I’ve been battling monsters in the lives of my children since they were very young.
As a preschooler, my son developed a fierce aversion to an antique chest that sat at the top of our stairs. He would slowly climb the stairs until he reached the top step, then speed up, dash by the chest and dart to his destination.
Initial attempts to understand and eliminate his fear were unsuccessful. “I don’t like the monster,” he’d say.
When I told him the chest wasn’t a monster and he had no reason to be scared, he responded with silence and shrugs
More than a decade and two houses later, the chest now sits in our dining room, and my teenage son isn’t afraid of it. But he does remember his fear, and he recently reminded me of it during a family dinner.
“I never knew why you were so afraid,” I said.
“It kind of looked like a face, he replied. “And one night I had a dream that it came alive and chased me. Every time I looked at it, I saw the monster. You tried to tell me it wasn’t a monster, but I just knew it was. I’d seen it.”
He laughed and went back to his food.
I couldn’t laugh. I knew exactly what he meant.
As a parent, I’m well aware of the fear monsters can elicit. I also know there are people who will insist they don’t exist.
Just yesterday, Craig Weintraub, an attorney for the Cleveland man charged with kidnapping Michelle Knight, Amanda Berry and Gina Dejesus, described his client. ”The initial portrayal by the media has been one of a ‘monster’ and that’s not the impression that I got when I talked to him for three hours.”
I know that Weintraub has to paint his client in the best light possible, but I wonder if he has a daughter. If he does, I don’t know how he could utter those words. Even my usually calm and rational husband lost his cool as he watched the story unfold in the newsroom where he works.
All he could think about was our 11-year-old daughter. Giles is not generally overprotective, but last week he had a hard time letting Kendall out of his sight.
I understood his reaction, but I don’t believe that it was helpful. Being overprotective creates a heightened sense of fear, and I don’t want any of us, particularly my children, going through life believing fear is the most effective response to monsters.
The world is a phenomenal, beautiful and interesting place, and I want my children to explore it as much as possible. But the world is also a dangerous place, and I don’t want them to be too trusting.
There’s probably only so much we as parents can do anyway.
My son was only three years-old and my daughter wasn’t even three weeks-old on Tuesday, September 11, 2001. They’ve grown up in a society darkened by the shadow of fear, yet they have blossomed and grown strong anyway.
I’ve grown too. I’m not the same mom who unsuccessfully told her son not to be afraid of what he perceived to be a monster. I’m now the mom who acknowledges monsters and the fact that we can’t always recognize them at first. But I’m also the mom who does her best to give her children the information and tools to fight their fears and the monsters.
I wish I’d mastered the art of teaching them to be cautious without teaching them to be afraid, but I know I haven’t. But I am starting to master my fear that they are unprepared to face the monsters in their lives.