Jude was excited to have me read the new Thomas the Train book his grandma bought him. In it, Thomas gets spooked by a ghost story that James the Red Engine tells. The page illustrating James’ story shows a pair of boney blue claws reaching from the darkness of a dilapidated shed.
My son’s breath quickened as he stared at the creepy picture. He asked many questions and would not let me turn the page. I was filled with dread because I was witnessing Jude uploading a new fear into his brain, and there was nothing I could do to stop it.
Sure enough, talk of scary monsters has cropped up in his rambling monologues, and he scampers to bury his head in my legs when he thinks of what he saw in the book. This is all brand new, and I hate that I introduced him to this useless fear with that useless Halloween-issue book. He’s not yet scared of the dark, but this must be how it starts.
I wonder how long he might go without fears of that sort if he wasn’t exposed to such ideas or images. At a certain age, many kids become interested in scary stimuli, and enjoy the thrill aspect of the emotion. Horror films possess a contraband allure, and kids can boast to each other about having seen R-rated fare and been tough enough to handle the content.
I was no different, and yet I could probably catalogue every single scary image that poisoned my imagination as a child and turned it against me in the darkness of my room. Growing up in a religious family might have rendered me extra susceptible to scary images because we already believed in hell and the devil.
The ghastly, foggy, coiling hand of God moving through the streets, killing first-born children during Passover in “The Ten Commandments.” The listless hanging body in Vincent Price’s “House on Haunted Hill.” The bubbling black hole to hell in the basement of the “Amityville Horror” house. I can’t tell you how many times I ran and jumped into bed because I imagined that the hole to hell was under my bed! Even as an adult, I wish I hadn’t seen the Blair Witch Project, because it infected my mind with the idea that forests are sinister. How has that enhanced my life? I wish I could delete those files.
What about you? Do you find recreational fear–as incited by ghost stories and horror flicks– entertaining and fun? Do you attempt to shield your children’s imaginations from spooky, dark imagery and ideas? Is suffering from imaginary monsters and demons an unavoidable part of life?