Thursday, November 18, 2010

Things That Go Bump In the Night

Admittedly, I like the creepy-crawlies. Those things that go bump in the night. Monster movies, bats, spiders and Edgar Allan Poe. Spine-tingling, goose-bumping, scary fun. But that is me, and I am not 3 and ½ years old.

When I had my first child almost four years ago, I tried to do everything right. I ensured that she had all the right nutrients in exactly the right amounts for healthy growth. I made all my own baby food with organic vegetables purchased at Whole Foods. I showed her black and white picture cards to stimulate cognitive development and taught her sign language for milk, diaper and bird. She really picked up on the sign for bird and I was proud that my little baby was signing bird whenever anything (bird, leaf, or random piece of garbage) fluttered past on the wind. In short, I obsessed as every new mom does.

It was while I was in this state of obsession that I began to think about issues that might arise as she got older. I thought about things like potty training and nightmares. I had no clue on potty training, but I was pretty sure that my creative mind could conquer childhood nightmares. And thus it began. I created my own stories and lore to tell my daughter so she wouldn’t be afraid of monsters. I imagined her telling me she was scared of monsters under her bed, to which I would explain “Of course there are monsters under the bed!” I would then explain to her that monsters can only come into the house with permission and that we choose to let the good monsters in because we know the secret question. Oh, what’s the secret question you ask? Simply ask the monster what his favorite food is and you will know by his reply if he is a nice, friendly monster or if he is a nasty baddie. Is his answer ice cream? Excellent! We have made a new friend and you can invite him in the house. Did he answer toadstools or kitty-cat whiskers? Uh-oh! You can rest assured that you have a bad monster on your hands and he must be told that he is not allowed into our house.

Naturally, the day came when she was scared of monsters. I explained monsters (my version of monsters anyway) and …… it worked! Monsters quickly moved from the scary unknown to a normal ingredient in toddler life. I taught her how to draw monsters. Monsters with 2 eyes or 6 eyes, arms, legs, tentacles, horns, hooves, teeth, claws and strange, striped antennae! We made play-doh monsters, designed monsters on the computer and gave our monsters names like Harry. We were having fun AND I was some sort of super-mom capable of defeating such a common childhood problem!

Or was I? Umm, no, as it turns out, I was not.

My grand monster story couldn’t explain away witches. So I told her that witches are scared of foxes and gave her a stuffed silver fox to keep witches away. But that didn’t stop lions or tigers. So I told her that lions and tigers are scared of rhinos and her blue stuffed Mr. Rhino would poke them with his horns if they came near her. But that didn’t stop sharks. Or alligators. Or t-rex. Or the dark. My grand monsters story worked on monsters. Just monsters.

It slowly dawned on me, as I tried to chase away all those things that go bump in the night, that I was waging a hopeless battle. I wasn’t merely trying to protect my daughter from monsters (and sharks, alligators, even peacocks one night), but I was actually trying to insulate her from the emotion of fear itself. I wanted to protect her from feeling scared, afraid and helpless. Well, of course I did- I am her mom after all! But could I? Should I?

Of course not! There are reasons people experience childhood fear. It helps us to grow and develop into adults who can cope with new and unknown situations. Eventually my daughter will learn not to be afraid of sharks, alligators and all the other creepy-crawlies and she will learn to understand the emotion of fear for more tangible and real reasons. Sure, in between now and then there will be sleepless nights, bad dreams and many flashlight searches to ensure nothing is sneaking under her bed.  And I will comfort her as I open the closet door to make a final check for lions. I am a super-mom who taught my daughter not to fear monsters, but I am not destined to be the conqueror of all childhood fear.

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