It’s not uncommon for our children to have fears.
When I was growing up, one of the common things that terrified me was the dark.
Actually, it wasn’t the dark per se that I was afraid of. It was what was in the dark.
Simon’s eight years old now and he has little if any residue of fear when it comes to the dark.
It’s a wonderful thing to see, to be able to send him to bed at night without any issues or need to check in the closet or under his bed.
He does it all himself, if he does it at all.
That wasn’t always the case.
We used to rent to large home in a place called South Jordan, Utah.
It was a beautiful home.
For the first time in my married life we had a house that was big enough for all the children.
The home was well laid out, it had a gigantic (and gorgeous) kitchen, plenty of yard space for the children to run around—but best of all, the rooms of the little children were situated right next to the master bedroom.
Now that might not seem special to you, but most of the homes that we’ve lived in have been set up wrong, in my opinion.
Wrong if you intend to protect your children, that is.
I hate homes that have mom and dad’s room on one side and the children’s rooms on the other side of the house.
But that’s what we usually had to work with.
Simon’s bedroom was two doors down from mine. In it were two beds, a dresser, the baby’s crib and a closet.
The infamous, terrifying, mystifying closet.
Every night, before I could put Simon to bed, I was required to go into that bedroom, with my son standing in the doorway, so I could check under the beds and open the closet to make sure that it was safe.
To make sure no monsters were hiding.
I have a lot of compassion for a child’s fear of monsters.
Not just because I had a similar fear myself as a child, but because I’m a fantasy writer for teens, and I’ve created a fair share of monsters.
I know what they can do to a child’s nerves.
I know what can happen if a monster invades a child’s imagination.
Shadows come to life.
The tapping of a branch on a window becomes the scrape of a claw.
The howling of the wind through a crack in a window becomes the howling of a werewolf seeking young flesh.
Maybe you think I’m crazy, but that’s what our kids think.
So night after night and week after week this sad tradition ate away at me. If Simon called out in the middle of the night, I would jump from my bed and come to his aid.
If he had nightmares, my door was always open. He could always walk in, climb into bed and cuddle in safety with dad.
But something had to be done.
Simon had to be saved. No, that wasn’t right.
He had to be empowered.
I started with a grand plan.
I remember that night, lying awake in the dark, Kathilynn snoring beside me.
There had to be away to show Simon that he had the power.
To show my little boy there was nothing to fear.
To convince him that it was the monsters that should fear him!
So that’s exactly what I did.
The next day while Simon and his little sister’s were out back playing on the trampoline, I called my oldest kids together, along with my wife and pitched my plan.
It would take all of our cooperation and coordination to pull this off.
Simon is an exceptionally intelligent boy.
He learns patterns quickly.
He can also spot a lie in an instant.
The only advantage we had, was that he trusted us and he knew we loved him.
He knew his family would protect him no matter what, so we’d have to bank on that trust.
(Well, sort of.)
The plan was, I would create the tallest tale I had ever told my children.
A story bigger and better than any book I’d written.
I’d manufacture facts and use my passion and protective relationship to convince Simon that I was from an ancient family of monster hunters.
It was my job to convince him that this was true.
That this was a secret our family kept from everyone else we knew.
My family’s job was only to act shocked when Simon asked if it was true, and to act relieved that their little brother was let in on this “big family secret.”
So in reality, and technically, only daddy would be the liar.
Then I worked on the set up.
That very night, I changed the rules.
When it was time for Simon to go to bed, I walked into his room like usual, but this time I held out my hand.
“Simon, I’d like you to come with me this time. Help dad check under the beds in the closet.”
Simon shook his head vigorously. “I don’t want to.”
I smiled reassuringly and wiggled my fingers. “There’s something I need to tell you Simon,” I said just above a whisper, “Something I think you’ll want to know. You trust me don’t you?”
He nodded and inched his way into the room until he could firmly grasp my fingers.
