Halloween decorations and spooky books and specials can seem like no-brainers when we’re trying to look for triggers that might scare our kids or cause anxiety, but at the end of the day it can be hard to pinpoint what is actually setting off their fears.
As parents, we can’t be there every minute, and even when we are, it can be hard to stay on top of all the stories and information that your kid absorbs from everywhere else — play dates, preschool, you name it.
In separated families it can be especially hard to track what, where, and when kidlets have seen or heard something — even when everyone’s on the same page.
Since my ex-husband and I split, I’ve been hyper-tuned-in to my kid’s anxiety levels, but always felt pretty confidant with her healthy expression of that kind of giggly, ticklish, excited fear that all kids seem to have when they’re being chased around in safe, silly fun.
But things can change on a dime —kids process things quickly and sometimes we don't know exactly what they’re putting together as explanations for themselves when we're not there to explain or clarify.
As parents we can hold our kids’ hands, but we can’t be filters for our kids’ imaginations, and that can be scary for parents because we have no idea what is actually going to make them scared.
My kid loves the dark.
She loves ghosts.
She loves dressing up.
Up until recently she loved skeletons too. And then…
“Mummy skeletons are what’s left after your skin falls off and your blood falls out and then you’re dead.”
“Yes. There’s a skeleton at my school.”
“Oh. Is it a decoration for Halloween?”
“Yes. And my friend says that it’s what happens when you die. Because you’re dead. And your skin and everything falls off. And there’s blood. And sometimes there’s worms. And you’re dead. And you come back and you make a lot of noise and you can’t even eat candy.”
At this point I could totally tell that my kid was terrified, but was it actually the decoration or the SUPER CREEPY conversation she had with her fellow 4 year old that triggered this sudden anxiety?
Was she scared of a festive prop, or of death?
How many years of therapy was I looking at?
And how the heck was I going to steer this conversation into a happy place when I was completely creeped out myself? Shudder. (“Are you mad? I am your daughter…”)
So I formulated my own, non-expert, parenting ‘Stop, Drop, and Roll’ equivalent for dealing with creepy stuff that my kid says, and now I'm going to share it with you.
If you are super concerned or anxious about something your kid says, they will know. They smell fear.
So stay calm, and treat it like it’s completely natural for them to be saying what they’re saying. Because it is. You’re the one who’s creeped out.
Explaining the ‘creepy’, can potentially ‘un-creepify’ it.
Bats are fascinating animals — you know, sonar.
And pumpkins are harvested in the fall.
And some people celebrate Halloween as New Years!
See? Learning educational facts about something demystifies it and shedding light on a topic might just help your kid feel more empowered.
Fear tends to be an emotion that freezes. Changing course and getting your kid to move, mimic, role play, or pretend, puts them in power and gets their focus on an activity instead of dwelling on a thought.
Here’s how I resolved the ‘skeletons…because you’re dead’ situation:
“Well..do you know where else there’s a skeleton right now that’s pretty awesome?”
“No….” Looking terrified Baby Girl burrowed into my arm pit.
“Inside of you! And there’s one inside of me, too. Cool huh?”
She seemed to embrace this fact immediately. “Yes and mine is very wiggly.”
“Well of course it is, but most importantly, without our own special skeletons we’d have a pretty hard time doing jazz or ballet or learning how to skate.”
“I know! Because without our bones we’d be like jelly.” She giggled. Oh what a relief to hear that giggle again.
“Why don’t you show me what it would look like to walk around like jelly?”
For a few minutes we danced and 'jellied' around the room.
Of course later that day she told me that a 'Mr. Ghost' told her to draw things (AIIIEEEEEEEEEEE!!! Clenching. Every. Muscle.) but that, my friends, is another story.
What creepy things have YOUR kids said to you that makes your blood freeze?
What do you do that helps ease your kid’s anxiety or fears around Halloween? Has that changed if you've become a single parent or separated family?
Share in the comments below. I’d love to hear your stories!
Horror Film Trivia Bonus!
Move over Robert Pattinson — the guy in the photo (who I added pjs and a teddy to) is a vampire screen legend! BAM.
