 5 and 9 didn’t. Bummer.

  • stace

    2002/10/05 at 4:02 pm

    man you really opened a can or worms here. my compulsions: i “type” with my feet. not on a keyboard. in my shoes. a word is “good” is my toes end up in the “up” position. nest is when the word is symmetrical. the rules are very complicated.

    oh yeah, and use a paper towel to open the public restroom door on the way out. or stick your hand inside your sleeve and use the sleeve. wash as directed.

  • Chady

    2002/10/06 at 10:53 am

    once, when I was a kid, I turned an apple until the thing broke at the letter ‘Y’.

    Since then, I’ve been looking for that girl who’s name starts with the ‘Y’ character.

    How many names like that can there be?

  • Hasan

    2002/10/06 at 1:00 pm

    I developed a deep aversion to mayo when I was around 11. See, I had eaten a sandwich and for the first time, really noticed how nice that tangy mayo taste was. So, being the bright bulb that I was, I filled up a tumbler with about half a bottle of mayo, grabbed a spoon, and went back to watching Voltron.

    To quote that guy from “Cooks Tour”, I “Puked like a hero all night”.

  • kidfarthest

    2002/10/07 at 10:57 am

    i think we’ve all developed another obsession– reading dooce’s website.

  • kidfarthest

    2002/10/07 at 11:06 am

    oh! did you ever see that School House Rock episode with the globe/earth singing blues lyrics along the lines of, “Energeeee… seems like we use an awful lot of energeeeee… seems like we use an awful lot for heating and driving and lighting… (blah-blah-blah)” Sounds like you were ahead of them in that game!

Heather B. Armstrong

Hi. I’m Heather B. Armstrong, and this used to be called mommy blogging. But then they started calling it Influencer Marketing: hashtag ad, hashtag sponsored, hashtag you know you want me to slap your product on my kid and exploit her for millions and millions of dollars. That’s how this shit works. Now? Well… sit back, buckle up, and enjoy the ride.

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