I smiled brightly, “That’s my brave boy.”
Sitting down on the wood floor I took him into my arms and held them close.
“Simon, have you ever wondered why every time you asked daddy to come in here and check for monsters, we never find any?”
I waited for a minute as the puzzled look on his face showed me he was considering the question.
“Not once, at any time, have I found a monster under your bed or in your closet.”
Simon’s eyes grew large and he panicked, “But there REAL! I’ve seen them dad, I have!”
“I know you have, Simon. I believe you, I really do. But I think it’s time you learned why I won’t find any monsters. Not tonight, not any night. It’s because they’re afraid of me.”
It took a few moments for the concept to sink in.
For Simon to make the connections in his own mind, but he did, and it showed in his face.
He looked puzzled.
“Why are they afraid of you dad?” he asked, doubtful.
“It’s because all monsters are afraid of me son. Daddy has never been able to tell you this, but I’m a Monster Hunter. Poppa was a Monster Hunter. Even Great Grandpa was a Monster Hunter. Monsters are afraid of our family.”
He looked at me curiously, “Mommy’s not a Monster Hunter.”
I grinned, “Don’t think so? Has mommy ever found a monster in your room?”
“Then what does that tell you?” I posed.
He pondered for a moment then added, “Mommy is a monster Hunter to!”
I rubbed his back and said reassuringly, “that’s RIGHT!”
The dilemma instantly hit him.
“But the monsters aren’t afraid of ME,” he squeaked.
He looked about the room and pulled his feet closer to him.
“No, they’re not,” I replied. “Not yet.”
Tussling his hair, I added, “but that’s about to change.”
He looked at me, doubting.
I could see that I was right at the edge and it was so hard for him to believe that someone, even me, could help him with what scared him so badly.
The monsters that hid, that crawled, that growled and breathe softly in the darkness of the night…
Could they be stronger than daddy?
Not a chance.
“Simon, being a Monster Hunter is a secret. Our family is very special. We’ve been hunting monsters for as long as people have been making beds. For as long as people have had closets. And our job, is to keep the world of little children safe.”
I tapped the end of his nose with my knuckle, “That means you, son.”
“Does Evan know about you, dad? That you’re a monster Hunter?”
“Yes. He knows all about it…because Evan is a Monster Hunter too.”
“He is?!” he squeaked, a smile growing across his tan face.
“Sure is,” I smirked, “and so is Nathan.”
“Woooow,” he breathed out. “My brothers hunt monsters.”
“Your sisters do too,” I added, “But only Cesilea and Leilani…because they’re old enough, like mommy.”
“How did THEY get to be hunters?”
“Taught them, myself,” I replied, puffing out my chest.
“Are all grownups hunters?” he asked.
“Oh no,” I sighed. “Just our family that I know of.”
“Simon, I want to share something with you tonight. I’m going to check under your bed right now and I will check in your closet, but I want teach you something very special. Something you can do right now, so no monsters will ever dare to come into your room again.”
I made sure he was looking straight at me and made eye contact, “Is that okay with you?”
“Yeah,” he said simply with a nod.
He was eating
“Until I can teach you how to hunt monsters, which I can’t do until your bigger, you can scare monsters off. You know why?”
He shook his head.
“Because monsters know who I am. When I catch them, I don’t beat them up. Most of the time I don’t let them go. They’re afraid of daddy, because daddy EATS them.”
The reaction was instantaneous and loud.
“EWWWWWW! You EAT them!??!”
I nodded, giving him the biggest grin I could muster. “Because they are Yummmmmmmy!”
He squinted. “Dad, you’re gross.”
“I’m SERIOUS,” I chuckled, tickling him. “Monsters may be scary, but they taste better than steak…better than chicken!”
He frowned. “They can’t taste better than chicken? Chicken is awesome.”
“You’ll get to taste some this Saturday. We’ve having a BBQ and I have some monster I’m pulling from the freezer.”
