“What’s that?” my daughter asks me, pointing to an illustration in her book.
“A vampire,” I say.
“And what can vampires do to you?”
I pause for a moment, calculating the right level of information to share given that she’s four and we’re ten minutes out from bedtime.
“They can bite people with their sharp teeth.”
“Oh,” she says, her eyes squinting, satisfied and not with my answer.
The next day we’re out for a walk.
“Why do vampires like to drink blood, Mama?”
“What do you mean, kiddo? Did you hear that somewhere?”
“Yeah, we were talking about it at school. And Daddy said so, too.”
Note to self to follow up with my husband later.
It’s Halloween time and monsters and mythical creatures are everywhere. As they always are. But this year they’ve become an object of fascination to my daughter.
She wants to know about zombies and mummies and witches and ghosts.
She’s curious but also anxious.
She starts, or ends, every question about every creature with “what can they do to you?” “What can a mummy do to you?” “What about a zombie? What can a zombie do to you?” “And a witch? What can a witch do to you?”
I try to answer her honestly while also containing her fears— a delicate two-step that feels like a constant, frequently bumbling, part of parenting.
I want to engage her imagination, curiosities, and questions, and yet I know that worries often creep—slow and steady like spider legs — into her thoughts.
We’re the same that way.
She tells me one night before bed that she can’t sleep, that there’s too much scary stuff that she doesn’t like.
“My mind is full of things I don’t want in there.”
You and me both, kid.
We talk about all the things that make her happy about Halloween. We start to build a list — pumpkins, and costumes, and candy, and watching “The Great Pumpkin”. And slowly the list grows to include her other happy things—art, and unicorns, and cupcakes, her family, riding a bike, the beach. And I feel her little body start to relax, and see her exhale slightly. And she tells me she’s ready to rest now.
I used to sleep with socks on every night because I was sure there were monsters under my bed.
I don’t think I ever told my parents this. I just made sure the socks were always on.
I’m glad I still know my daughter’s worries — likely not all of them, but some of them, enough to offer comfort, containment.
I wonder if she knows that I worry about monsters, too. That this year does feel different, filled with monsters and threats of all kinds, things that feel like they could only come out of twisted fictionalizations. Worries about what they can do to you. Can she see that somewhere in me? Feel it in the world around her?
There’s a party down the street. We see rows of cars parked. Hear noise coming from the backyard. My daughter spots Halloween decorations on the lawn. Front and center is a giant monster. A 10-foot-tall creature, lit up, inflated, its sharp fingernails and scary face flapping wildly in the wind.
She stares straight at it for a few moments and turns and runs full-speed back to our house.
Later, after dinner, she asks if we can go back outside. “I want to see it again,” she says.
My husband takes her and her little sister out in the dark, armed with their flashlights and their masks.
They’re back a few minutes later and her mask can’t contain her smile. She tells me how cool it was.
“I was a little nervous and scared about it, Mama. But I did it anyway. I was so brave.”
“Yes you were, love,” I tell her, knowing I’ll remind her of this later.
We all were.