Thursday, October 30, 2014

Halloween When Your Kid Hates Being Scared

Our kids are big fans of Halloween. They have fun dressing up, they love the candy (of course), and they like decorating the house with pumpkins, bats, black cats, and silly monsters. They enjoy the innocent, fun version of Halloween.



However, the gore and horror version of Halloween is another story.

When our kids were younger, the neighbors across our cul-de-sac totally did up their yard for Halloween. They made creepy, ghoulish, zombie-like people out of clothing and scary masks, all stuffed with straw. The kids didn't like it, but we'd always just explain that it was pretend, and that some people think it's fun to make things look really scary for Halloween, and to just not look at it if it really freaked them out.

Then came trick-or-treating.

My husband took our 6-year-old out—so excited in her cute little witch costume—while I stayed home with our 2-year-old. They'd only been gone a few minutes, when I heard screaming. Not just a little shriek, but blood-curdling, non-stop, terror-filled SCREAMING. I looked out the window to see our daughter racing back toward the house and my husband waving at the neighbor. What the heck just happened?

It turns out that one of the teenage boys who lives at that house had dressed up and posed as one of those ghoulish creatures in the yard. When trick-or-treaters came by, he'd suddenly jump out of formation to scare them.

Now, personally, I think that's pretty funny. And some kids would, too. But not our 6-year-old with the active imagination. The teen's mom heard the screaming and came out to lecture him on appropriate age groups to startle. The boy clearly didn't expect that strong of a reaction and felt terrible about it. He came over and apologized profusely. Our daughter calmed down and continued on with the trick-or-treating, so it all turned out fine in the end.

But it was a good reminder that for some kids, scary isn't fun. Scary is scary. Even if you explain that none of it's real, even if you talk about how they make the costumes and the artistry that goes into it, even if you try to give them tools for dealing with fear, some kids just don't like to be frightened. For some kids, the fear in Halloween creepiness is co-mingled with fun and excitement and thrill. But for some kids, it's just fear.

I'm not exactly sure why that is. I don't think it's a matter of parenting. I know a family where one daughter is terrified of anything scary and gory, while the other daughter just revels in the stuff. I don't know if it has to do with how kids process imaginary things, or if it's just personality, but in my experience it's mostly an innate response.

And it's not only kids who aren't fans of Halloween horror. I can handle the creepy, gory stuff, but I don't particularly like it. I remember watching the Nightmare on Elm street and Friday the 13th movies when I was younger, and they were sort of intriguing in a weird way, but as an adult, I've happily chosen to avoid horror movies. I've learned that I really don't like feeling disturbed in that way. My threshold is obviously a lot higher than a young child's, but I get where the kids are coming from.

So a humble request to parents: If you have older kids who get into the gore and horror, maybe you could remind them that some kids are precariously teetering on the line between fun and genuine fear on Halloween. Let them dress as ghoulish they wish, but remind them to be cognizant of how they come across, especially to young children. Maybe suggest they do a silly dance and wave in their scary costume, or take of their mask briefly and smile if a child seems scared. Sometimes just breaking the illusion for a moment is enough.

Fear and fun really are mutually exclusive for some kids. Some creepiness is to be expected, but as long as there are young kids around, perhaps we can try to keep Halloween more PG than PG-13.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

My Morning Shower: A True Story


I take off my jammies, turn on the shower, and step into the warm water. Ahhhhh, heavenly. While I wet my hair, I start thinking about blog post ideas. Hmmm . . . What do I want to write about next . . . 

KNOCK KNOCK.

"Mama, can I make some orange juice?"

"Sure. Just use the pitcher that's on the counter."

"Okay, thanks."

I pour the shampoo into my hand. All right. What's something most moms can relate to? Oh yeah, I could write about . . . 

KNOCK KNOCK.

"Mom, do you know where the white iPad is?"

"No. Wait, yes. Look on my bed."

"Okay, thanks."

I start to wash my hair, then remember something.

"Hold up! Did you do your algebra homework?"

"No. I forgot to write down the problems we were supposed to do."

"Soooo . . . you're just not going to do it?"

"I don't know . . ."

Rinsing out the shampoo.

"Sweetie, this is when you get on the horn and call one of your friends and see if they wrote down the assignment."

"The horn?"

"The phone."

"Good idea."

Yes, I know. I'm full of good ideas. Especially in the shower. Pouring the conditioner into my hand. Okay. What was that idea I had as I was drifting off to sleep last night? Oh, I think it was . . . 

KNOCK KNOCK.

"Mama? The orange juice says, 'No sugar added.'"

"Yes . . . and?"

"Does that mean I should add sugar?"

"No, that just means . . . No. We always get orange juice with no sugar added."

"Oh. Okay."

Rinsing out the conditioner. Shoot. That idea's totally gone now. Maybe I should go back to that post I started a while ago . . . 

KNOCK KNOCK.

"Mommy! I need you! Reading Eggs is all messed up!"

"I'm IN THE SHOWER, sweetie."

"But I NEED you!"

"Ask Daddy or your sister to help you."

