I walk into her closet, leaving the light off, and close the door behind me. My socks are no protection against the floor which I am convinced is ice made to look like wood. Her closet is always so cold. I stand there facing the door and I begin to shake but not just from the chill. I am 34 years old and I’m not ashamed to admit that I am still afraid of the dark. Standing in there I can see just a few inches all around me but not much more. I’m thankful that I recently cleaned this space of its clutter but, still. Standing in her dark closet brings back memories of watching scary movies as a kid. To other kids my age, those movies were not all that scary, but they still frightened me. A scene from E.T. springs to mind, the view from the closet through the slats in the door. There was a time when I was too young to see the beauty of that movie and only saw the terror. For a while it was all frogs jumping everywhere and men in hazmat suits long before I knew what a hazmat suit was. So, of course, I was terrified. I try to remind myself that I’m an adult. I’m the mother now. I shouldn’t be afraid of the dark. I know that there is nothing lurking in her dark closet. But I’m still shaking, just a little. I don’t like to be scared.
My children, on the other hand, seem to love it. Or, at least, she does. He has just entered the scared-of-the-dark phase and refuses to enter a space that hasn’t been well lit, even in my arms. But he follows her everywhere and so if she wants to be scared, he’s usually right there too. And she often wants to be scared. She plays hide and seek because she loves the thrill of knowing we could jump out around any corner. She wants us to tuck ourselves away and spring out to surprise her. And she begs for us to be the monster.
Being the monster is quite simple, really. The two of them curl up in her bed, usually under covers, and, at my leisure, I sneak into the room and startle them with tickles, adding a growl for effect. They scream and squeal and their eyes grow with what they want us to believe is fear but is really just extreme surprise. And then the tickles and giggles finish it off. I wander off, folding laundry and doing other such monster things before starting the whole thing over again. I don’t get the appeal but they love it. And although I don’t love being called a monster, the invitation to tickle them and squeeze them and hear their squeals is one I don’t often turn down.
I love that she loves to be scared. Because it means that she is surpassing me. Or spinning off a different thread, one that I surely did not pass on to her. It means that she’ll spend fewer nights awake from dusk till dawn, the scary movie she watched that day playing over and over in her head. It means that the night lights that set her room aglow will dwindle over time and she’ll never find herself shaking in a darkened closet three decades from now. I like to think she has less fear than me and that this will take her farther. And I like how she surprises me as I surprise her.
“Mommy!?” I hear their feet coming down the hall, not their usual run because they are thrown off by not being able to find me. “Mommy? Where are you?” I call out that she should get dressed, knowing full well that she will be able to follow the sound of my voice but that she’ll pretend that she can’t so that she doesn’t ruin the surprise. The light clicks on in the closet and in another breath the door swings open. I form my fingers into claws and deliver my best monster growl and she shrieks and squeals and laughs out loud. “That was so much fun!”
And I laugh too. Yes, it was fun.
linking up with Lisa for 1-word prompts