When you are young, the world can appear big and confusing. Hell, when you are grown the world can appear big and confusing – but that’s not my point. When you are little you feel small. So kids often develop fears of everyday things: escalators, animals, school, loud noises, the dark, closets, etc. These fears are a normal part of development.
However my kid, my eight year old daughter, developed an unusual fear. She is afraid of jail. That’s right; jail, prison, the big house, the slammer, etc. Now, this fear might make sense if we were the kind of family that visits incarcerated relatives, but as of yet, we are not. So, we dont know why she is flooded with terrifying thoughts of imprisonment. She cant identify what could have started this fear, or even what she imagines jail to be like. But, like all solid phobias, the mere thought of “jail” terrorizes her.
Despite several conversations about what behaviors will land a person in jail and how she is a highly unlikely candidate, her fear remains heightened. When I ask my girl to draw what she is afraid of, she uses black marker to make thick, dark bars. My psychologist-self wonders if maybe she did something that an 8-year-old mind believes to be “bad” and is afraid to tell us? But all inquiry in this area was futile.
In an attempt to help her, I pulled up internet photos of some of the more “livable” jail cells. The eight-year-old was impressed that there was a desk, a toilet, a bed and some books. There even seemed to be some natural light streaming in. But, in the end, she frowned and said, “It looks lonely and scary, like a cage.” I had to agree.
So my husband and I settled into the old standby parenting mode of: if we just ride it out, this phase will probably go away. Meanwhile, we try to listen and talk calmly when the fear pops up. After all, how often can the concept of jail come up in her eight year old day-to-day world of playdates and science camp? Right? RIGHT? Well…..
This past Sunday, Grandma tells us that she tivo’d Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and that she’d love to show it to the kids. The husband and I have fond memories of this movie, even though neither of us can recall any actual memories of the film itself. So we all plop down on the big couch and begin watching. Pretty early into it, it becomes very clear to me that this movie is WAY fucked up. And the worst thing is that there are scenes with CAGED CHILDREN. WTF Dick van Dyke??? I look at my daughter and see her eyes big and wide. She reaches for my hand. I look at the husband and loudly whisper, “There are children in fucking cages in this movie?!” He was floored as well. I turn my head back to the kid. She looks at me with her saucer eyes and I suddenly begin to laugh my ass off. “What’s so funny,” she asks wanting desperately to be laughing too. “Well,” I began, having a hard time talking through my laughter, “Of all the children’s movies that we could show you, we accidentally showed you one that has kids in cages – your worst fear! I had no idea. I’m so sorry. Its so weird.” She paused, scrunched up her forehead, thinking, and then a smile grew slowly. She got the joke. Thank Gd she has a twisted, sarcastic sense of humor like her mom.
So you’d think thats the end of the story, right? But wait, there’s more.
The next day my 4 year old daughter asks to watch a Care Bear movie. Simple, cute (annoying little) Care Bears who always have a message of goodness to impart. Right? RIGHT? Well….
I pull up a random Care Bear movie from Netflix and leave my girls to bask in their cuddly glow. About 10 minutes later I hear, “Mommy!” I return to the scene to find that this particular episode has CARE BEARS LOCKED IN CAGES by Dark Heart the evil villain. OMG! – WTF CARE BEARS??
I look at my eight year old’s stupefied face. I must have mirrored it back to her and for a brief moment, she saw herself. And, bless her heart, she laughed. “Two in a row, Mom,” she said. Even the four year old began to laugh.
I imagine this is some kind of good lesson for all of us wrapped in a sick joke. Like maybe, “Shit Happens Unexpectedly. Deal with it.” Or something. But for now, I am just grateful that Laughter Happens Unexpectedly too.
~ with giggles, jrb