Sunday, August 19, 2007

Scared

The Pie is worried.

On the second-last page of the book, Madeline’s bed is still ominously empty – and the other little girls all have tummy-aches that no one seems to be taking seriously. It’s a cliff-hanger ending, one that leaves her studying the illustrations long after the lights are out, using the last rays of daylight to peer hopefully into the book, looking for reassurance.

She’s starting to suspect that something’s up. At the grocery store the other day an ambulance went by. “Someone is sick,” she announced to her father when we got home. “They need to go to the hopspital.” Despite my heartily false assurances that the doctors will make the sick people better – that there will, in fact, be toys and candy and a doll-house from papa – she senses in the urgency of the wailing sirens a hint of tragedy lurking just outside the corners of her well-ordered life. Within the sphere of the known are picnics and babies and trips to IceCream Robbins, but just beyond those flickering boundaries are dark shadows. She doesn’t know what they mean, but she mistrusts them.

“I’m scared of that one,” she told me this week, pointing to the stair of our back porch. I bent down to see what had created this sudden phobia in my formerly fearless girl, and it was a tiny spider web. No spider was in residence and no bugs were wrestling against their cobwebby shackles – it was just a tiny net of gossamer, too fragmentary to catch anything but a few bits of dry leaves.

“Don’t worry,” I told her. “This step is safe to land on.” She put her foot down delicately, then promptly forgot her sudden impulse of arachnophobia as she ran off to tussle with Bub over the division of the back-yard toys. Her scrappy self is still capable of chasing away that dawning awareness of danger, sadness, pain.

It is not that my daughter is becoming fearful. Like Madeline herself she is confident, sure of herself, daunted by nothing. I don’t know if she would say “Pooh-pooh” to a tiger at the zoo – she beat a hasty retreat yesterday from a sudden face-to-face encounter with a horse at the petting-zoo barn. From the safety of her crib, though, she insists that “the big horse” was her favourite part; she believes in her own fearlessness, and her self-concept is in no way damaged by the occasional need to admit that she is scared.

She is not a fearful child, but she is wary. She doesn’t yet know the things we grown-ups have schooled ourselves to forget, but she recognizes her ignorance for what it is, and she guards herself accordingly.

29 comments:

Jenifer said...

My daughter is recently vry afraid of things that previously unconcerned her. Mostly anything with a loud noise (vaccuum cleaner in particular).... Bugs too, she wouldn't go down her slide because of an ant the other day.

It is interesting to see when and how fear develops in a child.

kgirl said...

Bee's fears fluctuate - one day the rooster at the farm is her favourite, but at our next visit, she 'no like the rooster.' But these are fears that don't worry me.

It's when her fear of Swiper (from Dora) surfaced, much more real than any I could previously reassure away, that I started to realize what a big, fabricated, stupid, scary world she will be exposed to.

Stupid freakin tv.

slouching mom said...

That book really frightened me when I was more or less Pie's age.

That she had to go the hospital...it seemed so dire.

nomotherearth said...

The Boy is cautious and sensitive by nature. He says he likes things - like Peacocks - and then they squawk too loudly and he cries and wants to leave.

I think wariness is a really good quality for a kid to have in today's world. It suggests someone who isn't afraid, but also someone who also doesn't take ridiculous risks.

Jill said...

I love that little girls are so good at expressing how they feel. My little girl isn't fearful either, but when she is scared, she knows what to call it. "I scared, Mama." It's a nice change of pace from my boys who aren't sure how to label how they feel and respond to fear with anger or frustration.

Omaha Mama said...

I'll never forget the first thing that made my Brenna frightened. Humpty Dumpty on a Dora the Explorer episode about riddles and nursery rhymes. I couldn't figure it out, but also couldn't convince her not to be terrified. I think we ended up letting a cousin take the video because she was so scared. These days, it's everything (dark, movies, strange noises, anything) that scares her. But that first time she was afraid, I'll never forget.

painted maypole said...

That Pie, she's a smart one. I love how you put it, about her mistrusting the things we adults choose to forget. The shadows are always there, aren't they?

I've left you a nice award over at my place. :)

Joy, of course said...

Allie was scared of everything when she was a baby. The dark. The thunder. Fireworks. The ice maker.

And Ben came out so brave and calm we thought he was different. But now random things: a turtle or a spider will send him into hysterics. Just this week he seems to have developed an awareness that dark is frightening. And it's because of a book, one that I am sure was supposed to aleve fears, that he has noticed it.

It is interesting to watch this process of awareness and how it brings with it wariness.

Interesting post.

Kyla said...

She is a wise one, that Pie. She knows that she does not know and is careful accordingly. It takes a long time for some people to learn that lesson.

Karen said...

yes, she sounds just old enough to know when "something is not right..."

Sober Briquette said...

Can I just dump on you right now? I was beside myself last night.

Yesterday we took the kids to a country fair, and they had signs up on the animal pens: Rabies warning. Do not feed or touch the animals.

I was ignoring the signs (like many of the fair goers) and pet a couple of curious goats, and tickled the snout of the only pig that was not passed out in the heat of the day.

My daughter (5) read the signs. Asked what it meant, and then I made my mistake. I answered more or less truthfully, but then tried to explain that gray area of why it wasn't really true and didn't really apply to us. I let her use copious amounts of hand sanitizer. And of course, it didn't work.

Many hours later, after we'd said goodnight, she called me in to her room. She was shaking and hysterical, begging me to take away all of her stuffed animals and books about animals. Animals are BAAAAD.

I'm confident we'll get past this, but I just wasn't ready to lose my mommy superpowers already. Can't I just kiss it away? Just once more. And again?

Jenifer said...

