Children Know

A funny thing happened the other day. Little C had two friends over to play with in the garden while I did what I usually do in the afternoons, which is relax with a beer and, in this case, Psych. Suddenly, the boys came running into my field of vision waving the pair of evil clowns I keep on my desk. And you know what they were shouting? “Evil! Evil!”

Unsurprisingly, Little C herself was shouting after them that the clowns are not evil, that they are just toys, which deepened my suspicion that she will grow up to be an engineer or something equally magical to all those who don’t understand the exact sciences. But that’s not my point.

My point is that the two boys proved me right in my other suspicions: puppets are evil. They also opened my eyes to something I only had a vague idea about. Children know about horror. They understand it better than most adults who pretend to have outgrown their childhood fears. Stephen King wrote beautifully about this idea but it was fascinating to see it in action.

Soon after they ran around with the evil clowns, the boys dropped them and went back to testing the new basketball hoop. Until it started raining. Which is when they came running back to inform me loudly that it was the puppets’ fault. Again, I agreed. It was perfectly plausible for a pair of evil clowns to bring rain on innocent nine-year-old sports fans.

Funnily enough, Little C disagreed, again. But this time it wasn’t just because the clowns, according to her, are just puppets. This time it was because she believes she can control the weather and a day earlier she’d sent the clouds down over the fields and away from the village so we could get some sun. The belief was so genuinely strong I didn’t have the heart to challenge it. I don’t think she’ll grow up to be a King fan and this makes me a little sad but oh, well, what can you do.

She’s one of those children than can create whole worlds in their heads, populate them and give the population things to do and games to play. I recently learned these detailed imaginary worlds are called paracosms. It’s a fascinating thing, really, amazing to see young imagination at work.

Me? I believed in monsters. I still don’t dare extend a leg over the edge of the bed even in the highest heat of the summer. I know there is no demon under the bed but, well, what if there is?

I remember once when I must have been around Little C’s edge my mum was away on a work trip for a week, so I slept in the family bed with my dad (I couldn’t sleep alone in bed until about the third grade, I think.). In the best traditions of classical parenting, he threatened to give me to the bogeyman if I didn’t stop wriggling and didn’t go to sleep.

That must have been my start in horror because I genuinely believed he would do it and wondered what the bogeyman looked like. And no, my father was not a cruel man at all. He was the best dad and one of the nicest people I’ve ever known, so I’ve never held that against him. In fact, I should probably be grateful to him for opening up the world of fantastical horrors to me. It did a great job for preparing me for real life’s horrors, that world.

Thirty-plus years later I’m still fascinated by the world of fantastical horrors and it was only natural to appreciate the fact this fascination continues through generations, with parental help. I know for a fact one of the boys is allowed to watch scary movies. He boasted about it. Little C, on the other hand, watched The Walking Dead with me a few years ago and was unimpressed by the rotting walking corpses but now that’s she’s older she can’t understand why I watch things that have violence and monsters in them.

Because monsters exist, darling, I always want to say but don’t want to scare her. They exist and it’s useful to know that they exist, even if they’re not all fur and teeth. Knowing about them makes you better prepared in case you met them. But this conversation will have to wait because¬† of course I’ll spawn a kid who doesn’t believe clown puppets are evil when it is clearly written all over their grinning faces. Why should my life be easy when it could be hard? Oh, well.



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