I’m afraid of ghosts, even though I don’t believe in ghosts.
To start with, it doesn’t make sense that most ghosts come from the 19th century. Where are all the old guys in Bermuda shorts? You never hear about mundane ghost problems like Uncle Rob eating all the mixed nuts every time you leave the room.
It’s never Aunt Josie hanging her orthopedic bra over your shower or some 80’s kid who keeps flipping the stereo to Michael Jackson hits. No, it’s always some creepy little girl in a white dress staring you down in the hallway, or an axe murderer writing blood messages on the mirror. What about Neanderthals?
The rational part of my brain doesn’t believe in ghosts for a second, but that doesn’t stop me from flipping the light on every time I think about them too long. I’d never be able to sleep in a haunted house because I’d be too busy curling into a quivering ball at every random noise (Being a ball totally protects me from supernatural powers, right?)
These days, if I need to walk across my house in the middle of the night, there’s a very good chance of encountering a discarded doll along my journey. She’ll just be lying on the floor, staring at me in the quiet darkness with her menacing dead eyes as I crab-walk sideways to grab a glass of water.
And it was in this creepy hellscape of frozen dolls and off-key music boxes last night that my four-year-old daughter Brontë asked me, “I don’t like dead bodies, mommy. Do you?”
“NO. I do not like dead bodies,” I told her while wondering what put this idea in her head.
“Where have you seen dead bodies?” I asked.
“I’m seeing themright now.”
Aaaand that’s when my blood turned to ice.
Heart pounding, I looked down at the Wii balance board I was fixing up for her, sorting out what direction to insert the double AA’s. Something clicked.
“Dead… BAT-TER-IES?” I ask.
“Yeah,” Brontë says. “Dead batteries means your stuff doesn’t work! You don’t like them, right?”
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.
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.
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?