"NO! I need YOU!"

"Well, I can't help you with the computer when I'm in the shower, so you're going to have to be patient until I get out. Or you can ask somebody else."

"UGH!"

Washing my body. Hmmm. I had that post about modesty started, but that'll take some time to fini . . .  

KNOCK KNOCK.

"Mama? What-times-what makes 35?"

"Think it through, sweets. It ends in a five, so what-times-five equals 35?"

"Three times five?"

"Are you serious?"

"Oh, duh. Seven. Thanks."

For the love. Starting to shave my legs. Okay, blog post ideas . . . 

KNOCK KNOCK.

"Mama! Mama! I want to show you something!"

"I'M IN THE SHOWER."

"Can I show it to you when you get out?"

"THAT WOULD BE GOOD."

Shaving other leg.

KNOCK KNOCK.

"FOR CRYING OUT LOUD, PEOPLE! I'M IN THE SHOWER! I'LL BE OUT IN A MINUTE!!"

Shaving armpits. Okay, hurry up, inspiration.  

KNOCK KNOCK.

Come on, idea, don't be shy.

KNOCK KNOCK.

I know you're around here somewhere.

"Mama? Are you out of the shower yet?"

Ah, of course. There you are.


Sunday, October 26, 2014

Queen Bees and Mama Bears: Tribing around Our Daughters

"Hey," my friend Jana said to me last week. "A friend of mine is inviting moms to get together next weekend to talk about cliques and other issues their daughters are facing at school. Just the moms, no kids. Wanna come?"

Um, yes please.

And also, BRILLIANT idea.

And also, WHY do we moms not get together ALL THE TIME to problem solve?

As moms with daughters know, this problem is a doozy. Navigating the social landscape can be a minefield for girls, especially as they approach middle school age. Boys have issues, too, but between cliques, gossip, and unspoken popularity contests, girls can create social hierarchies with alarming political precision.

We all experienced that in our own tween and teen years. We all remember how much it sucked. We all want something different for our daughters. But is there anything we can do about it as moms?

YES. We can start by "tribing." (That's my invented verb for moms gathering together to share wisdom, experience, and support.) We moms are amazing at tribing when we put our minds to it.

Ten of us did that on Saturday. We met in a coffee shop meeting room with pastries, a Mama Bear mission, and no children.

After we introduced ourselves, the mom who organized the meeting laid out a vision for the group:
To create a safe space where all moms are welcome, where we can talk about issues our daughters are facing, and where there's no way to do it wrong.  In this space, we can take care of some of our own healing, as well as gain tools to help our tween and teen daughters handle whatever comes their way.

Seriously brilliant.

To start the discussion, the organizer led us on a trip down memory lane, through our own middle and high school years. What do you remember about kids who were "popular"? What qualities did you perceive them as having?

She wrote down the qualities we threw out and put them inside a box on the board. Then we tossed out the qualities of the kids who were "out," ostracized, or decidedly unpopular. This is what it looked like:



We talked about how this in-the-box/out-of-the-box social system really hurts everyone. Those inside the box sometimes have less freedom than those outside of it because of the expectations put upon them and the fear of being cast out. And, of course, those outside of the box suffer the most from bullying and feeling like they don't belong.

One mom pointed out that we grown women can perpetuate this "in/out" idea for our daughters unintentionally. When we gush over a friend's weight loss, for example, are we communicating that fat is out and thin is in? When we rave about a particular brand name (a Coach purse, a North Face jacket), are we doing the same thing?

We also talked about the judgments people make in reverse—that when we perceive ourselves as outside-the-box, we can easily make unfair assumptions about people inside it. We might assume that because someone is popular, they're also snobby. Or we might think that someone is judging us for our weight, hair, or clothes, simply because we see those things as criteria for them liking us.

It was interesting to see how focusing on our own past experiences really helped us think through what our daughters are facing. And the wisdom behind that focus became clear as we talked.

When our daughters come to us and say "So-and-so told me I'm fat," our first reaction, naturally, is anger. We may see that as an instinctual Mama Bear response, but how much of our anger is also a reaction to our own past hurts? How can we help our daughters handle these issues if we are still grappling with them ourselves?

RIGHT?! The brilliance of this idea, I tell you.

We also consulted about some possibilities for future meetings, such as bringing in school counselors to share their thoughts and gathering with our girls when we feel like we've got a good footing. Ideally, we'll pass some of the wisdom we gain through this process on to our girls, to help them through some of the pitfalls of a screwed up social system.


So that's where we started. When we meet again next month, we'll discuss the first chapter of "Queen Bees and Wannabes: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends, and the New Realities of Girl World," by Rosalind Wiseman (affiliate link, FYI). I've always wanted to read that book, so it'll be great to have a group to discuss it with.

I'm super excited about this, you guys. Sometimes we forget, as we forge through life individually with our families, that a group of women with a common goal is a powerful force. It's amazing what we can do when we build one another up instead of tearing one another down. That's ultimately what we want our daughters to learn.

Tribe on, Mamas.