Defining “Monster”

It’s the most wonderful time of the year my fellow denizens of the universe on this side of the proverbial wormhole of  existence. But presently, the sublime joy that I should be feeling about the holiday season despite my pseudo-Grinchiness in years past has been supplanted not by questions about the existence of Santa Claus, Missus Claus, their nine flying reindeer (why do people always exclude Rudolph and just say “eight flying reindeer” anyway? I mean sh*t, they didn’t write a song about Dasher and Dancer; they wrote a song about Rudolph) and their cadre of indentured servants I mean elves but about something completely unrelated. Unrelated, and unexpected.

I can’t believe that I didn’t see this coming. I mean, I should have. After all, Cara is my daughter and if history has taught me anything about… well, me its taught me that I’m not always the most well-adjusted individual. Those of you that have known me since the wayward days of my youth are aware of this, as well (sacrificing Billy Joel to the highway gods, anyone?). And for the most part, Cara has shown signs that she is a carbon copy of my wife/her mother, Nicole, and not me, which is good. No blogs entitled “Random Musings of a Pseudo-Madwoman” in her future. Is it any wonder that I let my guard down? No. Not really. But I did, and guess what happened?

It all started a few weeks before Halloween. We were hanging around in our living room after dinner one Sunday night. I was feeding Natalie and Cara was watching “Tangled.” Nicole was on her computer looking at Halloween costumes and she asked Cara, “What do you want to be for Halloween, honey?”

Cara’s immediate response? “A monster.”

Me: “A monster, huh?” I turned to Nicole and mouthed pridefully, that’s my daughter. Nicole smiled sarcastically, rolled her eyes and shook her head.

Cara: “Yes.”

Nicole: “Why not a kitty cat, honey? Or a princess?”

Cara: “No, mommy. I want to be a monster. Can Natalie be a monster, too?”

Admittedly, the initial pride that I felt at not only Cara wanting to be a monster for Halloween but having her baby sister be one, too quickly faded and I began to question myself and my parenting skills. How does Cara even know about monsters, I thought. As far as I knew and as far as I know presently, the only exposure that my three year old has ever had to monsters is via Sesame Street. And Elmo, Grover, Cookie Monster and Telly aren’t exactly the invasive monsters that most of us associate with the term, i.e. Dracula, the Werewolf, Frankenstein, the Blob and the Crites to name a few.

FYI: If you don’t know what a Crite is you need to check out the movie “Critters.” It came out in the mid-1980’s and it is a masterful piece of Reagan Era, cinematic super cheese. Think a Tribble gone cannibal and you’ll develop an accurate representation of what the f*ck a Crite looks like. Add a spattering of foul language and a couple of shape shifting, alien bounty hunters (one of whom looks like Jon Bon Jovi) and you end up with one of my all time, favorite movies. See? I told you I wasn’t always the well-adjusted, picture of sanity that you are all familiar with.

Um… yeah. Right. End FYI.

Back to monsters and Cara’s understanding of them. I didn’t think much of it at the time save for my initial, subconscious inquiry. Neither Nicole nor I had any intention of introducing Cara to the darker side of the term “monster.” Hell, we didn’t even want to let her watch “Monsters Inc.” despite its significance to our relationship (for those of you that didn’t know, “Monsters Inc.” was the movie Nicole and I went to see on our first date back in 2001). We let it lie. Halloween came and went and Cara was the cutest little, pink monster that I’ve ever seen. Natalie was a close second and that is not a reflection on her but rather, on her disinterest in wearing her monster hat which, had she worn it, would have made her the cutest little, pink monster that I’ve ever seen and Cara a close second (like how I did that?). We gallivanted around the neighborhood and collected candy for the better part of an hour before we returned home. Cara took off her costume and went to bed, and there was no more talk of monsters. None.

Then.

