I think I broke one of them. One of my sons, I mean. He woke up screaming from a nightmare the other night, and I think it’s kind of, sort of, well … pretty much my fault. But in my defense, I didn’t cause his emotional trauma all by myself. I had help in the form of a five-foot-tall witch and a typing mouse named Geronimo.
Maybe I should start at the beginning.
When the boys were two-and-a-half years old, my husband and I were walking with them through JC Penny just before Halloween. On the second floor, near a display of fuzzy slippers, a wild shriek ripped the air. We spun and saw before us a huge witch statue, those kind people put on their front porches with giant candy bowls in their hands, that shout things like, “I’ll get you, my pret-ty!” Its skin was green, its nose was warty, its eyes were yellow and thoroughly wicked. Our boys freaked out. Acting as quickly as we could, my husband and I each grabbed a hysterical child and fled the slipper section, with our third son wrapped around my husband’s leg, shrieking violently. The witch had no sympathy for their terror. She cackled maniacally as we ran for our lives. We were all officially scarred for life.
The boys have talked about this witch with great frequency in last two years. If you think I’ve hammed up her description, you should hear how the boys describe her. They developed a truly deep fear of witches and anything that suggests a spooky witch world.
So it was with surprise that I found myself three months ago standing calmly in front of a giant ghoul statue in a Michael’s Craft store with one of my sons at my side. The ghoul was similar in all ways to the legendary JC Penny witch, it was tall, it was ghouly and black-clad, it had wicked eyes and a voice-activation feature that delivered on the promise those spooky looks conveyed. Yet my third born son was fascinated by it. Over and over he reached out, ever so tentatively . . . ever so slowly . . . then WHAP! He’d hit the ghoul’s hand then leap back to my side to listen to the spooky voice he’d activated. We did this for a good ten minutes. Then we made our way through the entire Halloween decoration section, which in Michael’s is quite vast, pressing buttons and inspecting displays. There were more ghouls of all sizes, and vampires and skeletons, too. And of course, there were witches. My son’s smile widened as we made the rounds. I explained the attraction of spooky things at Halloween. I said that some people like to pretend to be scared just a little bit, and that the fun comes from knowing that the spooky things are all pretend. My son formed a distinction between scary and “spooky scary” and then explained it to his brothers when he got home. Suddenly, my third born wanted to be a witch for Halloween.
I did not make him a witch, though. I’d found our old costume set deep in a closet, one fire fighter and two Dalmatians, and the set fit the boys, so that’s what they were last month on Halloween night. I really didn’t want to go to the trouble or expense of making/buying new costumes when we had perfectly good ones (great ones, in fact, that were very expensive and given to us by a wonderful lady up the street and so were free). The boys were happy. I explained trick-or-treating to them, which they didn’t know about because in Prague, where we were last Halloween, people don’t dress up and trick-or-tree. The only hint of Halloween we saw in Prague was a man and woman each wearing devil’s horns in a pizza joint. So trick-or-treating was a new concept to my four-year-olds this year.
We launched the whole adventure with a mall trick-or-treat event. The boys walked up to a table in front of our local Henry’s store (a store focused on ‘healthy, natural’ foods), opened their bags, and watched the Henry’s employee drop an apple into each bag. My boys were ecstatic. “Mommy! He gave us an apple!” They liked trick-or-treating. Very much. We went store to store to store, covering about ten in the next five minutes. As you might expect, the other stores did not hand out apples. They handed out candy. Lots of it. The boys were stunned. And officially corrupted. Before we headed to Grandma S’s neighborhood to go door-to-door and then hand out candy ourselves, we stopped at a Mexican food place. Daddy ran in to buy a burrito while I and the boys waited in the van, digging through goodie bags and inventorying the haul. In the far back seat, my third born, the one who’d wanted to be a witch, pulled out his Henry’s apple and held it aloft in the palm of his hand. “Henry’s gave me an apple,” he said forlornly. “Why did they give me an apple? That‘s not candy!” He threw it back into the bag in disgust. Ten stores and already he’d figured out that apples in the trick-or-treat bag suck.
But I’m getting sidetracked. I was talking about scary stuff, not apples. Ever since Halloween, “scary spooky” has been a desired thing. The boys seek out scary spooky things, tell scary spooky stories to each other, and relish every small, safe spook-out they can find. So when we discovered “The Phantom Cat in the Subway”, a book in the Geronimo Stilton series about a newspaper reporter mouse, they were in heaven. The book had lots of scary spooky. Then another Geronimo book sent us into a haunted house. When I read this one out loud, I gave it my all, hamming up the spooky parts, shouting “Boo!” at all the right moments, making my boys scream and jump and clap wildly. They asked me to read it over and over, with the one caveat that I skip the page with the picture of the cat witch. Even with his newfound bravery, the first born of my trio couldn’t stomach that witch as his brothers could. For him, witches are still ‘scary,’ not ‘scary spooky.’
You guessed it: this is the boy who woke up that night shrieking in terror. He’d dreamt that a witch was stealing his toys. I felt terrible, just terrible. I’d gone too far with the ‘scary spooky.’ And there’s no going back now. You can’t erase that kind of reading, you just have to wait for your son to outgrow it. It too me decades to stop having the nightmare that first terrified me at age five, a gorilla chasing me down the halls of my kindergarten. *sigh* I’ve put “Cat and Mouse in a Haunted House” back on the shelf for a future day, and I’ve crossed my fingers that he won’t have more nightmares. So far, so good, he’s had four days of peaceful sleep. So maybe I didn’t break him as badly as I thought.
But then, he hasn’t seen the mall Santa yet. That guy gives me nightmares….