Nosferatu is a public domain film (free for anyone to watch, present, or share in whole or in part) from 1922 (released 1929 in the US), directed by F.W. Murnau, with a screenplay by Henrik Galeen. It is the first ever motion picture that tells the story of Bram Stoker's Dracula.
The super creepy Count Orlok was played by Max Schreck. And he still creeps me out. So I am making this educational.
And now I'm going to run around the block to get myself active. *Shudder*
Yesterday was Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day and it took all my strength to be vocal about it on Facebook.
I sat there glibly, scrolling through feeds, eyes darting around, the familiar anxious gurgle of heart burn bubbling away in my chest.
“You should totally post it. You want to. You need to.”
I miss clocks. I miss the gentle ticking reminder that a task is waiting. The elegant sound of gentle pressure, and a reminder that we are in a moment. And then another.
Now there’s just silence interrupted by the occasional text message or notification.
The day slipped away.
I let it.
Sometime after my sweet daughter fell asleep, I got the nerve to go through my 'darkest hour' archives, and finally posted a link to some of my most personal history. Some of my most raw experience — an open letter to my lost child during my first miscarriage.
Here’s what I wrote on Facebook.
“Today is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day and it's taken me all day to post this. It's also been the first day in a long time that I've taken my fertility by the horns and started actively looking into freezing my eggs, learning more about why I'm prone to multiple losses, and acknowledging that if I'm not done with motherhood, it might mean more loss before I get there again. And I think for the first time in a really long time... I'm ok with that.
I hope that sharing this post from my first loss, helps give others some strength.
Here's my message to you:
You can do this. It's messy. It's scary. It hurts. It doesn't go away. It's not easy. But you can do this. And I'm here for you if you need me.
Thank you to the rocks in my life. Xo”
And here is my goodbye letter, republished on YMC, for the first time ever.
Let Go: An Open Letter
The strangest thoughts go through my head in times of panic. The other day I was getting a very uncomfortable pelvic ultrasound and alternated ‘Wow, I’m surprised no one’s come up with cordless wands yet’ with ‘Oh God, Oh God, please let my baby be ok..’
I never saw this coming.
It took us 18 months of patience, faith, and fertility treatments to get pregnant with my now 15 month old daughter. I know that is nothing compared to what others go through, but to me, it was “hell for a heavenly cause”. It felt like the better part of every month was spent in early morning trips to a 6th floor office where I would be poked with needles after I’d answered the same questions again and again. In the grey dawn I’d rush to the elevator, as familiar with its lurches as I was with my own hands. I’d sign-in to the office on the ledger kept by the plastic plant with its yellowed, yarn, knit cozy, and smile hollowly at ladies who shared my cycle. We assessed each other with eyes averted, wondering who would be the next to disappear from the rotation- an absence that would indicate success of the best kind.
I never dreamed I would able to conceive naturally the second time around. The joy that I felt after finding out that we had done just that eclipsed almost everything but the birth of my daughter. It felt unreal. After I had peed on 5 sticks, I finally let myself rejoice. My blood-work was great, and our hearts were bursting with pride, excitement, and love.
Just 4 weeks into my pregnancy, that baby was an active part of our family, shaping it with its very existence. At 6 weeks Hubs and I were making life-changing plans to put motherhood first; to let our daughter flourish as a big sister; to grow our house along with our family. We were creating the future.
I embraced the change lovingly, yet was still wary of sharing with too many people. My mother and father in their adorable enthusiasm didn’t exactly hold back however, and by 8 weeks I was getting welcome congratulations from the outside world. I decided to plunge in subtly – I made a sweeping reference to having ‘another one on the way’ in an article I wrote for Yummy Mummy Club, and was tickled by the response. Only a few people caught it at first, but I felt comfortable and excited sharing the news. Yes, my second baby was on its way. The three of us were going to be four.
Sometimes in business I get one of my ‘gut feelings’- that seemingly never-wrong intuition about a path, plan, or result. I wonder why, when it seems like the most valuable currency in life, intuition fails us. I didn’t have an inkling, premonition, or foresight as to what was about to unfold.
I have Crohn’s. I’ve had symptoms for over 10 years, and was finally diagnosed 4 years ago. Again, like in the sphere of fertility, I am very lucky with how mild my condition is. While I have never fully gone into remission, I manage very easily with 4g/daily of Pentasa (an introductory level treatment of prescription 5-ASA pills).