Sadly, Cara’s fascination with monsters did not end with her Halloween costume. Rather, it went in to hibernation for a few weeks before re-rearing its ugly, horned and pimpled head this past Monday night. It started innocently enough. I picked her and her sister up from school as I normally do. We made our way out the door in to the dark and out to my waiting car.  As I was loading Natalie in to her car seat I peripherally saw Cara step up on to the grassy knoll beside which my car was parked. I instinctively turned and stated in my best Unkie Frank voice, “Cara Angelina, don’t wander where I can’t see you.” She turned back to me, smiled, and said “why, daddy?”

Me: “Because its dark up there, baby.”

Cara: “Oh. And there are monsters in the dark, daddy.” To this day I thank God that Natalie was firmly affixed in her car seat else I’m not sh*tting you: I may have dropped her in shock at what my three year old had just muttered (Dad of the Year, I know). Thankfully, I had her seated and was able to tighten the straps around Natalie’s shoulders and midsection before I turned back to Cara.

Me: “No, Cara. There are no monsters in the dark.”

Cara: “Are there monsters in the day, daddy?”

Me: Ah f*ck. I didn’t vocalize those words but I thought them along with the question, how the f*ckity f*ck f*ck do I answer THAT? 

I didn’t. I closed the door, walked over, gathered her up and changed the topic from monsters to her day as I bucked her in to her own car seat, closed her door, climbed in to the driver’s seat, started the car and drove home. She went along innocently enough. The trade-off was that I had to listen to Cee Lo Green and the Muppets sing “All I Need Is Love” about five times between her daycare and our house which, in all honesty, is not that bad of a trade-off. BTW, if you haven’t heard that song yet check it out on Youtube. I promise that you won’t be disappointed. It’s an instant Christmas classic. I’d post a link here but I’d rather not distract from the topic of this blog entry anymore than I already have or will.

Later that night as I was putting her to bed, it came up again. As we were going through the nightly routine that Cara uses to push her bedtime back a minimum of 15 minutes–Cara reading me a story, us rocking, Cara getting in to bed, Cara asking for a drink, Cara needing to saying goodnight to Lucy her fish, et cetera, et cetera–she got emotional and asked me not to leave. When I asked her why her response was, to say the least, predictable per our earlier conversation. Nevertheless, I was still surprised by the suddenness of it:

“I don’t want to be alone in here with Lucy, my [stuffed] animals and the monsters.”

Me: Ah f*ck. F*ckity f*ck f*ck. Um… yeah. Right. That is, to say, I was utterly speechless for the second time in approximately three hours. After I’d composed myself, I explained to her that there were no monsters in her room and that if there were monsters her daddy would protect her from them. But that led to her asking “so there are monsters, daddy” and me back tracking and saying, “no, Cara, there are no monsters, but if there were monsters daddy would protect you from them.” And so on and so forth. 15 minutes became 30 pretty quickly and 30 became 45. I eventually got her to go to sleep but said situation repeated itself last night, leaving me not just with a big question mark in my mind about what’s going to happen tonight and tomorrow night, but a big dilemma: How do I explain monsters to a three and a half year old? 

I shouldn’t have to, guys. I keep telling myself that it is too soon. I know that the Monster Talk is as inevitable a talk as the Death Talk and the *CRINGE* Talk that I will Not Discuss Herein Because My Wife will be Giving that Talk. It has to happen eventually in some capacity, hopefully well before the Death Talk and that other Talk but I had hoped for a few more years of blissful innocence from my first born before I had to begin to teach her one of the most crucial truths that I will ever have to teach her as her father.

That truth? That monsters do exist, just not in the way that Hollywood portrays them. The real Draculas, Werewolves, Frankensteins, Blobs and yes, even Crites are the people that cause pain for either their own, sick satisfaction or because their ideology dictates it. Stalkers and molesters, militants and terrorists, rapists and murderers, even politicians. It is presumptive of me to think that Cara would or even could understand what a single one of these monsters is despite the fact that she has always been a quick study. And I’m sure as hell not going to sit her down in front of a television and show her “The Silence of the Lambs” or pictures of 9/11, now.

