On Scary Movies & Overactive Imaginations

I made the mistake of leaving the room while the T.V. was on this morning.
Billie’s program ended in my absence and was replaced by some sci – fi movie where some dude takes another dude’s eyes out with a pencil.
I only know this happened because Billie calmly walked into the kitchen and informed me, “Mom. I just saw a man get his eyeball ripped out of his head.”

I tried to tell her it was pretend. I tried to explain that it was make believe. And that mommy would be more careful with trusting daytime television programming. Of course, none of that logic stopped her from telling everyone in the world that her mommy put a bad T.V. show on and scarred her for life.

“Daddy, did you know that mommy put on a bad show and I saw a man stab a man in the eyeball with a pencil and RIIIIPPPP it all the way out of him? ALL THE WAY OUT, DADDY.”

It has persisted into bedtime. She’s currently in her room with her covers up over her head wishing away the evil eyeball snatchers of the world. Occasionally I hear her saying things like, “But I have beautiful eyes. I like my eyeeeesss” before shivering back under her comforter.

This is the problem with imaginations, folks. They make what you saw so much worse. They amplify and magnify every crazy, scary, beautiful thing and propel it into a realm of psychotic proportions. And it does not shock me that some of us lose our imaginations as we grow older. Who can blame us? Every nerve, every synapse, every iota of you gets completely wrapped up in a reality that only exists to you. And sometimes it is so beautiful and fragile, like a bubble garden made entirely of blown sugar, that one small step, or unkind word shatters the whole thing. Other times it can be so consuming and devastating that you feel trapped inside it with no escape. It brings you to the best parts of yourself and holds a mirror up to your greatest fears.

What a fucking weight to carry.

But I can’t help but admire it. I can’t help but want to foster it and hold her in these dark times just to show her that she can conquer this. She can wrangle it and learn to use it in powerful ways that no one has even dreamed of yet. She comes to me constantly with pictures of winged serpents fighting ferocious dragons and giant squids battling sharks and I think she already knows this. She knows enough about the frightening things to want to identify with them and tell their stories. She sees the fear. She processes it. Then she headbutts it with an artistic fervor that I can’t help but be awed by.

The squid battling the sharks
The squid battling the sharks

And, again, here we are at that super cheesy revelation that inevitably comes as I write these things: She’s helping me. Don’t get me wrong- my imagination is pretty on point and always has been. But I think she’s showing me how to process the fearful parts.
You lean in.
With blind hope, faith, and sometimes unapologetic rage. You handle the squids and the sharks and the creepy eyeball stealers in your nightmares, then your dreams, then on paper. And, slowly… eventually… they become as fragile as the page you drew them on. They become characters that no longer frighten you. You begin to realize that, even in your imagination, only you can frighten you.

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On Scary Movies & Overactive Imaginations

Southern Parenting Techniques

I was a tough child. Well, I’m a tough person in general. But strictly speaking, were you to ask my mom who the hardest kid to raise was, she would say me. Every time.

Obviously, I am honored and humbled by the distinction.

Now, thankfully, Billie is not like me. She does not try to make every day hard just because she can. She doesn’t do mean things just to illicit a response. Hell, I’ve never even seen her try to throw a knife let alone at someone’s head (which is something that a younger me may or may not have done. Twice. At my sister’s 8th birthday party). She’s kind with her words, generous with her time, and always down to laugh or crack jokes. She’s basically awesome.

Except when she’s not.

Last night was a rough night for Billie. She had a meltdown as we left her daycare and decided that hitting me and throwing things at my face was the appropriate response. She screamed in the car the entire way home. In response I blasted the radio. Bruno Mars crooned “All you young, wild girls- you’ll be the death of me” as my daughter’s screams pierced through every layer of sanity that I had left. When we finally got home she was out of the car and on our neighbor Emille’s front porch before you could spell “Xanax.”

