Category Archives: Monsters

Sharks, Santa, and Farting Bear Ghosts…

So lately, my three-year-old daughter Bridget keeps getting attacked…

Just the other day, she was drinking a glass of water when out of nowhere she shrieked and threw the cup down:

“SHARKS in my cup!”

Bridget doesn’t always speak clearly, so I wasn’t sure if I’d heard her right.

“There are sharks in your cup?” I asked.

0ac7ebbb7abf94175f26382e9f96dcae--shark-pics-the-muscleBridget peered nervously, and very carefully, inside:

“Umm… YES.”

She showed me. There was a lot of ice in the cup. I tried to decide whether ice could look like shark fins if you squinted your eyes and had a wild imagination. Or if it was a mini-world of icebergs with sharks lurking underneath.

“Well, that’s scary,” I told her.

Bridget rolled her eyes.

“Just baby sharks,” she told me, like I was being a total wimp.


IMG_5407Of course, she was already on edge from all the ghost nightmares she’d been having.  She’d been screaming “GHOSTS!” at 3 AM, night after night, and I’d run to her room to find both of her arms held up in cartoon shock.

“It’s okay! Did you have a nightmare?”

She’d nod her head and tell me about the ghosts who were trying to “take her.” They were MEAN ghosts. One had a bear head and wouldn’t stop farting in her room.

Which must’ve really added insult to injury. This routine kept up until she finally had a dream about nice ghosts who smelled good.

What a relief after that nasty, farting bear.

And then Santa started menacing our house…

Bridget cut her foot two days in a row while taking a bath with her big sister Brontë.

And I mean, really CUT it… like she left bloody footprints all over the floor after getting out.

Which freaked me out. The cuts were smallish, but bled a lot, and I couldn’t understand how it happened.

I looked the bathtub over, inside and out, never finding anything sharp and finally figuring she must’ve somehow kicked the shower door tracks (since she was being very kicky at the time).

Still, I wasn’t sure:

“How did you cut your foot, Bridget?”

“Santa did it.”


“YES… Santa.”

“Santa, like Christmas Santa with reindeer and toys for the kids?”

“YES!” she screamed in persecuted agony. “Santa CUT my FOOT.”


She changed her story when her father came home, though.

When John asked why she had Bandaids on her feet, she explained that Poppa had:

  • Crawled into her shoe,
  • Crawled into her sock, and
  • Bitten her foot until it was bleeding

Which was strange, because she worships her grandpa and begs to go to his house so much I almost find it irritating…

So, I have NO idea why she would blame both the guy who brings her presents every year as well as her grandpa for her bleeding feet, but she absolutely wouldn’t let up. 

Maybe it was revenge…

You see, Bridget really likes men with mustaches. Her Poppa has a mustache and he seems to be the measuring stick against which she compares all men. Whenever she sees a guy with a mustache, for example, Bidgie insists he looks just like Poppa. Even when they’re completely different-looking people apart from both having a mustache.

Except my dad inexplicably just shaved his mustache, which did not go down well with my kids, who now say he doesn’t look “right.”

I don’t know if that’s why Bridget started accusing him of crawling into her shoes to bite her feet, but… it did happen at roughly the same time.

The following day, Bridget cut her foot in the bathtub again. This time on her heel, instead of her toe.

I was baffled.

I asked her how she cut her foot and she again insisted that Poppa did it.

“But Poppa is nice, ” I said.

“Yes, Poppa nice. He BITE MY FOOT!”

She seemed outraged. She demanded yet another Mickey Mouse bandaid then appeared to forget about the incident until later that night, when my parents came over to pick up the kids for a visit.

In front of them, I asked Bridget whether Poppa had been crawling into her shoes to bite her feet.

“Psshhh… no,” she said, turning bright pink and smirking. “Psssh…”




Monster Attacks as a Teaching Tool

Some parents bribe their kids when faced with an avalanche of tantrums and whining. There are entire discussion threads devoted to the most effective toddler bribes.

Other parents resort to scare tactics. A friend of mine once warned her daughter not to scream in grocery stores because monsters would hear her. Many people, especially those who place honesty at the top of our ethics pyramid, would consider such tactics underhanded.

You should NEVER lie to a child, they would say.

And I roughly agree with them, though separating lies from creative fantasy can be a gray area. The Puritans thought novels and theater were straight from the Devil’s playbook, for example, since they involved people spinning yarns that weren’t true or pretending to be people that they weren’t… a SIN.

