Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Only Thing to Fear...

Annie and I helped pass out candy at a friends house this Halloween. This family has one of the most elaborate front yard horror displays of any I've seen. A graveyard with an unearthed coffin, a butcher shop resplendent with various dismembered appendages, A body hanging from a noose that, when activated, will jerk and kick for its lack of life. It is thorough, to say the least. I agreed to play a part in their terror filled production, along with a few of their other friends. One man was the butcher, carving up arms, legs, and heads. There were people portraying all the horror favorites – Jason, Freddie Krueger, and Michael Myers. I was given a generic goblin mask and told to mill about, jumping out when candy grabbers passed my way. I begrudgingly tried this for a while, but after feeling very awkward and completely not scary, I eventually opted for a more subtle approach. I sat myself down against a hay bale and did my best dummy impersonation. Sitting as motionless as possible, I waited for a group of ghouls to pass my way, then I slowly turned my head, following them with my rubbery eyes. I didn't make a sound. I didn't move any other muscle. I just watched. What I saw was very interesting.

Pre-teens resembling rejects from the Insane Clown Posse came up to the display and shouted,

“Hey! Gimme some candy!”

Sitting next to the candy cauldron, I turned to the terse carnies and clarified,

“Excuse me? What did you just say?”

“You heard me. Gimme some candy man!”

I was having some trouble wrapping my brain around the brazenness of the young mans demand. I pushed him for a more appropriate request,

“I would argue that you've known what to say in this situation since you were old enough to form full sentences. You make the proper request, and I'll give you some candy. That's the way it works.”

The punk shifted his weight, obviously annoyed. He finally muttered those three key words, and I graced him with a packet of sweet tarts and a sucker. As he swaggered down the driveway, I contemplated chucking a jawbreaker at the upstarts head. Maybe the candy would live up to its name. I restrained myself.

A little later, A man bedecked in a white dress shirt, tall socks and a kilt came by with his son who, in a miniature ninja suit, could not have been over two years old. They stopped at the bottom of the driveway and the dad gave his son a nudge toward the house. The karate kid took one look at the labyrinth of horror that lay between him and the candy at the top of the hill and became petrified. At first, he simply turned and began to move on to the next house. When his father insisted he make this trek, alone, he began a more adamant denial. As he begged his dad to let him pass this house by, the father finally proposed a compromise – they would go up together. The virile Scotsman took his sons hand and began the ascent. But the son was not interested, even with his father at his side. He dug his heels into the driveway and began wailing his disapproval. That is when I grabbed some candy and started down the driveway. My intent was to give this poor child the candy he deserved after all the trepidation he was experiencing. As I approached, his face turned from discomfort to sheer terror. Realizing my misstep, I quickly removed my mask and crouched down to assure him that there was nothing for him to fear. I gave him the chocolate peace offering and bid the nervous ninja farewell.

A while later, a mother and her daughter came by. The girl was dressed as a nondescript witch, and the woman was masquerading as a worn out mother. This child was probably around eight years old, and at the sight of the butcher shop, she was very nervous. When Freddie stepped out of the shadows, she jumped and clung to her mothers leg. But she successfully reached the candy cauldron, treated, and began her way back down the driveway. She was still uneasy as she navigated the frights, but when her mother commented on the scariness of the house, the little girl just turned to her mother and reassured her,

“It's not REAL, Mom!”

After the trick-or-treating was over, we all went inside for an amazing smorgasbord of chili, cornbread, pumpkin seeds, popcorn, and cake. The inside of the house was almost as meticulously decorated as the front yard. Garlands, little Halloween cityscapes, candles, and rubber bats. In the corner was an old witch in a rocking chair which, if you got too close, would start rocking on its own. The witch would cackle, her eyes would glow, and finally her head would lift up from her shoulders. One of our friends' brothers was at the party with his two eighteen month old twins. These two children were incredibly inquisitive, unafraid to talk to any of the other party goers, and as rambunctious as can be. Toward the end of the night, the father decided he should get a picture of the two children on the lap of the hideous animatronic witch. As he sat the little boy on her lap, the child began wailing and squirming for his life. He gave up on his son and attempted to get the little girl into the witches maws. Same result. They quickly retired the photo opportunity and released the children back into the fray of the other kids. Watching this exchange left me with some thoughts.

Are we afraid of goblins and ghouls from inception? Is there something inherently scary about the mask that Michael Myers wears, or the Freddie Krueger ensemble? Why were the twins so afraid of the witch? At less than two years of age, had they been exposed to enough to identify a witch, let alone correlate one with fear? When does a child learn to step back and separate the fiction from the fact, and say,

“It's not REAL, Mom!”

And when is it fair to expect your child to strike out on their own and face their fears? When can we expect a healthy amount of rationale to guide us through life? I would argue that it never fully works for some, afraid to face any amount of uncertainty or risk. And for others, the fear reaction is still dormant, causing uninhibited carousing and risk taking, almost to a fault. I think that the majority of us fall somewhere in between. Hopefully we can help guide the next generations through the labyrinths of their own fears, shaping them into cautious, yet bold individuals.

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