I tried to reason with her, which is a terribly adult thing to do, and quickly got nowhere. Because for a kid, once that fear is there, it can’t be budged with impotent weapons like logic. So I changed tactics and went back to my own childhood to try and remember what it was like.
At her age, I was scared of bears. I was positive one of those beasts would come into my house in suburban San Carlos, and I would look out and see a giant bear head right at the level of my top bunk. And I would be eaten.
Of course, the fact that there hadn’t been a bear sighting in San Carlos since, oh, well, NEVER, didn’t faze me a bit. They were out there. Right next to the moving mannequins. Nor did the logic flaw of how that bear, with no opposable thumbs, would unlock the front door, calm my bearophobia.
© Courtesy Forrest Brakeman
When I was a bit older, I was terrified of a pendulum clock we had in our kitchen. It wasn’t a big old scary grandfather clock; it was a small clock on the wall. At night, while I was in bed, I was certain that the ticking of the pendulum was getting closer. I never stopped to figure out how a small clock was going to hurt me, even if it got to me. Maybe it was a subconscious realization that the passing of time would, indeed, eventually be the end of me.
My daughter’s fears now, just as mine were then, are very direct and specific. That mannequin is moving. That clock is coming closer. Bears have a key to my house. The fears seem very real.
I still have fears as an adult. The bank is going to make some paperwork mistake and suddenly we don’t own our house anymore. Or the giant corporation is out to get me. Or I won’t have enough money to pay for each of my three girls’ weddings as well as college. Well, that’s not a fear, that’s a fact.
I have a friend who worries about space junk falling from the sky. I’m not kidding. He also is afraid of the West Nile Virus to the point that he slathers himself nonstop with bug lotion, despite the fact that he never goes outside. Probably because of the falling space junk.
My friend’s fears are very real to him, no matter how much I make fun of them. My distrust of major corporations is very real to me, no matter how many interactions occur without a problem. My mother-in-law’s fear that any glass elevator is about to crash to the ground at any moment is just as real to her.
Perhaps the fears never go away. Some just recede to the background, while others take their place. I no longer worry about the bear coming in the house to eat me. Unless he is disguised as a loan officer wearing a Chase Bank blazer. Digital clocks killed off my pendulum stalker.
Maybe we need to have fear of something, of some kind, to keep us alert and wary of potential danger—kind of a throwback to our ancestral fight-or-flight lifestyle.
So rather than use logic, or reason, or any other useless parental device, I accepted her fear and tried to deflate it. We, along with her older sister, dressed up the mannequin in a silly outfit that made my youngest laugh when she saw it. Scarves, a princess dress, a feather boa, lots of accessories, and some glasses with springs attached to crazy eyeballs did the trick. Wow, those dress-up boxes do come in handy.
For several nights after that, my daughter would actually look for the mannequin and smile when she saw it.
Until last night, when the cry came out from down the hall: “Mommy! Daddy! I hear scratchy noises coming from my closet.”
Don’t worry, honey, it’s probably just a bear.