Well… thus far, I’ve tried to wield honesty as a weapon when appropriate, but enforcing social norms by definition involves some amount of lying.

My two-year-old daughter Bridget really doesn’t want to sit at the table to eat her food, preferring to run around eating it as she plays or explores, which means dropping food all over countless crevices in the house.

I tell her that we can only eat food at the table, which is technically a lie, because people can definitely eat food without sitting down at a table. She’s able to bust that myth every time she eats standing up, so why take me seriously?

I supervise her whenever I’m around, but human beings with opposable thumbs are surprisingly tricky. She uses step stools to dig into kitchen cabinets in the middle of the night, leaving unholy crumb trails all over the house… occasionally, even decaying bananas or apples under her bed which aren’t found until their funky stench prompts investigation.

Morning after morning, I wake up to find graham cracker bits all over the carpet, tables, and furniture. Demanding that Bridget clean them up kicks off predictable routines involving defiance, time-outs, and repeated lectures.

Even her four-year-old sister Brontë is getting frustrated, and she doesn’t struggle nearly as much as I do with ethical training methods. Four-year-old kids are  a paradoxical mixture of wild fantasy and pragmatism, as evidenced by the following recent exchange:

wolfMe (upon finding Graham cracker ground into the carpet again): Bridget, don’t throw food on the floor! It STINKS and we’ll get ants all over the house!

Brontë: YEAH. Ants and WOLVES!

Bridget looks alarmed.

Brontë: Right, mom? Ants and wolves will come?

Me: It’s possible.

Bridget trots over to the garbage can and chucks in a handful of cracker.

By God, it worked.

Bridget stopped dumping sugary crumbs once she learned that violent wolves might tear into our sanctuary after smelling them.

Apparently, my four-year-old had already thought of bringing monster threats to the table… and I just let them slide.

Why Mummies are Good At Camping

mummyThe other day, my four-year-old daughter abruptly stopped building her Lego princess skyscrapers to stare off into the distance, clearly lost in thought.

After a while, she turned to me and said, “You know… mummies would always have toilet paper on them.”

I laughed, which was not okay.

“That’s NOT funny!”

She’s fond of mummies, so maybe she found the mockery of their toilet-paper bodies unacceptable. Or maybe I was supposed to be wildly impressed by her deductive reasoning.  Maybe anything bathroom-related is sacred, or she views not having toilet paper as a very serious issue that should never be taken lightly.

Either way, she was completely disgusted by my irreverence.

One should never mock how mummies could always conveniently wipe their butts.



Over The Garden Wall Shows Us How to Escape the Beast


A massive, wolflike beast with crazed glowing eyes chases both children through a wooden cabin in an unknown forest. The screaming children run to the roof, where they find themselves trapped on the edge of a dizzying height with the dark wolf’s breath on their necks.

The younger one desperately tosses out a piece of candy and the wolf jumps after it, falling off the roof into a slowly grinding mill. The mill’s crushing wheel squeezes a tiny black turtle from the monster’s mouth as it flattens his gut.

Released from the turtle’s demonic possession, the monster transforms into a friendly dog  and the children are saved. Safe… at least until the eccentric, axe-wielding miller returns to his cabin.

Part of a gothic horror film? Surprisingly, no. I’m describing a scene from my four-year-old daughter’s favorite miniseries.

Animal companions aren’t usually this sarcastic
It’s called “Over the Garden Wall.” And it’s awesome.

It was only by chance we happened to watch this gem. While I was at the library picking up a new round of books for my kids, I happened to grab the DVD after noticing cartoon kids all over its cover.

Why not? I thought. It looked cute enough and I was dying to break up the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse and My Little Pony cartels.

We went home and I popped the sucker in, expecting an adorable story about kids and flowers and talking bluebirds. I had no idea we were about to watch a show involving possessed little girls who devour people alive, dancing skeletons who make you dig your own grave, or a chirpy bluebird who is secretly trying to fulfill her devil’s pact by selling the protagonists into child slavery.

If I knew this stuff was going to happen, I would’ve never brought the film home to my kids. 

I’m glad I was clueless however, because this thing is an absolute masterpiece and my daughter can’t get enough of it.

r1wV82XI think she was sold the moment the children wandered into a creepy town of dancing pumpkins because, as I’ve written about previously, my daughter is currently obsessed with pumpkins. She has embraced her dark side lately and “Over the Garden Wall” has just the right amount of dark side in it to utterly captivate her.

Pumpkinpeeps19.pngShe has excellent taste. The film, which follows the journey of two lost boys who fall into a mysterious supernatural forest, contains elements of Dante’s inferno (including a bluebird guide named “Beatrice”) and early American history.

