Warning: These links are NOT approved for all audiences.
The other day, Isaac wanted to play a game at school before class started. A year or so ago, I taught him this game I saw on this really scary movie. It’s a great, quick children’s game. One person is “it” and stands facing a tree while every other player stands at a designated point behind him. The person who is “it” knocks on the tree and says, “One, two, three knocking on the tree”. While the person is facing the tree and speaking, the other players silently creep towards him. When he finishes his chant, he turns around and everyone must freeze. If the “knocker” sees anyone moving, they have to go back to the beginning. The “knocker” then turns back to face the tree and knocks again. Eventually the silent creepers will get close enough to tag the knocker and he will have to chase them and tag the person who tagged him first. It’s a really fun (and creepy) game.
So Isaac wanted all the kids to play 1, 2, 3 so he asked Michelle if she knew how to play. She confidently told him she did. But started up a conversation with another “classmate”, avoiding Isaac all together. But this story is really just a pointless tangent. I just wanted to include a link to our newest favorite ghost story.
I’ve been contemplating something lately. Is it okay to let your children be afraid? Is it okay to be afraid yourself?
Growing up, fear was not really an option. It’s not that we weren’t allowed to be afraid or express our fear of something, but my parents did a good job of explaining away those fears. My dad raised us on scary movies. It was his impression that if a scary movie didn’t have blood or violence (or adult situations) it was fine for kids to watch. So we grew up watching Alfred Hitchcock movies and the like. As a kid, my favorite movie was Poltergeist. I even remember watching IT on TV. It was on TV so it was safe, right? It scared the crap out of me but I loved it!
Until my older sister, Laura, started reenacting it with my stuffed clown doll. We shared a room and had bunk beds. I can just remember going to bed at night and looking for that dumb clown doll. When it was missing, I knew I’d see it again soon. I’d wait eyes peeled in suspense for when it would show up again. Usually it would appear as if it was floating down from the top bunk, saying something awful like, “They all float up here, Emily!”
There was one movie in particular that I had to watch over and over until I was finally brave enough to finish it around the age of 12. The Changeling is one of my dad’s favorite ghost stories. It’s a great movie! It’s very quotable. At least every person in my extended family would know exactly how to say such simple words as “my father” and make a chill go up your spine. And the music is excellent! Now that I’ve taken my family members on a trip down memory lane, I’ll continue with my real thoughts.
I just remember the few times I was afraid, my dad sat me down and explained away my fears. When I was afraid of a thunderstorm, he would tell me it’s just like God is bowling. Isn’t that fun, to imagine that God is bowling up in Heaven? He’d say, “you like rock music, don’t you? It’s loud and always has good drums. You’re not afraid of drums are you? Don’t be afraid of thunder just because it’s loud.” And he was right. To this day, thunder is one of my favorite things to listen to.
I remember a very specific moment when we decided to go to Six Flags and test out the new Ninja ride. I loved roller coasters as a kid but I had never been on a ride that had loops; that actually took me upside down. So I was stoked to ride it. I was so excited up until the point that we pulled into the parking lot. I started crying. I remember Dad saying that it was safe. It had to be safe or they’d never put it in an amusement park. There was nothing to worry about. I’m sure he even explained the physics of what happens when the coaster goes through those loops. I got my courage and rode the coaster. I’m sure I had a headache afterwords because that is the worst ride in the park, but it was fun and I’m glad I did it.
I’ve always been proud to say that there really is nothing I’m afraid of. Until I had kids. Then the thought of losing a kid, or even screwing them up became my big fears. So, will I screw up my kids if I refuse to let them be afraid of anything? I feel like I turned out okay. I’m not too hard of a person, am I?
My dad still has the same philosophy about scary movies. One of Isaac’s first Halloweens, we came to DnA’s (Doug and Angie, a pet name the Kirkland kids use for our parents) to trick or treat. While my mom filled my kids with sugar (apparently, that’s every grandmother’s civil duty), my dad introduced Isaac to Poltergeist. I was talking with Kayleigh and Brian as they got dressed and ready for their evening when I realized what Isaac was watching. My dad commenced to tell me that when you explain to a child what to expect in the next scary scene, it is no longer scary to them. Here’s how the conversation went down.
Grandpa: Hey Isaac, watch this: This guy’s face is going to melt into the sink. You’re going to love it!
The first week of school, Isaac was telling me what he liked to play at recess. He told me that someone would be the bad guy and he’d chase everyone and then catch on fire and run around screaming. I was so shocked! Here I am thinking that these stupid school kids are corrupting my son. Then my dad confessed that he was showing the boys his favorite car chase scene from Bullitt. He forgot that at the end of the chase scene, the bad guys catch fire and are shown burning in their overturned car! It was my kid that was corrupting the others!
I’ve always tried to protect my boys’ innocence. Isaac and Asher both have struggled with fears in the past. But I take those moments to either explain them away, or give them tools to calm their fears. What do you think? Should I just comfort them and hold them and tell them it will be okay? Or should I tell them not to be afraid?