I love Halloween. LOVE IT. In the Bay Area town where I grew up, the weather was always mild so kids roamed the streets for hours, collecting candy and scaring each other. And I liked being scared. Still do. I used to stay up way past my bedtime watching “The Twilight Zone.” I watched “The Shining” over and over.
I’m sure I inherited my love of horror from my dad, who used to tape old scary radio stories from the 1930s and 40s, like “Inner Sanctum,” “The Shadow” and “Suspense.” Dad would play these tales for us on long road trips, terrifying the snot out of us with stories of young coeds getting their heads crushed by tombstones, and nagging old wives who get killed and stuffed into pipe organs. Yes, really. My dad didn’t know from “appropriate.”
As an adult, I used to go to scary places on Halloween. One year, I went to New Orleans, which is super-freaking-fabulous on Halloween. Another year, I went to Austin, which isn’t really scary, but they have fruit bats that fly out from under a bridge. Another year, we were in Bangkok, which is terrifying for different reasons. Anyway, I think you get the point.
Of course, I hoped that my own son would enjoy Halloween, and being scared, too. No such luck. Bini is afraid of “Scooby Doo.” And ever since the neighbor kid showed up on our doorstep wearing a Michael Meyer mask, Bini has spent every October freaking out over Halloween. And by that I mean nightmares, super-crazy-energy, vacillating about trick-or-treating and just general disobedience. This year has been the worst yet. He’s older now, and everything this month has been an argument, topped off with crying jags and bouts of manic tumbling. Steve and I are at the end of our respective tethers.
So yesterday, I thought I’d try something other than screaming at him: I had him write down what was bothering him. My own therapist had suggested that I write down all of my top stressors, and possible solutions for each. So I got my little journal and wrote, and Bini sat next to me and complained.
“Just draw something, then.” I suggested.
“No,” he shot back. It’s the word of the month. Oh, you toddler mamas think they grow OUT of that? Har de har har.
“Well, I’m going to keep writing,” I said, describing on paper how my insomnia was stressing me out.
After a few minutes, Bini stopped drawing himself inside an army tank. “Mommy, can I tell you what’s scaring me?”
“Sure,” I said, taking his notebook and awaiting dictation. “Go ahead.”
Bini’s scary list is as follows:
- The Joker
- Men in Kabuki masks
So, there’s a theme here: My kid is scared by weird makeup and masks. I explained, in painstaking detail, that these were disguises. That underneath it all, everyone in a disguise is just like us — with regular skin and hair and eyes. Bini didn’t look convinced. So I took the low road, as I so often do.
“Bini, just imagine those scary people without any clothes on,” I said.
He started giggling. “What do you mean?”
“I mean, if you see someone in a scary mask, or dressed as a clown, I want you to think of them naked. Like, you can see their butts.” He looked at me, agog.
“Mama! You want me to imagine people’s penises hanging out? That’s potty talk!” His eyes were wide, but he was cracking up.
“You’re darn right,” I said. “That’s potty talk, and potty talk is funny, isn’t it?”
“It is!” By now, he was laughing so hard he fell off his chair. “It is funny!” But then, he looked pensive again. “Won’t I get in trouble, though?”
Oh dear. Now I had visions of Bini pointing at a kid in the school Halloween parade and shrieking “TESTICLES!”
“So, let’s just imagine it, like in our heads, OK? And it’ll be our secret.” Super awesome. I’m just waiting for CPS to knock on my door.
“OK, it’s our secret,” said Bini, looking thrilled to have such a secret with his potty-talking Mama.
So that’s how I taught my son to combat his Halloween fears, ladies and gentlemen: Naked people.
I’ll let you know how that goes.