When, exactly, does fear kick in?

“Ooh, a bride! Look, Mama! She’s so beautiful.”

I turned around to see what my 3-year-old was talking about. We were shopping in Ross, so I expected that she was referring to a mannequin in a gorgeous dress rather than a real bride walking down the aisle. That is, unless she was completely lost — or perhaps completely un-lost and, having just run from the altar, was shopping for some clothes to change into before skipping town and changing her name.

I was wrong. Upon spinning on my heels, I saw that the beautiful bride my daughter was gushing over was not a mannequin or a lost bride or a runaway bride. Rather, it was a terrifying Halloween decoration — a shrunken ancient-looking floating warty witch head surrounded by a sea of dirtied fabric scraps that looked more like mummy dressing than they did formalwear. I, giving the proper and intended reaction to this morbid display, gave a tiny jump backward. My daughter stared up at the wicked apparition, smitten.

“So beautiful,” she repeated.

When do we become scared? It hadn’t occurred to me until this very moment that a gnarled floating head adorned in unfurled bandages would be something you must be taught to feel frightened of, yet here we are. They come out of the womb fearless, and we parents, with all our anxieties and fears, inform them, often nonverbally, that the headless are not to be trusted.

Last weekend, my 7-year-old had a friend over. They made up a story full of fake creatures — a devil-gator, a devil-dog, a devil-squirrel. They created this story so convincingly that when a cute little fluffy-tailed squirrel ran onto the driveway, the boys screamed and ran back into the house.

He is older. He is getting his first October full of songs about such things as the Ghost of John. Long white bones and the rest all gone. He and his friend have been taught what to fear — songs, stories, their own imaginations.

It’s easy to laugh at, watching youngsters’ imaginative brains resulting in nightmare-addled nights spent envisioning fanged chipmunks. But then again, don’t we do that to ourselves? Every time we sit up in bed with alarm and wonder what that noise was, every time we turn on the lights in the hallway just to check, we, too, are succumbing to our own songs, stories and imaginations.

Ooh, wouldn’t it be chilly with no skin on?

This week, I am headed into the wild on a solo trip. It’s the first one I’ve taken in three years. The most recent trip lasted less than 24 hours. The time before that? Oof. I couldn’t say. Fifteen years? A hundred years? They seem an equal distance of time.

From my basement, I pulled out my dusty old trekker backpack, which is covered in flag patches that have seen better days. Belgium and Israel are holding on by barely a thread. I cannot find my sleeping bag, which just goes to show how overdue this trip is. For family camping trips, I’ve been using a two-person sleeping bag. It has allowed me to nurse or cuddle babies with ease during the long nights. But this trip will be just for me.

I used to be the type of person who travels and camps alone. Marriage and babies have given me so much, but one thing they do take away is time. There’s been no time to be that person — to have that independence, to have that quiet.

As I packed my backpack, I was suddenly clutched by fear. What if a snake slithers into my sleeping bag while I slumber? I’ll never see my children again. What if a devil-gator gets me? Or a devil-dog? Or, worse, a devil-squirrel? Those jerks are everywhere! These were not things I worried about 15 years ago. Nothing teaches you fear like becoming a parent.

When I was tucking in my children last night, they shared a spooky story about a ghost in the woods waiting to seize a woman and make her his wife. My son said earnestly, “Remember when you’re sleeping in the wild, Mama, that you’re already married.” My daughter helpfully chimed in: “But you can marry again. That way, I can see you as a beautiful bride, too.”

I wonder whether fear, not time, is what has actually kept me from taking solo trips.

I asked my children to stop telling me ghost stories — and bride stories.


Katiedid Langrock is a

nationally syndicated columnist.


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