We’ve been having a little problem with Lucy, our boisterous six year old middle child. She has stumbled on the joy of scaring people. Peaceful Sunday afternoons and late weeknights after bedtime are often punctuated by the sounds of a six year old roar, followed by a very girly squeal from seven year old Rex, or an angry jump from Macy. That has led to some intense conversations with Lucy, who has been exhorted in very frank terms to stop with the scaring already. But Lucy doesn’t seem to care. Where Rex is classically stubborn, and Molly is mischievously resistant to parental restrictions, Lucy just sort of flits away from instruction without it entering her head. Her disobedience on this point is not so much a matter of defiance as just the feeling that you’ve never had the opportunity to tell her to stop at a moment when she could actually hear you. So she spends a large part of her time hiding in Rex’s closet, or sneaking in perfect silence up to our bed in the mornings (you can always tell a Milford girl). And also sitting innocently through lectures that she has decided she can’t hear over the din of fairy music playing in her head.
Scaring people seems to run in our family. One of our older nieces went through a scaring phase in which she mercilessly victimized her several younger siblings in contravention of strong parental admonitions. From what I’m told, her reign of terror got so awful that the littler kids had to walk the halls in twos, constantly afraid of what was around every corner. When your kids lose the ability to freely traverse the hallways and other passages of your house, family efficiency declines noticeably, because the mom can no longer send kids to grab this or that from the basement, or tell them to go to bed, etc. Thus, the petty fears of a few little kids become a real family problem. When this issue threatened to effectively shut down the smooth operation of the entire household, they implemented a new rule effective immediatly. The no punching rule that is the basic foundation of all other kid rules in all families was lifted for a period of time, limited to scaring situations. Now there were couples of children roaming frightening halls in terror, but they had their fists clenched, and they were ready to swing. I believe the scaring ended soon after the new punching regime was implemented.
We had our own scaring epidemics growing up in our big, basementy house. My little sister used to be terrified of going down in the basement when she was little. My mom and dad wanted to help push her through that fear, so one night they sent her down to grab something from the storage room (the scariest place in the house, because it was unfinished. Bare concrete is sooo much scarier than drably painted sheetrock.) It took a lot of coaxing and real prep-work to get her ready, and they assigned Kook, five years older but possibly more jumpy than she was, to accompany her down into the underworld. All of which gave me plenty of time to hide in the dark corner at the bottom of the stairs. When the brave fellowship got to the bottom step after several minutes of a one-step-at-a-time descent, I jumped out and scared the living daylights out of them. Eliza crumpled instantly to the ground and melted into disconsolate sobs while her trusty guardian high-tailed it back up the stairs at superhuman speed and disappeared without ever looking back. That left me to enjoy my joke with a weeping, terrified little girl (I still have that image in my head- she was bent over a stair wearing a pale blue nightgown, waiting to be eaten whole by whatever monster controlled the basement). She wasn’t much fun, and I didn’t get near the enjoyment out of that prank as I had expected to. My dad called me upstairs and read me a scripture about people who mistreat little kids getting tied to a millstone and thrown into a river. It was sort of effective.
See, some people just don’t like to get scared. Eliza is still jumpy to this day, possibly because of some childhood trauma. One that none of the rest of us had anything to do with, presumably. And that explains why Macy has campaigned so hard against Lucy’s scaring tear too. She’s never been able to come up with a principled position against scaring, and her attempts to do so convince no one. The real point is the scaring has to stop because it’s so effective on her- it startles her and that makes her mad (just like some people are happy drunks and some are mean drunks, some, like my mom, are giggly-startled, and some, like Macy, are angry-startled. Ten bucks says Eliza is still weepy-startled). I sort of find myself taking Lucy’s side on this one, because I’ve always enjoyed the gratification of watching someone freak out when startled, most of all Macy. This began late one college Friday night on a group date. Several girls had asked out a bunch of us guys, and to avoid getting asked out by one of them, but still be around to watch the awkwardness, my buddy Greg asked Macy out and slithered his way into our plans (his nickname was the Gila Monster, based on a long history of slithering away with other peoples’ girls). We all ended up at the home of one of the girls, which was large enough that the couples wandered around on self-guided tours when we got there. Knowing well enough not to let Macy (unattached but a person of interest to me at the time) hang out in a darkened basement with the Gila Monster, I snuck down there while they were looking around. When they rounded the corner I jumped out and scared them. I still remember the scene of Macy jumping high in the air and landing in sitting position on the ground, convulsing like her legs were being electrocuted. It was really cute. I sort of think she fell for me right there, while simultaneously alerting Greg that she was a little too jumpy for him. It was a win-win.
And that’s why I don’t mind Lucy going around scaring people in our house. Sort of takes me back to those sweet early times of being on group dates with Macy while she was with one of my friends. I guess I’m more of a romantic-startled kind of guy.