Retro elements abound, from styles evoking cartoons from the 20’s to episodes that seem as if they were pulled straight from the 18th century Calvinist imagination. We’ve got Puritan-esque fears of the devil in uncultivated woods and the belief that constant hard work will keep us from wickedness. 

I can almost hear Jonathan Edwards calling us Sinners in the hands of an Angry God when I watch this thing.

And later, we see a 19th century schoolhouse with extra lashings of potatoes and molasses. The accents are vintage, the artwork looks pulled from lithographs, and the soundtrack would be at home on a phonograph.

The characters, more complex than you’d expect in any children’s cartoon, are voiced by the likes of Christopher Lloyd, Elijah Wood, and Tim Curry. They give spectacular performances throughout this odd film that feels as much  the like an American historian’s brilliant LSD trip as anything. 

But is it appropriate for children? I believe so.

One of these women wants to eat your soul
Although dark subjects are hinted at, nothing truly graphic
appears onscreen. While


overall feel is suspenseful and foreboding, there is enough comedy to keep it balanced. The protagonists are current-day children who fall into the spookier pockets of our culture’s past, but their modern attitudes are irreverent enough to keep the mood reasonably light.

Besides, I think kids are made of tougher stuff than we give them credit for. We sometimes forget how sanitized modern childhood has become.

Mostly, this is a good thing. I’m glad four-year-olds can’t watch someone being drawn and quartered in the market square anymore, or risk Black Lung by sweeping out people’s chimneys for a handful of change.

But on the other hand, I’m not sure the bubble-wrapped, artificial world of singing bunnies and helpful mice we create for our children always does the trick. No matter how many bright colors and storybook endings we shove down our kids’ throats, they still fear the monster in their closets.

Why? How are kids still convinced they live in a realm of demons after we’ve tried so hard to remove anything scary from their universe?

Maybe a little darkness is just inherent in our makeup. You don’t survive hundreds of thousands of years of evolution by thinking the world is totally safe. Centuries of ferocious animals, droughts, famines, and hostile tribes had to have left their mark.

And maybe throwing a little light on the darkness is better than refusing to acknowledge it at all. At least to a controlled, reasonable degree.

I guess only time will tell if I’ve gone too far by letting my kids indulge in this gritty cartoon. But so far, they love it and haven’t suffered an increase in nightmares. I’d recommend it to any parent with a kid who likes peeking into shadows.



Brontë Finds Out Her Mom is a Pumpkin-Slayer

My four-year-old daughter is currently in love with all things dark and creepy. She is all about Scooby Doo mysteries, haunted houses, and Tim Burton cartoons.

She calls them “smooky,” which I assume is a toddler variant on the word “spooky.” Maybe because spooky things seem to involve a lot of dry ice and fake smoke. I don’t know.

What I find particularly interesting about Brontë’s dark obsessions of late is how they represent such a complete turnaround from last year. She used to be terrified of sleeping with the lights out and no amount of glow-in-the-dark ceiling stars or night lights seemed to help.

Baby Sister slays a dragon

And the Halloween before last was a complete bust. I’d hoped her love of dressing up and the first candy exchange would move her past all the dancing skeletons and deranged jack-o-lanterns, but it was a disaster…


She yelled in abject terror when our first neighbor opened the door and ran screaming with both arms in the air across the second neighbor’s yard, dumping her candy bowl during her mad escape attempt. Halloween was over.

But a conversation this past October unexpectedly turned everything around. It went something like this…

Me: We are going to the pumpkin farm to get ready for Halloween. Halloween is fun! You get to dress up and go trick-or-treating. People give you candy.

Brontë: I no like Halloween. It’s scary.

Me: There are scary decorations, but it’s all pretend. You get to dress up in a costume!

Brontë: I no like pumpkins. Pumpkins are really scary.

Me: Don’t be scared! We are going to go to a pumpkin farm and you can pick out whatever pumpkin you like. Then we are going to go home and carve it and make pumpkin pie, then carve a face and make a jack-o-lantern. It’s okay…

At this, Brontë froze. Her eyes grew enormous while she pondered what I had just said.

She swiveled around and looked me straight in the eye as a wide smile grew on her face.

“I NOT SCARED OF PUMPKINS!” she shouted. “My momma is gonna CUT A PUMPKIN with a KNIFE and EAT IT!”

I blinked at her and nodded.

