Horror movie characters are stupid. They always ignore obvious signs that they’re in mortal danger. A big-city couple buys a dilapidated Gothic mansion in a small Southern town, and when the walls start oozing blood, they exclaim, “Surely this can’t be connected to that Civil War graveyard out back!” Friends backpacking through Transylvania take refuge in an ancient castle during a freak rainstorm, and when members of their group turn up dead with fang marks in their necks, our heroes wonder, “What are these weird bug bites? Should we be using more OFF!?”
Most clichéd of all, adults dismiss children’s clear warnings about paranormal threats. The first 10 minutes of so many horror movies involve adults saying things like “Sweetie, you’re just imagining that murderous goblin under your bed who wants to eat your toes!” Or, “Honey, Grandma’s urn can’t possibly be glowing at night.” Or, “There’s no little orphan boy asking you to play hide and seek in our basement.” Audiences laugh and cringe, wondering, “How could they be so stupid?”
Then you have kids of your own, and you realize why adults ignore kids’ creepy behavior. Because kids always act creepy. Case in point: My toddler son shuts his bedroom door while we’re playing Legos and says, “There’s a ghost outside and we can’t let it in.” Days later, I walk into the living room and hear my 7-year-old daughter asking, “How tall are you?” When I ask what she’s doing, she tells me she’s talking to the person who just rolled her ball out from under the couch. If you were watching my life unfold in a movie, you would scream, “Your house is haunted, idiot! Get out of there!!”
But in real life, I just ignore my daughter and go back to making subpar Words With Friends moves.
It never occurs to me that perhaps my daughter has been possessed by the spirit of Lizzie Borden and will murder us all with a 1:3-scale rolling pin from the American Girl Baking Essentials Set (retail price $59.95).
Like horror movie characters, perhaps I’m stupid for not taking these creepy warnings more seriously, but there are just so many of them. I get irritated when my daughter wakes up in the middle of the night from a vivid, petrifying dream about her American Girl dolls coming to life. I get further irritated when she’s too frightened by the dream to play with her expensive Christmas presents. It never occurs to me that perhaps my daughter has been possessed by the spirit of Lizzie Borden and will murder us all with a 1:3-scale rolling pin from the American Girl Baking Essentials Set (retail price $59.95).
Or I shrug when my son talks about a cat that “was dead and then alive again.” Only days later do I think about our two cats who have gone missing in the last year. Have I inadvertently stumbled into some kind of real-life “Pet Sematary” scenario?
Or when my daughter says, “The bathroom door shut itself and the water turned on,” I mutter with irritation, “Why is she wasting all this water?!?” instead of: “Our house is haunted by environmentally unfriendly ghosts.” Of course, I don’t even believe in ghosts. Then again, if we've learned anything from years of watching bad horror movies, it's always the skeptic who dies first.
I try to pay attention when my daughter describes her ghost-hunting plan for a friend’s upcoming slumber party, especially after she got frustrated that I dismissed her report of the friend being menaced by a “knocking noise” in the night. I half-listen while I scroll Facebook, but from what I gather, their plan involves a preposterous array of materials: a bell, ropes and a suction-cup bow and arrow set. There may have been talk of a trapdoor. I’m actually kind of impressed with the Scooby-Doo-meets-Rube-Goldberg sophistication of it all, though I mostly just worry that my daughter will wreck her friend’s house. Maybe I should worry that we will get haunted by the spirits of insane-asylum residents who were murdered by an even more insane insane-asylum resident 100 years ago on the very night of that sleepover.
Honesty, I ignore a lot of what my kids say and do, whether it’s categorically creepy or not. Too often I resemble the feckless horror movie father who barely looks up from the TV to mumble, “Have a good time!” while his kids march into the night to fight the zombie demon clowns who are overrunning the town. But maybe what I’m missing are not signs that our family will be torn to shreds by werewolves or preyed upon by poltergeists who have possessed our smartphones in a terrifying but trenchant commentary on our contemporary disconnection. Maybe I’m missing opportunities to engage in my kids’ imaginations and inventiveness. Maybe I’m missing chances to identify subconscious outlets for their anxieties, the kind of fears children can only express through stories and metaphors.
Or maybe we really will be torn to shreds by werewolves. If we are, I can’t say I wasn’t warned.