Parenting is wonderful and rewarding, but more often than not, it can be down right terrifying.
Full disclosure: I’m a fan of horror movies. I have been watching scary films since I was about 6 years old, which was probably bad parenting on my own dad’s part, but as I have turned out relatively okay (so far), that theory may not hold up in the court of fatherly law.
I will put your mind at ease, however, by saying that I am not practicing this lax parenting judgment on my own 10 year old child. He has no interest in being scared in any way and I am respecting his wishes. But the fact that I have admittedly been filling my own brain with the most spine-chilling of images for the last 40-odd years might lead you to believe that my fears stem more from my seeing the world through blood-colored glasses than the actual reality of parenting. I would disagree. The world is a scary place. And parenting can often feel less like reality and more like being in a horror movie.
1. Open Doors (Friday the 13th, Halloween)
If you are a horror movie fan, like myself, you know the old trope that if you come home and find a door slightly ajar or a window cracked open just enough to allow an outside breeze to blow the curtains around like flags on a windy hill, then the killer is in the house. This also goes for lights being left on, open cabinets that, just a scene before, were closed. Well, this is par for the course in my house and I’m constantly on edge because my kid can’t be bothered to close anything. Of course, I know deep down that the reason the front door was left slightly open was because my son can’t focus long enough to hear the click of the latch before moving on to playing with whatever shiny object he’s just seen in the living room. But it doesn’t matter because in horror movies, that kind of thinking will get you killed.
“Oh it was probably the cat.”
Nope! It’s Jason Vorhees and he’s right behind you.
So, when confronted with this scenario, after I assure my wife and my son that everything is fine, I secretly walk around the house with a baseball bat checking closets and under beds for a potential axe murderer. Just in case. Because I would rather feel silly the next morning than end up decapitated.
Number of killers I have found in my house? Zero. So far.
2. The Jump Scare (The Exorcist 3, Sinister)
BOO!! Did I get you? The “jump scare” is a classic horror movie tactic (and I would argue that it doesn’t get better than this scene from The Exorcist 3. Living with a child increases the probability that you will receive a daily shock by 56%. This percentage is based on my own field research.
How many times have you been sitting, maybe for the first time in hours, quietly reading a book or playing Words With Friends, when you hear a SHRIEK that’s north of 100 decibels that sends your body into the air, your legs propelling you towards the noise, and your lungs fighting for air, only to find your child just yelling at a toy in a temporary moment of giddy insanity? I’ll answer for you: 786 times.
This adrenaline rush is what horror-connoisseurs love in the theater, but when the safety of your child is on the line, it’s not nearly as fun. At the park you hear your kid’s scream as they fall off the slide, in the shower your kid rips open the curtain to show you a cool thing on his iPad, in the kitchen your forgetful child has left a rubber snake laying on the floor where he had been playing hours earlier. You jump! If everything is all right, you might even laugh. But it takes your heart a solid 10 minutes to slow back down to normal BPM and now you’re on edge for the rest of the day.
3. The Plague (Outbreak, Contagion)
Kids get sick. It’s been happening long before the world shut down its schools due to the pandemic. The fear that your child has some incurable disease even though they are only exhibiting symptoms linked to the common cold is something that has always been on our minds, even before COVID-19 became a thing.
One sneeze and I worry about people in hazmat suits descending upon our house, tenting us in, saying, “Everything will be fine, but we’ll shoot you if you try to escape!” Being a great, calm dad, keeping the family optimistic in the face of certain death would make me a hero. But once the doctors outside have analyzed my son’s blood through an intricate tube system and given him the “all clear,” I inevitably move on to the “AM I INFECTED”” portion of my panic and that’s when I truly freak out.
This scenario used to keep me up at night when the world was normal back in 2019. Now? Forget it. Speaking of medical nightmares…
Oh, the classic stomachache. All kids get them and all parents skeptically accept their validity because we all know what it looks like when we erroneously deny the legitimacy of a purported stomachache, especially after consuming some green leafy vegetable against their will. I have no idea what kind of fuel kids have in the chemistry of their gastric acid but it’s volatile and terrifying.
But when this fountain of bile inevitably spews forth, it’s actually somewhat of a relief. At least we now know what the problem was. It’s those other times when your child writhes in pain due to some nebulous discomfort, which you know, deep down, is just constipation due to an excess of mac and cheese, but you can’t help the nagging feeling that your kid may, in fact, have an alien inside of them just trying to get out.
5. There will be blood (Carrie)
Kids have accidents. Whether your kid spills milk at every meal or accidentally shoots himself in a face with a Nerf dart every week, kids have a tendency to say “Oops!” A lot.
Sometimes those accidents involve blood. However you might feel about blood, as parents we have to be prepared for it. In our house we have a store of Spider-Man themed Band-Aids and Neosporin, someone else might have My Little Pony gauze and Hydrogen Peroxide on hand. Either way, we are at the ready.