She began walking again, muttering, “My momma CUTS pumpkins and EATS them… we gonna get a pumpkin and CUT IT!”

I followed, finding her revelation both comforting and disturbing. There was an unmistakable twinkle in her eye every time she talked about CUTTING the pumpkins… with a KNIFE.

Hmm. I suppose she had spent the first few years of her life terrified of monsters and the dark. Maybe it wasn’t so weird to find the idea of powerful knife-wielding mom somewhat comforting.

Brontë lived in a primitive realm crowded with dragons and nightmares, one that logically required a mother as protective as she was nurturing.

Because what good is a delicate mother who lets you be kidnapped by errant, maniacal gourds? Okay Brontë, we’ll slay that pumpkin together…

We went to the pumpkin farm, where Brontë took great pains to select the perfect pumpkin. She circled the field over and over until finally pointing: “This one!”

We took it home and carved it up. She demanded a “happy pumpkin,” so I made a smiley face with triangle eyes before putting a candle inside and setting the grisly trophy on the doorstep as a warning to all would-be menacing pumpkins.

Brontë followed me everywhere, watching the ritualized pumpkin dispatch. When the pumpkin pie had cooled, I served her a triangle which she bit into with deep satisfaction.

Then she was ready for Halloween.

She donned her pirate costume, grabbed her candy bucket in one hand and my hand in the other, and stood up tall. We walked out the front door with dad and baby sister trailing behind.

As she approached the first house, she squeezed my hand harder. “Say ‘trick-or-treat’ and they will give you candy,” I told her as she nodded.

Brontë squeezes my hand while preparing for Pumpkin Combat

We rang the bell. Brontë squeezed my fingers.


The door opened and we stood for a moment before Brontë whispered “Trick or treat.”

Our neighbor smiled before dropping some miniature Snickers into Brontë’s and her sister’s bowl. We said thank you and walked away.

Brontë’s grip loosened as she smiled triumphantly. Each house was easier. The kids’ candy bowls were overflowing by the time we returned home.

They spent the night watching spooky cartoons while eating themselves sick on chocolate. Halloween wasn’t so bad, after all. You put up pretend spooky monsters and then strangers give you free candy while talking about how adorable you are.

“Next Halloween,” Brontë told me, “I want a mean pumpkin. And a scared pumpkin.”

And the funny thing is, Brontë isn’t afraid of the dark anymore.

Or scary monsters, or haunted houses, or spooky cartoons. She no longer saw any reason to feel threatened after conquering the Grand Tournament of Official Scariness known as “Halloween.”

Brontë didn’t even mind mean pumpkins hanging around the house. Because what pumpkin in its right mind would mess with the daughter of a pumpkin-slayer?

Brontë looks over her spoils as she reevaluates smookiness


Another Reason I’m Not a Real Grownup

She’s two, but believes glasses help her look more mature

Bridget just turned two a few days ago. Yay!

My kids made it past infancy, which I consider a big win given how much they want to jump from great heights and jam forks into light sockets.

This long, unbroken procreation line from the first evolving amoebas to our present-day offspring remains intact. Score two more points for our DNA.

As Bridget’s birthday approached, my husband and I remembered that Brontë was two years old when Bridget was born (their birthdays are a couple of weeks apart. June is a fun month in this house). Back then, Brontë was still sleeping in our room.

We knew we’d be needing her crib soon and didn’t want her sleeping in the same place as a screaming-all-night newborn. We decided to move her into her own room, with a “big girl” bed, two months before her sister’s arrival. Being moved out right as her sister arrived might make Brontë feel replaced, we thought,  which could lead to resentment.

Since Brontë’s Big Girl Bed was a roaring success at age two, John and I decided it was time to maneuver Bidgie’s convertible crib into toddler formation, where one of its side-walls is replaced with a “half-wall.”

So last night, after the kids’ teeth were brushed and nightgowns donned, we walked them into their room to find Bridget’s brand new Big Girl bed, in honor of her passage into full Toddlerhood.

Brontë was impressed and Bridget was ecstatic, running back and forth giggling with her arms in the air: FREEDOM! GLORIOUS FREEDOM! Plopping into her new bed with a contented sigh, she laid there for a moment before a smirk spread across her chubby face…

Then she wriggled out of her bed, stomped over to the light switch and flipped it off, setting the ceiling star stickers aglow.

You rang?

“NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” Brontë shrieked. She’s a fearless kid in many ways, but still terrified of the dark. She figures if you’re gonna sleep with the light off, you may as well leave flowers and cookies for the monsters too.

