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Sunday, July 26, 2009

whistling past the graveyard

Her Father was not very impressed with my decision to allow our daughter to watch the dreaded Michael Jackson video, dismissing my argument that she had chosen to watch even though she had been warned against it. He was especially not impressed two weeks ago when She Who Does Not Obey requested that we take a different route to soccer.

Unfortunately, the most direct route goes right past a graveyard.

The zombies had been beaten back, but were regrouping and making yet another assault.

We recommended that she close her eyes until we were past and afterwards attempted a rerouting but found it impractical. This became particularly clear when we drove down to our cabin the following weekend and she discovered two cemeteries on our route, one of which is right at the beginning of the dirt road leading to the cabin itself.

I had long ceased to see these cemeteries, but they lunged right out at her at every turn.

I tried to think of things she could do to make her feel safe again so I thought back to my own first defenses.

My first memorable childhood monsters were formed through an act of willfulness as well. We were at a screening of The Jungle Book and my big sister warned me not to watch the trailers at the beginning. I ignored her of course, my curiosity piqued beyond any sense of self preservation.

I have no idea what the movies were called, but one was about man with no face, or more acurately a man with the shape of a face but no eyes or orifices to speak of. I can still see scenes from it in my mind to this day.

The other movie was about trees that for some inexplicable reason turned into monsters as soon as it got dark.

There was no possible way to avoid trees no matter how circuitous a route I planned, so I remember many times going home in the dark, walking a tightrope at the farthest edge of the sidewalk, trying to stay out of the reach of the saplings on the neighbourhood lawns. If our neighbours had sprung for more imposing trees, who knows how I would have ever gotten home.

But at night in bed, I built my defenses based on what I had seen in the trailer. A man had been badly hurt by the trees and I noticed that he was bleeding out of the right side of his mouth, a large white bandage wrapped around his stomach.

Therefore as long as I slept on my stomach with the right side of my face touching my pillow, I would obviously be safe.

I also pulled the blanket tight up under my chin to protect against the vampires I noted in a coming attraction poster in the theatre lobby on the way out (didn't I mention already that I am a wuss?). The faceless men, monster trees, and vampires could never get past my defenses, perhaps meeting each other below my window and warning latecomers off with a defeated shake of the head.

How I thought these things would keep me safe, I don't know, but I believed in them so strongly that I was able to go to sleep at night despite all the monsters lying in wait for me. I believed in them because I needed to believe in them.

It occurs to me now that most of the defenses against the dark arts are just as ridiculous. Were my little rituals really any different from garlic, crosses, holy water? Circles in the sand. Salt at the door.

The common thread with all these protections is belief. If we can convince ourselves that a blanket tucked under the chin will keep us safe, then we are safe.

For every imaginary monster that preys on our minds, we create the corresponding silver bullet.
But since the only way to defeat zombies in the movies involves a lot of head bashing and decapitation, I found myself at a loss to find a talisman that would work for She Who Does Not Obey. She is not very handy with a baseball bat, she can't always be on the 2nd or 3rd floor, and there will always be another graveyard to pass.

So I have tried to arm her now with the most powerful weapon I could find - a true story.

But the truth is a slow acting agent when dealing with creatures of imagination; we need practice to make it strong enough to fight the monsters on their own ground.

The other day as we drove to the cabin I told SWDNO about how I had fought off a terrible fear of my own and how I did it with a simple little chant, "Planes like turbulence." It was a comforting tidbit I had found on a fear of flying website and I latched on to it like a cricket bat at a zombie banquet. The fear didn't vanish overnight (more like over several years), but every time we hit turbulence, I'd close my eyes and repeat those words to myself until I finally started to believe them.

Maybe it would work for her too. All she had to do was say these words to herself as we passed the cemetery, "There's no such thing as zombies. There's no such thing as zombies."

I wasn't sure if she had tried it when we passed the first one, but by the time we got to the second one, she cried out, "It's working already!"

She is obviously a much quicker study than her mother.

So now we can drive past graveyards again, but the zombie alert status is still in flux. At least it hasn't returned to critical levels. For now, we will keep surrounding ourselves with circles made of words that will someday be true.

1 comment:

  1. There are so many rituals of childhood - usually concocted to control behaviour (Santa doesn't come to naughty children),assuage fears (carrying bread in your pocket so the fairies don't get you) or explain an ethereal concept to a child who exists in a concrete world (God as a kindly grandfather figure in the sky - well maybe He is - I can't address that one from personal experience).

    Glad you have come up with a ritual that will allow you to take a more direct route to soccer.