Simon’s eyes got wide. “You…caught one?”
“Nope. Caught three of them. In here, while you were playing outside.” I leaned in and gave him a kiss on the forehead. “Let one of them go, so it could go back and tell the other monsters that if they bother you EVER again, I’ll hunt them all down and fill our freezer.”
He squinted again. “Eww dad, that really is gross.”
I shrugged, “But do you see any monsters in your room?”
For the first time, he flipped his head over the side of his bed without pausing.
He yanked his blankets up so he could see through to the other side.
“Nope,” he exclaimed.
I got up and threw open the closet doors, revealing the shallow shelves when his clothes were neatly folded and stacked,
“See any in here?”
Simon shook his head, “Nope.”
“It’s because I’ve scared them away. They won’t ever bother you again, so long as you do what I teach you.”
With an eager smile on his face, he sat upright in his bed. “Okay.”
Dropping back to my knees, I waddled up to his side and put on a serious face.
“Before you ever come in your room at night, stand in the doorway, right over there. Keep the lights off, and then say in a loud, firm voice, I’m coming to bed soon, so if any monsters are IN here, I’ll let you get away safe. But if you are here when I come back, I’m telling my dad.“
“Dad,” he interrupted, “what does firm mean?”
“It means strong, like this…” and I emphasized ‘this‘.
“But why do the lights have to be off when I do that?”
“Good question!” I grinned, tickling him again. “It because monsters always try to hide in the light, so they can’t be seen. If you turn on the light, you might trap them, in a corner or…under the bed. So when you ask them to leave, they can’t get away. We want them to leave, right?”
“Then we leave the lights off and give them a way to go home.
Simon paused, thinking.
“Dad, why don’t you just get them all and put them all in the freezer?”
I smiled and ran my fingers through his hair, “Because I have learned some things about monsters in the loooong time that I’ve been a hunter. Not all monsters are bad. Some get lost and end up under beds and don’t want to be here at all. Daddy doesn’t hurt dogs or cats or any other animals, right? That’s because we’re supposed to be nice to animals…so daddy only traps the mean monsters. The ones that won’t listen.”
I watched him closely—the information sinking in.
“Can you do this for me? Give the monsters a chance to get away?”
He hesitated, but eventually nodded.
“Okay dad. I can do that.”
“Good boy,” I added, giving him a hug goodnight. “You are going to be an awesome monster hunter when you get bigger. Until then, if you ever think there is a monster in your room, don’t be scared…just say out loud, You better run, cause if you don’t leave RIGHT NOW, my dad will get you…and EAT you!”
He laughed then, “Okay dad.”
Reinforcing the Lie
All week long, Simon had questions.
One after another, he’d think of something and be chomping at the bit, waiting for me to be done with my writing time so he could pop into my office and chat with his Father, the Monster Hunter.
It was kinda cool, actually.
…but that was the easy part.
The challenge was to keep the rest of the family on track when their little brother would throw out a question in the middle of a meal…or show up confronting mom in the laundry room.
I have to hand it to Cesilea and Evan though—they created a perfect response.
“SIMON! SHHHhhh!” they would blurt out quickly, slapping a hand over his mouth. “You can’t TALK about this stuff out loud. What about Carley! She doesn’t know…and it might scare her!” Then they would make a huge deal of pulling him into a side room to create privacy.
“You can talk to US anytime, buddy—but this is a family secret. You can’t tell ANYone else, or we could get in trouble. They’ll think we’re all crazy!”
“But monsters are real!” he’d complain.
“We know!” Evan would agree, “Which is why we’re here to help, but you have to be careful about who you talk to, okay?”
Once Simon almost changed his mind about the whole thing…until Nathan stepped in and freaked out in front of Evan, pretending that Simon wasn’t in earshot.
“Is Dad CRAZY? He told Simon?!? He’s too young!”Click To Tweet
Simon stood up from behind the desk, where he was playing a video game.
“I’m not too young!” he exclaimed.