Brontë got out of bed, stomped over to the light switch, and flipped it back on, returning to her bed in a huff.

“BLEAAAAAAAAHHHHH!” Bidgie screamed. She’d been putting up with this sleep-with-the-lights-on nonsense for months now and finally had the opportunity to take action. She crawled out of bed, stomped back over to the light switch, and slapped it off again.

This was followed by inevitable screaming.

Uh oh… John and I hadn’t considered this turn of events.

The kids took turns stomping back and forth and shouting as the Great Light Switch Power Struggle raged on. Eventually, Bridget collapsed in defeat. She just couldn’t compete with a kid two years older.

As Bidgie struggled to pull blankets over her eyes, John and I looked at each other sideways, scratching our heads.

“Umm… Maybe we could drape a blanket over Bridget’s bed,” I suggested. “Now that she has a side exit?”

“I was just thinking the same thing,” John said as he wandered off.

Returning with a brown blanket and zip ties, John started arranging a makeshift tent over Bridget’s crib as I moved in to help him. After finishing, we further decided that since the kids’ beds were roughly the same length, we should push them together to leave more useable space in their room.

Backing away to survey our creation, it suddenly hit us: we had made our kids a fort. We were two grown adults who had just spent the evening building a giant bed fort in our daughters’ room.

Fort Minnie Mouse of Rocklin

And our kids decided it was the coolest thing they’d ever seen.

They scrambled onto the beds, climbing in and out of the bed linen fortress together and cried themselves giggling about making various stuffed animals poke their heads out the door. Toddler jokes.

They were still in hysterics for about half an hour after we kissed them good night and closed the door. Finally, the noise died down as they passed out in their respective beds.

They stayed quiet and John and I got to watch The Walking Dead in peace.

Bed forts: another underrated parenting technique.






The Basket Monster Strikes Again!

The Basketmonster
The Basket Monster

AAAAAGH! The Basket Monster is chasing me around the house! I ran around the kitchen island in circles before dashing through the living room, the Basket Monster hot on my heels….

Just as I thought I’d lost it, I turned around to find the Basket Monster RIGHT BEHIND ME, blowing my hair back with its mighty “RAAAWWWRRR!”

I escaped to the bathroom and thought I was safe, but the Basket Monster walked in, flickered the lights off and on and started shrieking, horror-movie style. Oh no!

But before I got TOO scared, my three-year-old flipped the lights back on and started giggling. “It’s just me, mommy!” Brontë said.

Lately, Brontë has been consumed with monsters. Monsters haunt her dreams and hide in her closet. We had to start performing nightly monster checks while administering No-Monster spray in her room before she could go to sleep. She insists her closet be COMPLETELY SHUT before I leave the room.

Monsters might slip through the cracks. You never know.

Because monsters wreak all manner of havoc, and sometimes adults cover it up.


Brontë (noticing the bandaid on my arm after a blood test): MOMMY! You hurt? What happened?

Me: It’s okay. I just had a blood test.

Brontë (sighing knowingly while patting my shoulder): Monsters?

Me: No, not monsters. The doctor.

Brontë (thinking I’m clearly feeding her a line of crap): Monsters. NOT Doctor Stuffins?

Me: Blood test.

Brontë (patting me gently while refusing to indulge my fictions): It’s okay mommy. Monsters gone now.


One of the less intimidating monsters

Perhaps to deal with her monster angst, Brontë has begun playing the monster herself. We usually go grocery shopping on Sunday, and she likes the cart with the car attached to the front.

Last time we went, she decided to reach out from her car-cart and grab people’s ankles as they were walking by. She pounced on them while growling, “MONSTERRRRRRRR…”

There were mixed reactions.

Some people found toddler-monster-ambush hilarious, chuckling as they walked ahead, while others looked at Mommy like she had clearly lost her mind, allowing that much willful irreverence in a grocery store.

Either way, it sure amused Mommy.

And when we went home, Brontë donned the Laundry Basket.

Sometimes, to defeat the monster,

You must…

Become the monster.


My Husband Lectures Me About Comic Books

redneckMy husband and I love watching  The Walking Dead together. He couldn’t be happier that I’ve finally gotten on board the zombie bandwagon, since he’s been an aficionado and self-proclaimed expert for years.

I used to think he was crazy every time we were walking down the street and he would point out why some random building would make a great (or terrible) base camp for the zombie apocalypse.

“WHOA, look at that!” he would say, all excited, “That place has no low windows, a roof outlet, and a big iron fence surrounding the place. That’s totally where we need to go after the zombie apocalypse hits!”

