Friday, May 2, 2008

Standing Up to the Monsters Under the Bed

At the age of 44, I have finally decided to take on what Beverly Cleary's inimitable Ramona Quimby learned at age 6: to stand up to the monsters under my bed. Once again, here is a phrase that can be taken literally. Instead of jumping into my bed before turning the light off, or admonishing Jon for turning off the light before I’m safely under the covers, I recently decided I could stand there, feet planted firmly in the dark, for as many seconds as I wanted. Maybe this sounds silly at my age. It's not that I actively imagine monsters under the bed. It's just that in the moment of sudden darkness, I entertain the possibility that they could be there, ready to grab me by the feet and pull me under.

Because really, how can we know that for sure they're not? I would never tell my kids that. I've never swept for monsters in the closet before bed, or patiently explained that a bad dream "isn't real." In context, monsters are real, dreams are real, fiction is real. And I refuse to take that away. What my epiphany means for me, is that should there be the presence of monsters, I can remember that I am BIG. I am not small. If they are squashed under my bed, how big can they be? If one tries to grab me, I'll kick him! It's my bed and I’m not going anywhere without a fight. They feed on fear, and not one would dare take me on when I am standing there ready.

My kids like scary stuff. If they hear a story or see a movie and there’s nothing scary, they’re asking, “Where’s the scary part?” I look back to Bruce Coville’s introduction to one of his Book of Monsters short story collections for kids which I edited years ago when I worked in New York publishing, and that is good grounding for raising the right kind of kid for me. He talks about the delicious tingle of fear you get from a good scary story. I know plenty of kids who don't feel this way, but it seems to work for mine, and I have to say I’m kind of happy it does. It seems like it’s good preparation for a world that isn’t always nice and kind, and also a world that is full of possibility. Let’s get a little scary. Let’s get some adventure. Scare them, not too much, but not too little either. An ounce of this, a pinch of that, and it will get them through the early years and they’ll be ready to stand up to the monsters under the bed even faster than I was.

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