scary kids scaring kids“Daddy!”

I awoke in a groggy state in my bed, the clock showed 4:00 AM, definitely too early for just about anything. I wearily pondered what might have woken me.

“Dadddddyyyy!”

There it was again – what is that sound? Ah, the blessed children. Somehow when non-baby duty calls in the middle of the night, I’m the a first responder. Not sure how that happened, I think because I’m on the side of the bed closest to the door. Our preschooler has woken up around the same time several nights this week with bad dreams. Monsters, crabs, spiders – something’s been out to get him.

We’ve been reading a book to them at bedtime from the Magic Tree House series by Mary Pope Osborne. They’re pretty good but a bit older than he’s used to hearing, and the latest was about a giant octopus, so I’m sure that’s what’s doing it. Of course they still beg me to read it when I suggest it might be causing problems. A couple months ago our oldest was having similar monster dreams, but in his he was being chased by the stuffed animal that he sleeps (slept) with. That furry friend now sleeps in the basket on the floor. I suppose it does defeat the purpose of having a friend in your bed if you’re freaked out every time you look at it. Hopefully he doesn’t have a dream where I’m a monster, not sure how we’d get around that one – maybe I wouldn’t have to get up.

I think all kids must have fears, at least according to my small sample size. I know that I had them when I was a kid. (my wife would claim that I can still be a bit jumpy!) There are two scary moments from movies that have stuck in my mind from when I was pretty young. One was a campy movie about Bigfoot, where (as I remember it) some poor trailer resident was grabbed by the creature through the bathroom window while sitting on the toilet. The other was a scene in the Disney movie Rikki Tikki Tavi, a Rudyard Kipling Jungle Book story about a mongoose, where a cobra hid behind a basket in the bathroom. (Now that I write this, I’m noticing that both occurred around the bathroom, I wonder what that means…) To this day, there are times when thoughts of Bigfoot enter my mind when I pass by a dark bathroom window at night. I guess I should probably see someone about that, or maybe start writing a blog or something…but the point is that some scary things seem to stick with you for a long time.

Fears are weird in how they can suddenly hit kids. Last summer, my oldest freaked out every time it got windy. One day we’d driven to the park for a fun bike ride together. It was particularly breezy and he screamed like the devil himself was nipping at his heals until I agreed to bag the idea and go back home. My four-year-old is convinced that I’m going to let the water overflow in the tub at bath time (I’m not). At a recent kindergarten soccer game, one of the other kids was crying when he got there because there were too many people cheering inside the indoor bubble field. There’s just no telling, and I’ve stopped trying to predict what will happen. Thankfully, as they get older, it usually just takes a few minutes for them to get their bearings and settle down, realizing that things will be fine.

It makes me wonder what will end up sticking in my boys minds for years to come. If it will be an ill-advised book or movie choice they talk me into letting them read or watch, or perhaps something all their own that just doesn’t sit right. Increasingly I’m realizing that you have to just do the best you can – love them lots, smother them with hugs and pray that they turn out OK. As grownups, we might not have the same fears as we did when we were young or that our kids have now, but everyone is scared of something. I think we’ve just learned to hide it better. (And to stay clear of dark bathrooms!)

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