Umm, okay. I had no idea how a grown-ass man could spend so much time planning against monster attacks, but I figured he had enough other good qualities to keep around. Plus, he might come in handy if the zombie apocalypse hits.

He had hassled me into watching all kinds of zombie movies,  certain that with enough exposure, I would  understand his vigilance. I would occasionally humor him (because I want to watch stuff like Downton Abbey without resistance), but would be bored the entire time.

For one thing, monsters aren’t real, so I don’t understand devoting loads of mental energy and strategic planning on them. For another, monsters are scary and I end up having to sleep with the lights on.

For over a year, he kept nagging me to try The Walking Dead, but I was absolutely sure I wouldn’t like it. Finally one night, after we wrapped up Breaking Bad, I agreed to give it a go. It went down like this.

John: So now that Breaking Bad is over, you want to try Walking Dead?

Me: Umm. Didn’t we have some other show we were interested in seeing?

John: No, we’ve watched all the shows we wanted to see. You want to just try an episode or two?

Me (sighing deeply while rolling my eyes): Uh… FINE. But if I hate it, I don’t watch to have to watch the whole series.

I sat through a few episodes (despite my terrible attitude) and by the third, I was absolutely hooked. I LOVE this show.

Maybe it’s the great story development, maybe it’s the complex moral dilemmas, or maybe it’s the fact that TWD actually includes well-written, bad-ass female characters, but I found myself not only anxiously awaiting every next episode, but totally sucked into the whole zombie mythology.
shaneI would have long discussions with friends (sometimes involving ridiculously-long Facebook comment threads) where we would dissect all the choices and motivations of TWD characters. We shared quiz results about which WD character we’re supposed to be. We talked about how Rick should be planning better for the Governor’s imminent attack on the prison.

One time, we were discussing Andrea’s gaping character flaws when my buddy George told me how she was a much more sympathetic character in the original comic book series. He told me about a few changes they made in the television show (like the invention of Daryl and Merle) and recommended reading the comic books if I ever had the chance.

Hmm, that sounded like a great idea. I couldn’t get enough of The Walking Dead and this would open up a whole new dimension. So I told John that I wanted to get the comic books. The discussion went like this…

Me: My friend George was telling me about The Walking Dead comic books. He said that in the comic books, Andrea is more likable and Merle and Daryl don’t exist.

John: Really? That’s interesting.

Me: He said the comics are really good though. I’d like to get them so I can check them out.

John (looking very stern): Now, you understand that comic books are an investment, right? You can’t go leaving them around your bathroom like your lady magazines.

Me: Lady magazines?

John (very seriously): Yes, your lady magazines and your lady books. You just plop them on the back of your toilet and next to the bathtub.

Me: I also have mystery novels in there.

John (sighing): Well, it’s unacceptable to treat comic books this way. Comic books are investment pieces that need to be kept in dust jackets. You have to be careful when you turn the pages and you can’t go setting your coffee cups on them. Understand?

Me: Yeah “dad,” I hear what you’re saying. You don’t want me to jack up the comic books like I do all my lady mags.

John: Or set your coffee cups down on them.

Me: Because comic books are mature investments for serious grown-ups.

John: Exactly.

Me: If we get a Michonne action figure, can I take her out of the box and play with her?

John: You need to be serious about this.

Me: Yes, because this is a very serious discussion about the importance of comic book integrity.

My husband is actually lecturing me about messing up my toys.

My Daughter Projects Her Psychic Apparatus Onto Imaginary Friends

My two-year-old daughter has personified the warring factions of her psyche and is literally working out her issues using imaginary friends.

Kids are concrete thinkers. They are literalists who imagine all manner of abstractions as physical beings. Everything unknown is magic and The Dark, or disquieting unknown, is the perfect breeding ground for magic of any sort. Fears and anxieties become monsters… nocturnal monsters that can hide under your bed. 

Brontë lives in a world bursting with monsters, but also has a strong coterie of imaginary stuffed animal and doll friends.  She makes them talk, giving them unique temperaments and catch phrases.

Within her inner circle are a number of distinct personalities, roughly corresponding to Freud’s model of the psychic apparatus.

The Id

Pink Bear climbs the Forbidden Cat Tree
Pink Bear climbs the Forbidden Cat Tree
Pink Bear strikes again, flipping Brontë's bed into a jungle gym
Pink Bear strikes again, flipping Brontë’s bed into a jungle gym

Don’t be fooled by how adorable Pink Bear looks in his little pink hoodie. He is pure chaos. He jumps on the bed, knocking everything over. He scrambles up into the kitchen cabinets to sneak honey. He pulls all of Brontë’s clothes out of her dresser and dumps them around her room.

