Kids are full of surprises. Things that you think will scare the diaper off of them won’t faze them, and things you think are everyday symbols of childhood are the stuff of nightmares.
Take dinosaurs, for example. When you think about it, they should terrify kids. The thought of them terrifies me. Have you seen Jurassic Park? How are dinosaurs not terrifying? They are everything we think monsters should be. They are huge, they can eat you, and they (if Hollywood is to be believed) make terrifying noises (and yes, this is all in the present tense, because how many kids really understand the meaning of extinct?). Despite all of this, kids are enthralled by them. There is no fear – only fascination.
Pirates are another example. Kids love them. Disney has TV shows about them. We have days devoted to talking like pirates. But we parents know better. In addition to modern day pirates, which is a scary enough thought, how about some of the legends? Blackbeard, for example, is rumored to have – among other things – sliced off a man’s finger because he refused to give up his diamond ring. National Geographic has the subhead “Pirate Terror at Sea” on the page about Blackbeard. And yet, “Yo Ho Ho” and other pirate phrases fly about with reckless abandon when little ones get together.
Sliced off fingers? Death from being ripped limb from limb by the giant teeth of a dinosaur? No problem for kids. But throw in common toys like clowns or dolls – and now you have terrified kids. And I think we all know that there is nothing scarier than seeing a clown or a creepy doll sitting up on a shelf bathed in the dim glow of a night light. They watch you, you know…
Also a passenger on the scary train are toys with batteries that go off by themselves. We have a Wiggles guitar (a horror in and of itself) that plays at random intervals when the batteries start getting low. I’ll admit it, I believe in ghosts, and I’m scared of things that go bump in the night (have you seen The Exorcism of Emily Rose, people?!?). There’s nothing like heading down to the laundry room at night only to be pulling clothes out of the dryer and hearing the twang of a guitar from the darkened room adjacent to you. You know there is no one in there…or is there…
And speaking of the Wiggles, what’s up with the adults they cast to be in children’s shows? Don’t you think they all seem a little…off somehow? They are a little too enthusiastic about things no adult is enthusiastic about in real life. They are a little too exuberant about…everything. If you close your eyes, it doesn’t take much to imagine them at a playground shouting, “Come on now, kids! Who’s going to help me find my little orange puppy? Can you spell puppy with me? P-U-P-P-Y! That’s right! Now follow me! I think I saw him in my big white van over there! Yes, you guessed right – my van is filled with CANDY! Let’s all sing a little song while we march on over there!
Now that we have white vans on the brain, what about the ice cream truck? I never gave them much thought as a parent except to shout, “It’s the MUSIC truck!” to try and throw my kids off the scent of what was really afoot. That is…until I saw the Dateline episode where they put kids through tests to see how they reacted to strangers. For this, they used ploys that actual abductors had used…um…LIKE AN ICE CREAM TRUCK! Because here’s the thing – kids don’t fear the ice cream truck. But clearly they should.
Now before you get all preachy on me and tell me I am passing on my phobias to my kids, no, I don’t tell them that if dinosaurs were alive today that they would chomp off their little heads in one fell swoop. I don’t tell them to hand over the object they are clutching in their tiny paws lest I cut off their finger like Blackbeard did. Although sometimes I do tell them that Santa is watching…which may be just as bad.
But truth be told, I think a little fear is a good thing. It keeps us on our toes. It reminds us that it’s good to face our fears and have a little fun in spite of them. Which only goes to show – as with a lot of things – our kids likely had it right all along.