In reality? Monsters are still, for Cara, little more than the multicolored, felt inhabitants of that place that every kid can “tell [you] how to get” to. Perhaps there are one or two horned and pimpled orcs and/or goblins in her brain though I swear to you that they are not there because of me. Scout’s honor. Cross my heart and hope to… well, you know. Daddy constantly reinforcing for her that he will protect her against any monsters that happen to spontaneously appear on this side of the proverbial wormhole of her existence will hopefully be all the reinforcement that she needs for the next half a dozen years or so. But all the reinforcement in the universe cannot replace the realization that my daughter appears to have come to completely on her own:

Monsters are real. Regardless of how I or anyone else spins it, Cara now believes in them to some extent. And she’s not wrong. While certain types of monsters are fictional and are not real others like the ones I mentioned above are just as real as she is. That belief, for me, signals the beginning of her inevitable transition from a sheltered child in to something more. Not overnight, obviously. She is, after all, only three and a half and I’ve still got what I hope is a decade plus before I have to worry about sharpening my Claymore when her boyfriend comes to pick her up for a date.

Me: “So you want to take Cara to see the 3D, Smell-O-Vision re-release of ‘Monsters Inc.?'” Sharpen, sharpen. “Did you know that a Claymore can skewer three full grown men upon its blade? The Scots never tried it with teenagers.” Sharpen, sharpen.

Boyfriend: “Um… yeah. Right. You’re not exactly well-adjusted Mister Marsh, are you?”

No. I’m not. I once authored a blog called “Random Musings of a Pseudo-Madman.” Where do you think I got the “Madman” part from? I also used to refer to myself in the Third Person as Madchronicler and my all time favorite horror movie is an 80’s cheese fest called “Critters.” Every hear of it? Its about a race of extra-terrestrial, cannibalistic hairballs that attack the Earth but are driven back by Rick Springfield. Have Cara back by 10 or I’m going to reenact Act Two, Scene Five of that movie on you. What’s it about? I’ll give you a hint: It involves a staircase, a shotgun and the line, “they have weapons!”

But I digress. I can see that Cara is beginning to understand that there is more to her world than her home, her daycare, her friends’ houses, her Mom-Mom Minnie’s house or her Mom-Mom and Pop-Pop’s house. And she senses that its not all kitty cats and princesses. So as her father, what the hell do I do? How do I rein in her imagination before she starts seeing monsters or worse in every shadow?

Um… yeah. Right. Guess what? I have no farg’in idea. Perhaps I’m presuming too much. But I’d rather be completely wrong in making what I feel is a very responsible and well thought out deduction of my daughter’s psyche than deny the possibility and get caught with my britches down. What can I say? Part of being a new parent (and I am still a new parent; three years does not a Parental Sensei make) is being a tiddy-bit paranoid and I remain so with both of my daughters. I don’t like the thought of either of them being scared of anything so this whole idea of defining “monster” for Cara in a way that reassures her while alternately leaving a very, very important seed of thought in her psyche (equivalent to the Stranger Danger Seed) is incredibly important to me. I just don’t know how to proceed.

I think I’ll wait and see. The situation does not yet appear dire. I’ll wait and see what happens tonight and tomorrow night. If the topic doesn’t come up again then no worries, at least not for the moment. I’ll let it lie like I did back in late October/early November and wait for it to re-materialize. I just hope it doesn’t do so at 2:00 or 3:00 in the bleepin’ AM.

But what if it does? What if monsters are now as integral a part of Cara’s existence as waking up for 10 to 15 minutes at 1:30 in the bleep, bleep bleepidy bleep is a part of Natalie’s? Well, then. I guess I’ll just have to formulate a plan. And if that happens, I may need to solicit some advice from those of you that have gone through this. I may not yet be a Parental Sensei but I know enough to know that there are a few of you out there. You know who you are. If you’re reading this consider yourself tagged… and on call. I may need the parenting equivalent of your masterful Crane Style before long. In the meantime, its back to my visions of sugar-free sugarplums, Rudolph usurping Dasher as the head reindeer and a society of elves that have been freed from their servitude to Santa.

Um… yeah. Right. Guess what? I’m done. All together now: Oh thank God. 

 

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