(Note: This is the fourth chapter in our serialized non-fiction “book” about Halloween. Chapter 1, chapter 2, and chapter 3 are not necessary to understanding the “plot,” but you might want to check them out.)
As we went around the room on Monday, sharing our knowledge about Halloween, Finn P. raised his hand. He let us know that, “Halloween is not scary.” I was expecting this assertion to be quickly shot down, but instead there was a sort of nervous lull in our usual low-level Circle Time hubbub.
I echoed, “Halloween is not scary,” thinking, perhaps, that the others hadn’t heard him.
Of course, we all know that Halloween is scary. As we went on to discuss other aspects of the holiday I waited for the opportunity to bring up the subject again, but the children skirted it for the rest of the session.
In yesterday’s Pre-K class as I sat down to lunch with the older children, I was determined to bring it up. Talking about scary things is the best way to rob them of their ability to frighten us and I didn’t want to let our session go without at least starting the conversation. Of course, I wasn’t expecting the full discussion of scary stuff to take place as we sat around the table, but I was hoping to at least break through the reticence from yesterday. On Monday, Annabelle had told us that she was going to dress as a vampire, a notoriously scary character, so I started with her.
“Annabelle, I forgot what you’re Halloween costume is going to be.”
“A vampire!” She evidently loved saying the word.
I asked, “A scary vampire?”
“Yes! I’m going to be a scary vampire!” She said it as if the words were delicious.
I then started around the table. Finn was next. “I can’t remember your costume Finn.”
“A scary firefighter?”
He paused for a moment over his sandwich. For a second, I thought he was going to say “no,” but then it seemed like the silliness of the idea struck him. He smiled, “A scary firefighter!”
We then proceeded around the table, with each child adding the adjective “scary” to his or her costume description. Ella was the only one who modified it to, “a little bit scary.” By the time we were done we were all laughing at the idea of scary queens, scary forklifts, and “a little bit scary” fairies.
This morning as the children arrive, I’m going to be at the door announcing, “I’m going to scare you . . . Boo!” My “boo” will be without force, however, and said with a smile. I’ll declare, “I scared you,” and they’ll answer, “No you didn’t!” I then fully expect to spend the rest of the day (and much of the next several weeks) playacting fright as the kids say, “Boo!” to me.
Many of our 3-year-olds, and even some of the older kids, are still figuring out the line between fantasy and reality. I’ve written before about Page, who while watching a group of his classmates engaged in dramatic play, asked me, “Is this pretend?” He was relieved to learn it was. Halloween is a great time to talk about what’s pretend and what isn’t.
Over the next few weeks we’ll be talking about potentially scary things like witches, ghosts, and monsters. Are they real? No! They’re pretend and as such they are things over which we have complete control. Those are our friends – or even us – inside of those costumes. Is that a real princess/astronaut/pirate? No! It's pretend! Halloween is a wild time of blurring the lines: we do it because it's fun. Some things might make us a little nervous, of course, but each time we take a closer look we see it’s just some regular thing from the regular world. And the feeling that this realization releases – that mixture of relief and giddiness – is a wonderful feeling, especially if experienced in the company of our friends and loved ones.
What about bats, spiders and skeletons? They are real, but not necessarily as frightening as they’re often made out to be. Our sensory table will become infested with plastic spiders, the dark area under our loft will become home to a basket full of rubber bats. And skeletons? We all have one of those inside of our own bodies. You can even feel it through your skin with the tips of your fingers.
We will further learn to master our fears by singing scary songs and reading scary stories together.
The only way to let the air out of our fears is to confront them, to talk about them, and ultimately to learn to laugh at them. Halloween is a perfect opportunity to practice this. Overcoming fear is something none of us can do on our own. It’s no accident that the most fearful people are those who spend much of their time alone or who feel alienated from society. It’s only when we’re together that we’re bigger than our fears.