Have your kids ever scared you? I don’t mean that gut-dropping horror when you turn around in a shop and they vanish, or the dizzyingly terrifying shock of finding their bed empty (followed by insane relief when you find them sleeping under their desk because they’ve decided it’s a house).
I mean, have they ever scared you just by being a bit… you know, spooky?
This week I read this great post online, where parents were asked to share the creepiest things their kids have ever said to them.
My enjoyment of the article was partly down to relief – it’s not just me who’s been a bit freaked out by my kids. There was the time Harry woke me by thrashing around in his sleep, and when I went to comfort him he stared wildly at me and simply muttered: “He’s coming.”
Yep, I slept with the light on that night.
And it’s not just Harry; Olly has a habit of waving and smiling at an empty door that’s just plain spooky. Now, I don’t believe in ghosts but it’s hard to remember that when I’m the only adult in the house and my baby is gurgling happily at an empty space.
[Do you think your child's a genius?]
[Why do toddlers ask so many questions?]
One friend of mine recently moved house, only to be told that their new home was haunted. She laughed that off, right up to the point where her two-year-old solemnly asked her: “Who’s the lady on the stairs?”
“What lady, darling?”
“The lady on the stairs holding hands with a little girl.”
Terror ensued, until the mother finally realised her daughter meant the photograph of herself and her bridesmaid that her husband had hung on the landing.
The thing is, children can be scary. From the Children of the Corn to The Shining, horror writers have long known that kids can be frightening. I think part of it is their imaginations; they’re vivid, unbridled and often quite savage. We think it’s sweet when children play but it’s often brutal.
Children play to help them understand the world; they role-play concepts of good and bad, and justice and injustice, and safe and scary. Their games can be more bloodthirsty and dramatic than the Red Wedding episode of Game of Thrones.
When I was a child, I remember my mother fondly saying how sweetly I was playing with my Sylvanian Families. Little did she know that I played the same game over and over; the children all ran away to the hills (a piled-up duvet cover) and occasionally rode down to the village, imprisoned all the grown-ups and stole all the food.
The most successful children’s books play to this childlike love of savagery; Peter Pan and his Lost Boys spend their days fighting pirates and risking death (forget the Disneyfied version, it’s a brutal book). Harry, Ron and Hermione battle a genuinely terrifying villain while the adults around them waste time on politics and self-interest. Katniss is dropped into an arena where she has to fight other children to death. Those are the children’s books that will be rediscovered by future generations, not nicey nicey stories about ponies and after-school clubs.
And that’s because children enjoy a bit of jeopardy in their escapism, they like to be scared. But sometimes that spills out into conversations with adults or night-time wakening, which can be pretty unsettling for us grown-ups – we prefer to be scared on our own terms, when we put on a horror film or ride a rollercoaster.
Right now, my children are too small for the seriously spooky stuff or the particularly bloody-lusty games. Olly’s games consist of putting pinecones into a basket and then taking them out again, while two-year-old Harry is only just started to play with his imagination.
Most of the games I overhear are trucks digging, cars racing and teddies getting ready for bed, although quite often there’s a teddy who is being terrorised by a younger brother bear. Usually, this younger brother bear gets shoved into the wardrobe, which I hope is cathartic for Harry and helps him deal with Olly. Hopefully it doesn’t mean he’s planning to shove my baby into the wardrobe any time soon.
The point is, kids can be spooky and their take on the world can be quite scary. But watching my boys’ imaginations develop is incredible, even if it occasionally means I have to sleep with the light on.
Have your children ever freaked you out? What’s the creepiest thing you’ve heard a child say? What were your childhood games like? Share your stories using the comments below.