“Skeert” is Southern-speak for “Scared”
So here’s something the parenting books don’t prepare you for: ghosts. Or more accurately, what to do when you think your child may have seen one.The other day, my dear Boychild told me tearfully that The Little Laughing Girl woke him up. I said, “the little laughing girl?: He said, “Yes. She woke me up laughing.” Umm. Not cool. When he said this, Husband looked at me, shook his head and said quietly “I don’t want to know.” Look, I know kids are awesome and have imaginations on overdrive, but could we really have a spirit? Our place is from the 1800’s, so lots of folks have come through its doors.
I also know that the likelihood of my child having seen a ghost is pretty low. I’m not even sure I believe in such things. The logical part of me questions how likely it is that the energy of a human child has been divorced from its corporeality, is cognizant, and chooses to spend its afterlife appearing to my child, laughing at some cosmic joke? But. It was still freaky enough to make my feet cold. Then I realized what he’s probably hearing is me laughing in my sleep. Anyone who has slept with me knows that my nocturnal activities include smacking, laughing and producing heroic amounts of drool. My poor pillowcases. They really need raincoats. Or condoms.
I explained to Boychild that he was hearing mama laughing in her sleep, and that’s probably who the little laughing girl was. Now, each night before he goes to sleep, he yells at me “Try not to laugh, mamaaaaa!” And I say okay. And I haven’t heard anymore about the little laughing girl. (Please, Lord, don’t let me hear any more about the little laughing girl.)
Sometimes Boychild likes being scared. I can tell if something scares him because he fixates on it for a while. His recent obsession is something called The Spider Clock. Of the maybe 5 people we’ve encountered since quarantine, 100% have heard the story of The Spider Clock at least 3 times each. The root of the story is thus: about a month ago, a bolt of lightning took a chunk out of a clock tower on campus. As we live on campus, we heard the KA-BOOM happen, not knowing what it was. Our neighbor explained it, Boychild remembered it, and Husband reinforced it when they walked past the injured clock tower and pointed it out to Boychild who christened it “The Spider Clock.” He was obsessed with the thoughts of lightning destroying something and was scared of possible lightning even when the sky was blue. I believe he calls it the spider clock because the clock’s face was cracked, and the cracks look like spider legs. Since then, he’s repeated his narrative relentlessly, adding and subtracting to the tale as needed. As of last telling, the Spider Clock gets struck by lighting and his butt falls off. Then Boychild delivers a sad trombone noise: Wah wah wahhhh. He keeps retooling the Spider Clock story for maximum impact. The butt falling off part is new (and a welcome addition).
It’s a beautiful thing to see the need for story in my child. How natural it is to weave a narrative, especially when it’s something frightening, powerful and incomprehensible, like electricity coming from the sky and destroying a clock. I wonder how we, as a species, are going to craft our stories about the pandemic. How do we explain these frightening, powerful and incomprehensible times?
The things that scare our child are thankfully few. My mother tells the stories of my myriad childhood fears. I was inexplicably afraid of shorts and refused to wear them for many years. I was also afraid of Beaker from “The Muppet Show” (he’s UNNATURAL!) and the game “Operation,” (you’re vivisecting a conscious human being. Why would this game NOT horrify you?). Boychild and I disagree on what we find frightening, with the exception of the little laughing girl. That’s some scary shit. Boychild is afraid of eating carrots, peas, broccoli- anything that’s not beige, whereas I am afraid of how MUCH I’m eating. The bathroom scale fills me with dread. During the pandemic, I have come into some supernatural weight-gaining powers. Forget flying or being invisible or breathing underwater- my superpower is gaining five pounds every day. Sorcery! I should just throw the damn thing out the window and be done with it. Instead, I am committing to a HIIT workout and managing my calories with an app. My inner punk is furious that it’s come to this. It feels deeply uncool to be middle aged and on a diet in order to keep one’s pants from digging deep red furrows in one’s tum-tum.
Boychild is not afraid of the Jack-in-the Box illustration on page 4 of Elmo’s Big Lift-and-Look Book. I find it terrifying. Each time Boychild reaches for the “J” block and lifts the flap, that smug little Jack-in-the-Box bastard is grinning at me. No thank you.
Boychild is also not afraid of the future. I am.
I’m afraid that we’ll all get COVID-19 and his dad and I will die, leaving him alone for days, hungry and sad, before someone finds him. I’m afraid he’ll get this new Kawasaki-type infection and bleed out. I’m afraid our country is going to implode, explode, become a complete disaster (more than it already is). I’m afraid the economy will collapse and we’ll all go hungry (ironic that I’m fussin’ about my weight right now). I’m scared that we’ll be impoverished. I’m worried that things that we loved will never return. I’m afraid- ah, you get the gist. You’re dealing with this, too. All this uncertainty is incredibly uncomfortable and I hate it. This is why I have a therapist- to talk about all those fears.
My child meanwhile, remains blissfully ignorant of my fears, and may that always be the case. In the meantime, we’ll go on. I’ll work out, laugh in my sleep. I’ll keep making insignificant gestures in the futile attempt to create a secure future. And I’m making sure to not take anything for granted and appreciate the now, even if that means listening to Boychild telling me the story about the Spider Clock for the 143rd time.