When I was little, I was fascinated by feeling afraid.
One night, for example, my dad, sister and I walked from his office to his car past the graveyard on the University of Oregon campus. We made up an entire song (“The werewolf is howling, the vampire is prowling, it’s a fu-u-u-ll moon”) that I still hum to myself when I catch a glimpse of a moon anywhere near full.
And we formed the Spook Club, complete with a “secret” set of hand motions that we’d sign to each other with knowing looks and raised eyebrows. We mostly scared ourselves silly by watching black and white horror flicks, along with some movies of questionable suitability for an 8-year-old. I still get chills thinking of the bleak desperation of The Last Man on Earth, in which Vincent Price spends every day hunting vampires. I remember lying awake on my parents’ bedroom floor after the credits finished rolling, thinking that I’d never be able to carry on if I were that utterly alone.
This is a bit strange to be writing after my last post about children’s books to quell childhood fears, but I found myself thinking about Spook Club last night as I was reading before bed. I’m about halfway through The Boy Who Drew Monsters, by Keith Donohue (thanks for the rec, West Metro Mommy!), and I realized I haven’t changed that much since peeking from behind a blanket to watch The Twilight Zone and Alfred Hitchcock flicks.
Psychologists speculate that some of us like to be scared—by movies, haunted houses or bungee jumping—because it allows us to face our fears in a safe way. A horror flick or fiction lets us imagine ourselves in unthinkable situations and consider what we might do, how we might be brave or bold or smart (and not go into that abandoned shack, you idiot!).
I know myself well enough that I try to limit my scary input—my dreams are simply too vivid to fully indulge my scare cravings. But every so often I give in, even if it means I have to cut myself off and switch to a mindless magazine in the last moments before bed.
Even still, I found myself working through my fears in odd ways when I became a mother. I had the worst dream I can recall right after we brought Peeper home from the hospital. I can’t bear to detail it, but I woke from a nap sobbing and called for Eric. He had to reassure me that days-old Peeper, who was being held by her grandparents in the other room, was just fine. I managed to stem the tears only after she was in my arms.
Because—of course—when you become a parent, your fears naturally shift. You are responsible for a new person, someone who is utterly vulnerable. First-time parents are especially anxious, as everything is new and you have no idea how terribly you’re messing up, though you’re fairly certain you’re constantly verging on failure.
I’ve logged much more than 10,000 hours of motherhood by now (do I get to call myself an expert, then?!), and I hope that experience will allay some of my anxieties about being a mama to two kiddos. At the same time, I’ve noticed new fears cropping up—that I won’t be able to be as good a mother to Peeper once #2 arrives, primarily.
Neither children’s books or horror novels directly address that fear, and I’m not sure the rush of getting spooked mixed with the relief of safety makes me feel more confident in my ability to handle a truly scary scenario. I’ll leave that question to the psychologists.
But I still can’t help indulging in my satellite Spook Club every now and then. Time will tell if Peeper or Kiwi wants to join when they’re older or if they’ll turn out more like their dad, who eschews all things creepy. We deal with fear in our own way.
But no matter if these girls delight in cemetery walks or hide under the covers at the slightest suspense, I’ll do my best to comfort them whenever they’re afraid. We’ll banish monsters from under the bed, buy nightlights, welcome middle-of-the-night snuggles when nightmares make a room alone unbearable. And later, we’ll talk through worries about being left out at a school dance or role play how to deal with bullies.
Fears evolve. Peeper might be terrified of the blender and vacuum cleaner today, but tomorrow it could be the dark or tub drains or heights; she’s already (mostly) gotten over her fear of hippos. And much, much later I may share how scared I was of accidentally poisoning her with dry erase marker fumes when she was a baby. (Seriously.)
So I’ll try not to overanalyze why I enjoy reading scary books, just as I try not to spend time puzzling out what my uber violent zombie dreams signify. Maybe both the occasional horror fix and nightmare is just the price I pay for my ongoing membership in the Spook Club.