For awhile now Lux has told us of her fears. They weren’t there, and suddenly–snap–there they are. Or they were there, but she couldn’t articulate them quite as clearly as “That is scary to me.” They were initially almost comical in their tiny, specific scope: the sound of the water pipes in the bathroom, dried seaweed at the beach, tree roots that look oddly alive in the grass. They seem to pass over the weeks like overcast skies, never staying for long, just acknowledged, frowned at, and then quickly forgotten.
And yet they are sobering for me to hear from her, in the depth of consciousness they signify—the murky underlayer I will never truly know or predict or control. It reminds me of when I began to worry with my mom-friends if our infants were capable of having nightmares. Is it possible? we said to ourselves, when one of them had woken up crying furiously.
Lux continues to be mildly obsessed with skeletons in any form, mostly dinosaurs and human ones. (Hence the gift of a package of x-rays for her 3rd birthday.) And I’m all about those bones too. But she happened to fall in love with an idea that people take and twist. They pop-up randomly as we adventure around town: over-the-top halloween junk, a poster for a moody band, a book meant for twelve-year-olds not preschoolers, sci-fi magazines at the drug store. Gory, creepy, scary skeletons.
She likes the friendly ones and I get possessive when we encounter the scary ones, their articulation altered ever-so-slightly to ruin them. It was OUR skeleton and YOU PERSON ruined it. It WAS innocent and awesome, and YOU MARKETING OBSESSED NINJA blew it.
On top of her minor passing fears, there’s the ever-present concern not to transmit fears of mine to her.
I’m sure at one point in human history this was an important aspect of maternal education—watch out for cougar tracks as they will eat you. But these modern days it seems more important not to mention my personal fears. They will only slow her down. A girl afraid of snakes? Do we really need another one of those? I squashed a brown scaly spider crawling near Joan and went to scoop it up with a tissue. Lux said she wanted to do it. I was impressed, but also wanted to intervene–did she get the pinch-n-dump maneuver this situation was calling for? Did she see how crawly and weirdly dried up this thing was? I remained totally nonchalant and stepped back. “Sorry Mr. Spider, you can’t crawl near Joan” she said, and dropped him into the bin. She walked away and never mentioned it again.
I think the appearance of fear really shakes parents because when do you grow out of fears, really? They stick with you; greasy fingerprints of something that passed by once. Your own subconscious murmur, representing the unpredictable things that got through to you. Later in life they help you empathize with others, they are one of the quickly-built bridges that can connect two strangers almost instantly. “Oh, I was afraid of those too!” goes the refrain.
I remember as a kid being deeply afraid that my parents didn’t have any money. I would tell myself that they way we had lived that day was a farce, and tomorrow they would tell us it was all over. These thoughts always occurred to me at night when I was falling asleep. My mom would come in and reassure me that it wasn’t the case. Looking back, I can see that this might have been an early predictor of my habit to get the “big picture” or step back from situations and see what I can solve before everyone else. I thought I knew more than everyone else around me about what was happening around us. I still often think that.
Lux is turning out to be a brave soul, Tolkien style. Mighty little, mighty ambitious. She seems to seek out frightening things until she understands them. “Mom, I like scary things,” she tells me constantly, as we read of Carabosse, the evil fairy in Sleeping Beauty, for the 30th time. As we read and re-read, different elements seem to step into her mental spotlight. They are examined, pivoted, and then they step away and something new steps in. I’ve always had a soft spot for writers who laud the value of fairy tales–Einstein, L’Engle, Chesterton, Neil Gaimon. I couldn’t do the true Grimm tales because of the incredibly unique violence they introduce (or just yet, at least? I do respect their place in the canon). But the wisdom of encountering malicious forces coming head-to-head with the common girl, that rings true.
Perhaps I am old-fashioned but I think it is particularly important to encounter these tales in their written form. That way your imagination can only take you as far as you’re ready. For me as a kid, all of Disney’s enemies were just a bit too much. A few treads too far on the sinister track.
Lately I’m more grateful to hear what Lux is afraid of. Now that I’ve seen the fears wave up and subside, I don’t have that panic of it’s my fault! I should never have…They give me glimpses of the odd discomforts that stuck in her brain, and they give me a chance to talk over something that might have happened too quickly. They are windows into what she is still thinking about from the days that seem to fly by us.
Wow, I love this post! I have a 2 month old and I have started to read more to her. But, even though I know she doesn’t really understand what I am reading I often think about how some “children” books are so scary! It is so intimidating to know that I am responsible for introducing stories that may cause a fear.
I think you’ll find that it’s not so scary to introduce things that cause feel after awhile…because you begin to see how quickly they overcome them and bravely move on. Thank for your comment Sarah.
Beautifully written – enjoyed immensely. Well done!
Thank you so much Julie.
I have always been a fearful, anxious person. I do what I can to avoid transmitting those fears to my children (ages 3.5 and 2). Still, I think they can pick up on my underlying fears that I try so hard to hide from them. I wish my kids could grow up without fear. I’ve realized though, that is just not realistic. We all have fears. Sooner or later, they will too. I just hope I can teach them how to handle the fears appropriately so that they will not struggle the way that I have.
Thank you for sharing this Rachel.
Should you add “priests,” or just one in particular?
Haha. I don’t know…I sort of relate to a fear of a hand of “blessing” coming down from on high….right?
Noticed I’ve been trying to come in from the side lately, change the trajectory? That *does* seem pretty scary.
This sounds very Miazaki-ish (Little girl takes on The scary things in life and finds them to be more wonderful and interesting than bad.) is she old enough to be getting a little bit of anime?
Yes! She watches and loves Totoro. We haven’t introduced much else yet, but they are coming. I love his heroic characters.
you should listen to the NPR Invisibilia podcast on Fear! They even talk about snakes…. love your writing.
Thanks for this suggestion Molly! I will definitely look it up. xo
just reading this now. i think it is one of my favorite things of yours that i’ve read. <3