Now, before I continue, you must know about Emille. Emille is New Orleans. He is everything quirky and great and socially inappropriate about this city. At 70 years old Emille spends most of his days shirtless on his front porch watching the neighborhood. He has all the swag that being an old black man in the South could possibly afford him and he uses every ounce of it to cat call passerby and love on his grandchildren. He has signed for more of my packages than I have and is always there to help when I need him. He is an ever-present source of humor and love. And Billie adores him.

When I go to retrieve my tyrant of a daughter from Emille’s porch he has already disappeared inside his house. “He’s gone to get me a toy!” Billie informs me excitedly. Funny, seconds ago she was screaming in my ear and, now, she’s smiling serenely in anticipation of her new gift.

Oh. Fuck that, kid. I think, You’re the devil. No toys for you.

When Emille returns I thank him for the gift and inform him that Billie will not be receiving it tonight. Billie has misbehaved egregiously and I will be holding on to it until she can redeem herself. Emille’s face melts from the pleasant, rosy faced grin that I’m used to into what I imagine the Grim Reaper would look like during a particularly rough bowel movement. “Bille,” he starts sternly, “You didn’t tell me ya were a bad girl.” His old cajun voice is broken glass over gravel and Billie shrinks behind me as he reprimands her loudly. See, while Emille is nice, he is also Southern. And bad manners, disrespect, and empty beer bottles are really the only things that are not tolerated in the South. Naturally, Emille’s old Southern roots took over and he starts in on Billie, “Now, let me tell you bout yourself, kid. Your momma works TOO DAMN HARD for you to be actin’ a mess…”

Our other neighbors are getting out of their car with their two pit bulls in time to hear him scolding her. “Ooooh, Billie! Looks like you in trouble!” they warn good-naturedly. Billie has had enough. She doesn’t know how to handle the negative attention and decides that screaming loudly will be the best way to interrupt it. Emille’s eyes narrow. My other neighbors halt their dogs to watch the show. I, not wanting this to escalate, grab Billies hand to lead her to our front door. Unfortunately, Billie sees this as an attack and goes to bite my hand. Of course, I am quick and switch hands while still walking her toward the house before any damage is done. But Emille sees her try to bite me. He starts screaming “WHIP HER! WHIP HER! OH HOLY LORD JESUS WHIP HER!!!” while jumping up and down shirtless, all 250 pounds of him swelling and heaving with each new jump. The pit bulls start barking. Billie is still screaming and trying to bite me. I make it to the door under a hail of howling, laughter, and chants of “WHIP HER!!”  I can barely get my key in the door. Billie is still screaming. Three people cross the street to watch the show. There is a brief moment of silence when I finally get the door open. I can finally hear myself think. Things get really still for one, beautiful moment.

Then I hear Emille. “Have you whipped her yet?”

Billie screams. The dogs try to rush at Billie.

I push her inside and slam the door to find Doug standing there. He’s heard the commotion and was coming to help.

“You guys OK?” He asks concerned.

“We’ve had a rough day.”

“Aw,” His concerned eyes flicker toward Billie’s tear stained face as he goes toward her, “My poor girls–”

“Hug her and I kill you.”

He stops and meets my eyes. I watch him put it all together. The yelling. The dogs barking. The screaming Billie. And me brandishing my patented ‘don’t fuck with me’ face. He doesn’t know exactly what happened- but Billie is somehow the common denominator here. He takes a deep breath.

“Billie. Go to your room. Now.” His eyes follow her out the door, “Mommy. Go get yourself some Jameson.”

Good man.

Good man, indeed.

As I walk passed Billie’s door I see her throwing things against her wall and screaming “THIS IS NOT HILARIOUS. YOU ARE A BAD MOMMY. I WANT MY TOOOYYYSSSS!!!”

Sigh.

 

Maybe I should air mail my mom some whiskey. You know, as belated apology of sorts.

 

…I’d better make it a barrel of Jameson.

My bad, mom.

 

Southern Parenting Techniques