This is easier said than done for some of us. Hemophobia, or fear of blood, is real and, for some, it can be debilitating. A kid with a scraped knee is not a problem for most parents. We patch it up, give it a kiss and they’re good to go. For a person with hemophobia, that same cut looks more like this scene from Carrie. It’s a minor miracle if they can get the wound bandaged before they faint in a heap on the floor.
6. A ghost. I see him. (The Sixth Sense, Poltergeist)
Kids can see ghosts. That’s a fact. My best friend has a daughter who, when she was nigh 3 years old, used to suddenly point to a part of the room and say, “A ghost! I see him.” My dad-peer and I would exchange a look while the hairs on the backs of our necks rose to full attention. It was terrifying. I don’t think anything else needs to be said. My evidence on this is irrefutable.
7. Kids are scary (Children of the Corn, The Omen)
Let’s face it: kids are scary. Sometimes you wake to find them standing over you in the middle of the night babbling demonic-sounding nonsense in their sleep or they suddenly start demanding to use the knives in order to “help you” cut up vegetables. Do they have a mark of the triple 6s on their scalp? Have they been recruited by a cult of mysterious children who now live in a cornfield because they murdered all of the adults in town? Probably not. But we all keep the knives out of reach, right? Just. In. Case.
8. Children’s laughter (The Blair Witch Project, A Nightmare on Elm Street)
I think it was Mark Twain who said: “The sound of children’s laughter. There’s nothing more haunting.” OK, maybe Mark Twain never said that, but he should have, because it’s true!
Now, I’m not talking about that deep laughter that erupts because something has delighted them so much that their body involuntarily reacted with a burst of sound. I’m talking about when you suddenly hear a group of children laughing and giggling somewhere near your house, but you can’t tell from where, almost as if the sound is just wafting in on the autumn wind. You’re probably safe, but if you find out that your house was built on an abandoned playground, run.
9. Red balls and other terrifying toys (The Changeling, Close Encounters of the Third Kind)
Ever been awakened in the middle of the night to sounds of a robot talking? How about seeing an idle toy suddenly move across the floor while you cook dinner? These phenomena could just be chalked up to errant radio signals, faulty batteries, or a toy’s over-reactive light sensors. Or, as we learn from horror movies, it’s most likely a demonic presence. I consider myself a rational human being so I usually go through the checklist in that order, landing on “demonic presence” last. But, if you witness a ball of any kind travel on it’s own like this, move.
10. Cars (Christine)
Children like to play outside and unless you live on Easter Island or in Northern Saskatchewan, no one is ever more than 20 feet from a street. And, in terms of your kids, every car that drives by is a potential Christine.
Created by the terror-infused mind of Stephen King, Christine is a recognizable, cherry red 1958 Plymouth Fury possessed by supernatural forces that uses its sleek auto body to murder people. But I don’t care if it’s a Blue 1992 Toyota Corolla, your kid should not be anywhere near it. So, just for peace of mind, let’s all just teach our kids to look both ways the required 35 times before they cross the street and, just for good measure, avoid any auto shows that feature cars from 1958. Christine and her kin are out for blood.
11. Every dog is Cujo (Cujo)
Speaking of Stephen King and the terror he has provided us, not only do we need to worry about cars, but dogs as well. How many stories have we heard about pit bulls tearing the faces off of children? Too many! So I see every dog as a potential Cujo.
Cujo starts out as a sweet, gentle St. Bernard…until he gets bit by a bat, gets rabies, and terrorizes a woman and her child who he has trapped in their car. Cute!
Walking around our neighborhood on any given day we encounter no fewer than 2,000 dogs, each of which harbors the potential to suddenly pounce and eat my kid because dogs are animals and, therefore, unpredictable.
We’ll stick with cats thank you very much…
12. Cats (Cat’s Eye, Pet Sematary)
Not so fast my friend! Cats are cute, yes, and maybe you could argue that in the film Cat’s Eye the cat actually saves Drew Barrymore by defeating a tiny troll that was trying to steal her breath. But don’t be fooled! As we learn from Tales from the Darkside and Pet Sematary, cats, especially ones resurrected from the dead, are evil and should be avoided at all costs.
13. The Overlook Hotel (The Shining, Misery)
All work and no play makes…us all dull people.
I’m sure you don’t need to be reminded but we’ve all been cooped up for about 6 months now and there’s nary an end in sight.
As Jack Torrance knows, cabin fever is real and you don’t need ghosts to push you over the edge when your kid has just interrupted your work for the 9th time in 30 seconds to tell you about the episode of SpongeBob he’s currently watching. I have had my share of irrational bursts of rage over the littlest things lately. Now, my “rage” is at about a 2.5 on the terror scale compared to Jack Torrance’s 11.9, but it still scares me. Anytime I raise my voice because my son interrupts one of my podcasts, I just feel like a terrible father. I’m definitely not close to axing my way through a door, but it’s only been 6 months. Talk to me after a year of quarantine.