Walk into Brontë’s room to see all the books knocked out of her bookshelf into piles on the floor? “Pink Bear did it!” she will say.

Pure chaos
Pure chaos

Pink Bear will take off whenever he feels like it, living by the pleasure principle alone. Pink Bear will unwind toilet paper all over the place. He will make a mess, just to do it. He’s a rebel without a cause.

Sometimes he even locks Brontë’s baby sister in the bathroom. Pink Bear is clearly a bad influence.

The Superego

Perfect Punzel, the Pollyanna Princess
Perfect Punzel, the Pollyanna Princess

Brontë’s Superego is embodied by “Punzel,” the princess doll. She has long blonde hair and always wears beautiful dresses. She is pretty: her hair is pretty, her face is pretty, her clothes are pretty, and all of her things are pretty. She likes to ride horses and eat cupcakes. She is friends with all other the other princess dolls and likes to invite them to princess parties.

Brontë invites her aunt to Perfect Punzel-Land
Brontë invites her aunt to Perfect Punzel-Land

Punzel is everything we expect her to be, as well as everything we want little girls to be. She wears frilly dresses, hosts tea parties, and talks in a pretty, soft voice. She never gets angry, never says anything ugly, and never, absolutely ever, sneaks honey out of the kitchen cabinets. She often finds herself in distress and needs rescuing, but that comes with the territory of being a glamorous princess.

Punzel does, however, sometimes come into conflict with Pink Bear. She disapproves of his mess-making and general barbarian tendencies, whereas Pink Bear thinks Punzel is a prissy little goodie two-shoes with no backbone.

At story time, which is Brontë’s favorite nightly ritual, Punzel and Pink Bear will often jockey for position next to Brontë as a book is being read. They both want to see the pictures, but don’t want to look at each other’s stupid face.

The Ego

Brontë's consigliere and best imaginary friend
Brontë’s consigliere and best imaginary friend

Chief among Brontë’s inner circle is Minnie. She is a Minnie Mouse puppet blanket and Brontë’s constant companion.

Minnie knows how to balance her public persona with a good dose of merrymaking, but also has a wild side. She will throw tantrums, draw pictures of poo, blow indignant raspberries, grab books in her mouth and throw them, and even try to bite the other animals when angry enough.

Ensconced in Minnie's comforting loyalty
Ensconced in Minnie’s comforting loyalty

Most of her antics, however, are motivated by her desire to keep the other imaginary friends in line. When Pink Bear and Punzel are disrupting story time with constant bickering, Minnie Mouse tells them to “SHUT UP” and points out where each of them needs to sit. She can be a little bossy, but without her level-headed mediation, all hell would break loose.  Someone has to step up.

The Shadow

Monster double agent
Monster double agent and all-around untrustworthy bear.

In Brontë’s imaginary pantheon of psychic dilemmas, there even exists a shadow figure. Meet Orange Bear, the traitor.

See that gentle grin? Those reassuring eyebrows lifted in the middle in a way that suggests harmless benevolence? Don’t believe them. Those eyebrows are a lie.

Brontë thought Orange Bear was her friend, but he was entrusted with the sacred duty of protecting her from monsters at night. He looks big and tough, so one night when she was telling me all about the scary night monsters that sneak into her room, I reassured her that Orange Bear was there to keep her safe.

The next morning, she stomped out of her room, disgusted, while dragging Orange Bear behind her. With utter disdain, she summarily dumped Orange Bear in the hallway.

Confused, I started dragging him back into her room and she had a fit. “NO!” she screamed, “NO ORANGE BEAR!”

“You don’t want Orange Bear in your room? He keeps the monsters out,” I said.

“HE DO NOT,” she shouted, “He let monsters IN my room!” And with that, she banished Orange Bear forever.

Brontë considers loyalty a great virtue. Betrayal will not be tolerated. Orange Bear’s transgression was unforgivable, and to this day, Orange Bear is not allowed to step foot into Brontëland.

Technically, the Shadow figure is an element of Jungian psychology, not Freudian. I find this gratifying, since I’m fonder of Jung than Freud. Perhaps this entire schema should be revised  in terms of Jungian archetypes. Let’s see… Punzel would be the princess. Pink Bear is the outlaw, and Minnie is the mentor?