Neither of my girls are really fearful or even smartly cautious. They charge ahead full steam most of the time. A new development though is bugs for Rosebud, she is terrified. A fly landed on her while outside recently she sobbed and insisted on coming inside. I am not used this at all so I find it a bit strange.

The only thing they are not crazy about are the scary parts of movies, especially Disney.

It is fascinating though to see how it all unfolds in their minds.

danigirl said...

I guess it's no surprise that burgeoning awareness of the world outside their safe little cocoon coincides with the fear and anxiety stage, is it? I find it interesting that some of the things that terrify Simon (mooing cows is a huge one, for some reason) never phased Tristan. And yet I'd say Tristan is the more cautious of the two.

Lawyer Mama said...

This is just starting to happen in my fearless Holden as well. It's a sad milestone, but fascinating nonetheless.

Emily said...

We're going through this, too. We went to a petting zoo, and a sheep baaed and terrified my 3 year old. A pig grunted and terrified his brother. And, we never even get to Swiper because the Map makes Zach scream for me to turn off Dora.

Yet, he is brave in so many other ways. Bravery is facing your fears, and he is brave.

bubandpie said...

I only wish my children were afraid of Swiper. Instead they admire him intensely and emulate him as much as possible.

I think psychological fears are entirely separate from physical caution. Bub is very cautious about slides and climbing obstacles at the playground, but he is not at all fearful of more abstract dangers.

Jill is right, though, about boys and girls. I'm constantly amazed at the Pie's emotional self-knowledge.

NotSoSage said...

Ah, yes.

Mme L is coming into a very clear understanding of fear and worry, too. Most memorably, she cried inconsolably when, in a video she was watching, two sisters were yelling at each other. And one of the things she most commonly says lately is, "Mama, I'm worried..."

When the car broke down yesterday (rgh), she couldn't stop worrying. We just want to tell her that worrying is for us to do. That at 2.5, there should be little that worries her. But then, maybe that's not the right message.

bubandpie said...

SB, Sage - It's funny - so many of their fears at this age are irrational, and yet the reality of the world is far worse, in many respects, than they can possibly imagine. I think that's the underlying fear behind all the nightmares and phobias - the dawning realization that bad things can happen.

winslow1204 said...

It is interesting to see our children develop, with their courage and their fears.. :)

Mimi said...

Ah, The Pie, testing the limits of her own personality. This is an interesting moment you've managed to capture here, your little girl caught between knowing and not-knowing, afraid and unafraid, but consciously building her own sense of self .. sometimes in the face of contradictory evidence. :-)

Beck said...

WE're currently dealing with a super-fearful 8 year old - she spent all spring reading gruesome Goosebumps books and they caught up with her All At Once. So now we have restless nights and bad dreams.

Bon said...

i am waiting, wary myself, for this sense of the world beyond the safe borders of our reasonably happy domesticity to begin to permeate O's understanding. i do not think it has begun yet, but he does not have much language to share if it had...so i wonder.

i know it is normal, and probably necessary, and sometimes even thrilling to have shadows lurking at the edge of the light one feels safe in...but still, the idea that it will happen to him is like a shadow at the edge of my own world, and i am on guard, wanting to protect this unproblematized light while (i believe) it still exists, on guard, helplessly, against the closing of the window.

Mommy-Like Days said...

My daughter seems to be so much less fearful than my son. She chases after dogs to catch them, he runs as far away as possible. But she can't verbally express her emotions yet, so we'll see. Geister, on the other hand, is finding new power in verbalizing his feelings: "I will be so mad if you do that" or "This makes me sad" or "I am not happy anymore Mommy!" all in an effort to get what he wants. But the latest seemed much more genuine: "I'm worried Mommy" (?).

Christine said...

we've noticed a funny pattern: whatever my daughter says she is scared of her younger brother declares he is a afraid of it too and acts accordingly. we don't want to squash her trust in us and want to let her tell us her fears, but we've had to ask her to be more mindful of what she says in front of her brother which is so so hard.

Alpha DogMa said...

I am Queen of Irrational Fears (asteroids are hurtling toward our planet at this very moment and WE CAN DO NOTHING to stop them! Why is no one else concerned?) and from an early age carried with me a great sense of foreboding. I had my own internalized John Williams soundtrack warning me of the ill that could come my way. I was just a joy. An ulcer-ridden, 10-year old joy.

But I've married a man without fear. Rational to the core, my husband.

So naturally our children LOVE being afraid. They love Darth Vader. They run around in the darkened basement being chased by imaginary goblins. They play games of dare, to see who can get closest to the lawnmower. Fear is fun. Fear is a game! And I love them for it.

Janet said...

I remember desperately wondering when my fearless eldest would develop some trepidation, he was so fearless and oblivious to any and all dangesr.

Now that he's 8 and he sometimes comes to me with his brow knit in worry, the weight of the world on his shoulders, I wish he could return to his carefree two-year-old self.

kittenpie said...

We've gone through and discarded again a few fears this summer alone. Ants were terrifying until we read Effie, she has just lost it over a spider despite my staunchest efforts not to react in the face of one with her nearby, she no longer seems to worry about bees and dragons are a subject of conversation, and no longer just at midnight when one rouses her from a nightmare. But the things that enduringly freak her out are loud things - most notably, the subway. She seems a bit sensitive to noise.

PeanutButtersMum said...

I totally feel like I dropped the ball last weekend when it came to showing my son my lack of fear. Hubby picked up a big toad on Saturday night and I proceeded to screech. The toad proceeded to pee (out of his own fear) all over hubs. I proceeded to display my disgust with fits of "ew's" and "that's disgustings." Little PB now is afraid of toads. I feel so responsible.... ;-)

PunditMom said...

I love the fearlessness of small children. And I am sad that I see it, also, disappearing, in PunditGirl. How to get it back?