Nathan smiled, “Huh. Well okay then. You just don’t tell anyone but us older kids—‘cause the guys are supposed to protect the family. You have to be one of the men now, Simon.”
Oh, he loved that.
Proving the Lie
When Saturday rolled around, I had it all worked out.
There was steak and chicken which had been marinating for 3-4 days, and I threw it all on the BBQ.
It smelled sooooooo good!
While Kathilynn and the kids were making salads and other goodies, I called Simon out back for a chat.
He stared at the meat cooking and the smoke rolling up over our heads.
“Here you go, buddy—monster meat. The finest cuts you’ll ever taste.”
He frowned, disbelief plain on his face.
“That…doesn’t look like monster meat, dad.”
“Really?” I replied, with a feigned look of shock. “Huh. What do you think it’s supposed to look like?”
The thought for a few moments.
I laughed. “Well, good thing daddy is the one cooking then, because if the meat was green it would be bad and make us sick. Green means it’s rotting! Did you know that?”
He shook his head. “But trolls are green, right?”
“Look son, monster meat is a lot like any other meat. It’s the muscles of the animal. I like to cut off my favorite parts, like the cheek (and I poked a chick breast) and the leg and arm muscles (I lifted the strips of red steak).”
“That looks like chicken, dad,” he said plainly, but I just smiled, excited.
“I KNOW! How cool is that?” Then I leaned in, whispering, “Now we can eat them and no one knows we’re doing it!”
We stood there for a couple moments in silence, until he said what I thought he’d never ask.
“Can,” he looked up at his mom and sisters through the window, paying us no attention, “…I try a piece?”
Grabbing a small piece I’d already been prepping for him to taste, I gave him a thin, moist piece of seasoned chicken. It was so comical to watch him.
First he stared at it.
Then he sniffed it.
After he was sure it smelled fine, he let the tip of his tongue touch the meat and smacked his lips.
“Oh go on,” I urged him, “You’ll like it, I promise. I eat that stuff ALL the time.”
Then came the bite.
I think that is the longest I ever watched a child chew on a single bite of food. You’d think this kid was trying to decipher and single out every herb used.
“Hey…” he munched, “this is…really good!”
“That’s a cheek,” I smirked, “My favorite part.”
“A cheek? Like this?” and he pointed to his own face.
“Yup. Want part of a finger muscle? We only have six of those, but I’ll give you one if you want? They are my second favorite.”
By this time, he’s hooked.
The food, though completely silly, is all the proof he needed.
We sat down to a great meal and surrounded on either side, Simons two brothers shared some of their meat, describing where it came from in low tones and whispers. By the end of the day, Simon was one of us.
The Monster Hunting Family.
He’s never been afraid of the dark since.
The Truth About The Lie
Where I might me criticized for lying to my son, I was trying to instill greater beliefs in him.
- He’s not alone.
- He is loved.
- He will be protected.
- He’s part of a united family.
- …and monsters can be dealt with.
Thing is, there’s a greater lesson here than being afraid of the dark.
Monsters DO exist.
There are evils that lurk both in the dark and also ones that hide in plain sight. In our movies, in our music, on the TV we watch and associations we have.
Monsters that sometimes our children discover before we do.
Then there’s the fact that we weaken our children by chipping away at our relationships, because of what we say.
Think about the lies you’re already telling your child. We do it every day:
“Pay nice and they’ll play nice with you.”
“I’ll be there in a minute.”
“This won’t hurt.”
“Obama is good president.”
You see, I really am a monster hunter.
I’ve lived on the darker side of life and it’s that very life—the one I never want to go back to, that taught me the value of my children.
The value of innocence.
The value of having someone you can look up to and admire.
Someone to learn from…and count on.
My past has taught me how to deal with the real monsters and then show my children how to do the same.
Have you had comical and success dealing with your child’s fears?
I’d love to hear them in the comments! LET’S TALK!!