Whoever thought that child’s play is frivolous? Seems fraught with emotional drama to me. Next time your kids (or any kids) are acting stuff out with their dolls (or “action figures” if they are boys, because obviously boys play with “action figures”), pay attention. You might be surprised by how often inner turmoil is personified into concrete characters.

Your Kids Want to Do What You Do; Grimace’s Love Child

1970546_10152508857999821_3010221393123581823_nCar rides have not been positive experiences for Brontë. While many parents take their howling infants on impromptu car rides to calm them down, our daughter tends to shriek at the top of her lungs whenever she is in a car. Since she can keep it up for well over an hour, car rides with Brontë have so far not been very positive experiences for her parents either.

Often, me threading my arm into the back seat to hold her hand is the only thing that calms her, but even this offers no comfort in a car wash. Brontë is absolutely terrified of car washes. The same child who has been bolting toward the highest slide on the playground and throwing herself down it head first, ever since she could walk, will erupt in a howling fit of terror the moment water starts misting the car.

Whenever her behavior seems nonsensical, I try to view it from a toddler’s perspective: She is locked down in a carseat, with no ability to control her surroundings, as the world whizzes past her at 70 miles an hour. Suddenly, she’s backed into a dimly-lit garage, where a whooshing hurricane appears to hit the car as a bunch of frenzied Fry Kids smack against the windows like they’re trying to break in…

Am I completely dating myself here? Anyone else remember the Fry Kids, those multicolored mops with google-y eyes that McDonald’s used to shill its French fries from 1979 to 1996?

Grew up to work at car washes everywhere
Grew up to work at car washes everywhere

While we are on the subject of the McDonald’s cast, I’d like to share a little theory of mine. Remember Grimace, that big purple guy  that ran around McDonald Land, drinking shakes all the time? He was a big celebrity for a while, then all of a sudden drops off the face of the Earth.


I think alcoholism did him in. The pressures of show business, having to constantly smile around all those hungry kids… he starts Irishing up those shakes at some point, just to take the edge off, which eventually leads to a serious problem. Hey, it was in his genes… his lesser-known uncle was Uncle O’Grimacey, who visited around St. Patrick’s Day every year to hawk his Shamrock Shakes.

Well, I bet Uncle O’Grimacey was visiting one time when he noticed how stressed out his nephew was, so he whips up some “Shamrock” shakes and before you know it, they are hashing out ancient family dramas and singing songs from the old country together.

Grimace was able to keep his work and private life separate at first, but his behavior became increasingly unpredictable, and before anyone realized what was happening, he was sitting kids down so he could “tell them what their problem is,” and you just can’t have fantasy characters acting out like that around kids. McDonald’s quietly phased him out and that was the end of his career.

But at some point before he was run out of town, Grimace had a brief fling with some unknown coworker that led to an illegitimate child. That child grew up to become Barney, the children’s pop superstar.  Think about it. He’s big and purple, like his dad, and sings with the preternatural cheerfulness that only someone who has been through a lot of group therapy will. All this “I love you and you love me” business sounds a lot like someone who has worked at hashing out their self-esteem issues and can’t handle any more chaos.  It smack of overcompensation.

This is a dinosaur in pain
This is a dinosaur in pain

So anyway, back to my car story. Brontë chews her fingers in abject terror whenever the Fry Kids assault our car during a hurricane, which seems reasonable enough when seen in that perspective, and won’t calm down despite ample reassurance. It’s part of her generalized car anxiety.

One day, Brontë and I were sitting in the car together after her dad ran into the store for something quick. I figured I could unlock her carseat to let her stretch out her limbs before her dad returned, maybe it would feel good to move around while we are parked. As soon as I let her loose, she scrambles into the front seat, giggling.

She reaches over to the seat belt, pulls it across her body, and tries to snap it closed. She digs into the glove compartment and starts flipping through the car manual. She reaches into the drink holder and holds a cup of iced tea like a grownup, sipping out o f the straw while trying to turn the radio on. She’s having a blast.

Since she has spent most of her waking car hours in the back seat in a straightjacket (or “car seat,”) I didn’t think my 2-year-old daughter knew what was going on in the front. Obviously, I was wrong. She has watched her parents intently, seeing how they play with the radio, put seat belts on, fumble in the glove compartment… she just wanted to be part of the action all along.

10649696_10152508857914821_2367948547558779923_nThe takeaway? Your kids study your behavior and copy it, even if you don’t realize it. That’s why “do as I say, not as I do” isn’t very convincing.

Also, don’t Irish up your beverages at work.