It’s Halloween, but I won’t be doing anything scary today. I don’t like scary movies or scary books or the dark or snakes – especially snakes. The way they slither around is just not natural. When something is just a little scary, it sticks with me. I can’t watch certain TV shows right before I go to sleep, and frightening images stay with me for years. Often, the material doesn’t even have to be all that scary to freak me right out. The 1987 movie The Lost Boys, for instance, which Wikipedia describes as an “American teen comedy horror film” can still give me nightmares almost 25 years later.
Because I am really a huge wimp, there are a lot of things I avoid for my own good. I have never read a Stephen King novel, and I probably never will. I haven’t seen many iconic films that nearly all of my contemporaries have, including Silence of the Lambs, The Blair Witch Project and The Exorcist. I made the mistake of going to see the movie Seven with my friend, who had told me only that it starred Brad Pitt. I was expecting something more along the lines of A River Runs Through It. Instead I was up with nightmares for weeks.
When I was a teenager, I decided that if I hid under the covers the scary things that surely lurked there in the night couldn’t get me. I started pulling my comforter up over my head as I slept for this reason, leaving only a small gap near the top so that air could circulate. When I was in my early 20s and living by myself, it also drowned out the normal sounds from other apartments, that would keep me awake if I let them. I somehow felt more secure, when my head wasn’t exposed as I slept. I realize, of course, that the very idea that an actual monster or intruder would somehow be stopped by a blanket makes no sense, but we all sometimes do things that make no sense.
Now I’m a parent, though. I gave up pulling my blanket over my head on the night that my daughter Hannah came home from the hospital. I needed to be able to hear her every wiggle and peep, so I learned how to sleep with my head exposed to the dangers of the night. I also learned how to walk around my house in the dark without freaking out, because turning on lights when you’re trying to get babies to sleep is counter-productive. In the end, my sleep deprivation and new mama instincts won out over my fear of the dark. I couldn’t afford the indulgence of irrational fear in the face of the practical realities of child-rearing.
Now Hannah is six and a half and her brother Jacob is three, and I have to put on a brave front for them pretty much every day. I can’t let them see that I’m terrified of snakes or afraid of the dark, because I don’t want to transfer those fears to them. When they wake up crying and telling me they’re afraid of something, I can’t say, “You’re right, ghosts are scary, let’s cover our heads and hope they don’t see us!” I have to be the grown-up and communicate an aura of calm, even if I’m completely terrified on the inside.
Tonight, when the teenagers are out setting off their firecrackers and Jacob is crying about how he’s scared, I’ll put on my brave face and comfort him. When masked children come to our door and Hannah tells me she doesn’t like the scary ones, I’ll tell her she has nothing to fear. And when my house creaks as it cools down for the night while I try to fall asleep, I’ll resist the urge to hide under my down duvet. It may be Halloween, but I’m still the mama, and it’s my job to make little people feel safe – not convince them their irrational fears are justified.
What are your irrational fears? How do you put on a brave face for your own kids? I’d love to hear all about it. And, of course, I hope that you have a very happy Halloween!
PS – Every month I do a monthly review of things I learned. Some are serious, some are funny, and all are hard-won. I will be running my October review on Wednesday, November 2. I’d love it if you played along. Write a post on or before October 2 and come back here to include it in my link-up!