At 9 weeks I started manifesting what I thought was a mild flare. I didn’t have the more disturbing symptoms of the disease, so I chocked my constant visits to the bathroom up to pregnancy hormones, and my Crohn’s. Then they started getting worse. At the end of the week my symptoms had intensified, and I grew concerned about staying hydrated and the effect this might have on the baby. At 10 weeks and 4 days, I was admitted to hospital and given intravenous fluids, and was booked for an ultrasound.
After she spread the perpetually cold gel over my abdomen, the technician paused in her observation and said meaningfully ‘hmm..your baby is only measuring 7 weeks..’ Did that mean the dates were wrong? It never occurred to me that it might hint that my peanut had stopped growing at 7 weeks, until I looked at the tech’s face. Her brows seemed rigged with meaning. I felt an ice cold grip my gut, and my existence seemed to quiver. ‘Oh’ was all I could say.
We finished taking fetal measurements in that panicked silence, my mind ricocheting off strange non sequiturs, but always back to the prayer of ‘Please God’ white noise.
For the next 12 hours my mind raced with questions. What did this mean? Was it just a really small baby? Wouldn’t I ‘know’ if this wasn’t a viable pregnancy? The team of doctors had told me there was no heart-rate, but they had also said they were going to do a confirmation ultrasound in 48 hours. Did that mean that it could be a mistake? Was there still hope? I was clinging to any shred.
The next day, all the teams on their rounds started with ‘I’m sorry for your circumstances’ or ‘I’m sorry for your loss’. I forced myself to ask one of the consults if the news was 100%. His eyes dropped from mine, and I knew it was over. “99.9%” was the eventual muffled reply.
Much like peeing on several sticks to find out I was pregnant, I needed to hear it from about 7 doctors before I believed that I was going to miscarry. I numbly heard them talk about my options, but I only heard bursts. “…Dilation and curettage…Misoprostol…” It was over.
After booking my final ultrasound, I was discharged. My husband walked me to the car while we made idle chatter. The sound of my voice was alien to my own ears, but I kept talking just to feel real. The day seemed to betray me with its fresh spring air and vivid blue sky. A cardinal even chirped melodically. ‘You’ve got to be kidding,’ I thought.
I wish I could say that this story has a message of perseverance; some bolstering prose about overcoming dark times, or clear-as-a-bell wisdom born in hindsight, but there just isn’t any. At least not for the time being. There is only the waiting, and the not knowing.
One of the doctors reminded me ever-so gently that 1 out of 4 pregnancies result in miscarriage. Also, 1 out of 4 pregnancies result in the baby having birth defects. Are we so frail? Is it really such a gamble to bring a full-term, healthy, baby into this world? We take so much for granted, don’t we?
I am going to leave the rest unwritten. I haven’t had my procedure yet, and I haven’t said goodbye. I will not be posting about this again for some time, if ever again, but I wanted everyone to know how much heartache I have for any and every woman who has experienced this peculiar, intimate loss. I also wanted to extend my heartfelt thanks to my supporters, family, and friends. Whether in realtime, over Twitter, Facebook, or by phone, just knowing that you are there during this time gives me great strength. Your kind words bolster my courage to take the day one minute at a time.
I am ok. I will be okay. I just need to process the information, watch Gilmore Girls, eat meatball subs, and cry. I will hold my beautiful daughter tight, and squeeze my husband’s hand. And then I will take my first step on a new path. If you are searching for the right words to comfort, ‘I’m sorry’ is the most eloquent, meaningful, and closest to my heart. Maybe one day I will speculate, but I gently ask that no one tries to answer the most loaded of questions: why. I am too raw to endeavour to think about fate, to see that everything happens for a reason, to entertain that this is a blessing in disguise. Right now I need to tend to my heart, and the memory of a very special little soul, who I connected with, loved selflessly, and dreamed with.
Goodbye my Little Peanut.
..And is not that a Mother’s gentle hand that undraws your curtains, and a Mother’s sweet voice that summons you to rise? To rise and forget in the bright sunlight, the ugly dreams that frightened you so when all was dark… – Lewis Carroll
I mean it. I’m here if you need me.