When I was little, I had a very active imagination.
I was almost 6 when my little sister was born and I loved her like she was mine. I remember laying in my bed at night, and she would wake up crying in her room across the hall from mine. I would freeze, panicked and positive that someone was in there trying to kill her or steal her. I couldn’t save her though because if I put even one arm off the side of my bed, the monster underneath it would grab me and take me with him. So I’d lay in bed with my legs spread wide apart so if my rickety fan came lose and fell, it wouldn’t cut my legs off.
Did I say imagination?
So it shouldn’t come as a surprise to me that my kids have wild imaginations and irrational phobias as well.
For years, Jackson’s been afraid of mascots, characters and large costumed people. At first I tried love, then tough love, then psychology and reverse psychology, cold turkey and finally avoidance. There’s been no alleviating the fear. They totally freak him out. The worst was his 3rd birthday when we didn’t realize the extent of his fear…and we held his party at Chuck-E-Cheese. Oops, my bad, son.
In the last few months, he’s just started becoming afraid of heights. When we parked on the fourth floor of the parking garage at CHKD and tried to take the stairs down, I turned around and he was hunched against the railing taking one step at a time like a feeble old man. Jackson, what in the world are you doing? I’d asked. It’s so high up, I feel like I’m going to fall.
And that folks, was the birth of a new phobia: heights. Wonderful.
I was hoping Abby would miss this awkward part of childhood. But the little girl that sits and has imaginary play for half of her day would obviously have an active imagination. In the last two weeks, she’s picked up not one, but two fears. The first: the garage door opener.
Abs is my sweet little pokey puppy. I was carrying in multiple bags and opening the door from the garage into the house when I hit the garage door button to close. She was about halfway through the garage and I’ve never seen her move so fast. She yelled out loud, her eyes widened and she did the “Abby hustle” straight to me to save her. I thought I’d just scared her by closing it when she didn’t realize, but nope, she hollers and runs every single time I hit the button and she’s in the garage.
And then there’s Abby’s most recent enemy of the state: her bedroom ceiling fan. This phobia is close to my heart, as you can imagine. As soon as she walks in her room, she stops and eyes that thing suspiciously. She starts crying because it’s off or because it’s on. She climbs in bed and watches it. When she wakes up in the morning or from her nap, and points to it and tells me she doesn’t like it because it’s dangerous. Oy, that stupid fan.
In the beginning I used to use my adult rationale to try to squash their fears. Mascots are just teenagers making $6 a hour and sweating inside a Halloween costume. Here, touch the fan, it’s safe and cools you down when you’re hot.
But they’re not adults, so that doesn’t work. I’ve learned it’s better to try to understand where they’re coming from, whether you really get it or not. Think about it in this way:
- You have a real fear of flying. Each takeoff, turbulence or sound makes you white knuckle your chair.
- Your teenager is driving for the first time tonight. New license, carload of friends. Every time you hear a siren way off in the distance, you worry if it’s your child in an accident.
It doesn’t matter if someone tells you it’s fine. That there’s nothing to fear. You’re going to worry anyway, right? You can’t shut it off just because someone says there’s nothing to worry about.
I’ve learned the same goes for kids. Their fears are just more simplistic than ours. Instead of telling them to knock it off, it’s fine, it’s better to have a small talk about it and try to understand. It takes the sting out of the situation, no matter what. It doesn’t erase the issue, but with time and maturity, it gets better. Jackson doesn’t scream and wail like he once did over mascot spotting but he still DOES NOT EVER WANT TO GO TO DISNEYWORLD.
And that’s okay with me, because I really have a thing for long lines. You know?