September 8, 2020: Scared Kidless

Halloween Die-ary #5

I woke up this morning with the oldest two of our three kids in our bed. Apparently, they spooked themselves in the night. It’s not like I took them to an abandoned amusement park yesterday, while letting them listen to true crime podcasts on the way. One of those choices was mine, the other theirs, by the way.

I spooked myself a lot as a kid. Part of that was because I struggled with insomnia. I would lie in bed, staring at the outline of a dresser against the light of the hallway, thinking it was the profile of a monster, a monster keeping still because it was waiting for me to move before it could attack me. I would lie there in a self-induced paralysis until my entire body ached. Man, I hated going to bed. Still do, actually.

I remember one night, my mom let me watch The Private Eyes, that screwball mansion-mystery comedy with Don Knotts and Tim Conway. That last scene, with the Wookalar? I watched those 45 seconds with my fingers across my eyes, only catching snatches of what I now know to be a relatively, well, still terrifying lunch lady-boar and slept on mom's bedroom floor that night. Right. A Don Knotts movie terrified me.

And, of course, all my childhood nightmares are vivid.

And I didn’t even have parents steeped in the spooky, so I don’t know how my own kids are handling it. What if, after a particularly blood-chilling nightmare, I ran to my dad’s room only to find myself face-to-face with a bunch of plastic human skeletons and a life-sized Vincent Price cutout? Or Big Face? My poor kids.

I have this one photo of my eldest back when she was almost two years old. It looks awful, and I want to post the whole image, but Lindsey won’t let me, so I cropped the kid out and left the monster. And turned it black-and-white for some reason. I don’t question my muse (see photo at the beginning of this essay). But the context was, we were in Salem, visiting friends one October and they showed us their Halloween costumes. My daughter was loving it all, the monster masks, the attention, so Lindsey lifted her camera to take a photo and just as she did so, the kid’s face crumpled and her body withdrew into itself in animal terror at just the monster arm. Not even a full costume or a mask. Just the arm. Lindsey took that first photo before registering the change in her baby.

So the photo looks like we’re torturing a kid, but really we immortalized half of a half of a moment. She was laughing and playing in the next photo that we didn’t take because we were rushing to her apologizing profusely and promising her skull-shaped chocolates from Ye Olde Pepper Candy Companie.

These days that kid, who’s almost 11 now, won’t even let me finish the phrase “horror movie,” much less watch one with me (although she’ll read anything scary). Every once in a while she’ll try, but she inevitably ends up sitting in a different room from, but in direct view of, the TV, putting as much space in her eyeline with it as possible. My six-year-old has a bunch of bravado about scary movies, but that’s mostly because she likes watching her older sister’s overreaction (Six-year-old: “Dad, let’s watch that Pennywise movie!” Eleven-year-old: “No!!!!”). The six-year-old will say yes to anything spooky or scary (and went through a phase where she only wanted to watch the 2010 The Wolfman with Benicio del Toro, for some reason) but it’ll always get to her later that night when it’s time to go to her bedroom. Alone. In the dark. With the spiders.

So I always wonder if I am in the process of either messing up my kids or messing up my chances of having a scary movie buddy in the future. Or maybe they’ll grow into them like I did.

Then again, there’s always the two-year-old!