This Is Why Children Are All Quivering Little Fear-Muffins

Spongebob Squareterror

When I was in NYC, I walked past a mother dragging a child out of one storefront and into another.

The girl said, “It’s cold!” Not an unreasonable reaction to the assault of frosted air. It being winter and all.

The mother responded by saying, “This is why I told you to wear your damn gloves! You don’t wear your gloves, your fingers are gonna catch frostbite, and then they’re gonna turn blue and fall off.”

Not unpredictably, the girl started wailing — just as she was drawn bodily into another store.

A week before that, I was in Target. Buying milk or some shit. A young mother, maybe in her mid-20s, was in the milk aisle with me, her four-year-old (I’m guessing), and some squirrelly meth-looking father.

The girl was having a total fucking blast in the store. She was traipsing about and pirouetting and running to the end of the aisle before running back like someone had just passed her a baton. It was cute. She wasn’t in my way or doing anything you wouldn’t expect a four-year-old to do.

As she ran to one end of the next aisle, though, her mother went nuclear.

“Jasmine!” she hissed. Then she started yelling: “Jasmine! JAS-MINE. You’re going to get STOLEN. By a STRANGE MAN. And then who knows what?”

This little girl, unlike the gloveless girl from the previous example, was obviously underwhelmed by this news because she just stomped on back, still laughing and stinging her tra-la-la song. But me, I was completely floored — first, did she mean me? Am I the strange man who is going to steal her daughter? Hello, rude. Second, the girl is literally within sight. Child predators, rare as they are, are not fucking pterodactyls. They do not swoop from veiled shadow to drag children back to their dinosaur nests. Third, is this how you exert control over your kid? Seriously? Listen, I get not wanting to be one of those wussy bargaining parents. But is the only other solution to cast upon them a horrendous adult fear of being snatched away by some kind of department store boogeyman?

It continued. The girl then did as Moonbat Mother asked, and stayed by the cart, and clung to the side of it like some kind of spider monkey. This lead the mother into another paroxysm of rage: “Jasmine! Jasmine. JAS-MINE! Get your goddamn fingers out of there or they’re going to break off! And then you’ll be sorry!”

Well, holy shit, yes, I guess she will be. And what is it with kids and their fingers? Frostbite? Broken off? Man. Kids are going to grow up terrified of everything, I thought. But then I realized: they already do.

I was scared of all kinds of nonsense when I was a kid. Before the age of ten I already knew to be afraid of a) nuclear war b) child predators and c) germs. And I don’t mean like, a healthy fear, but like, a mind-numbing, can’t-sleep-because-nuclear-AIDS-rapist-will-get-me. Christ, I’m still a hypochondriac.

It’s like, I dunno, parents see the wide-eyed wonders of children and want to squash that beautiful butterfly under a boot made of (frankly imagined) fears. Or maybe it’s just revenge. “You were a colicky little shit, and I didn’t get any sleep for the first two years of your life. Now it’s your turn — beware the elves that will try to steal your ears! You little bastard.”

If you want to give kids a Christmas present, try to tell them that they don’t need to be as afraid as the big bad adults want them to be. Just because we’re fear-sodden doesn’t mean they should be, too. Jeez.


  • I will make it a point when I have children of my own. Of course, mine are going to be race car driving nuclear scientists/science journalists, so I am sure they will be perfectly able to handle themselves. I mean, they’ll be CEOs of 5 differentent Forbes 500 companies!

  • My mom was horribly overprotective. She would’ve gladly kept me in a giant bubble until I was 20, or maybe 40. Of course, she did lose 7 babies before me. My status as her “miracle child” was always dangled in front of me growing up.

    My Dad, on the other hand, was a cop, a heavy drinker and a man with a wicked bizarre sense of humor (I inherited that). He used to drive to the edge of a cliff or on a bridge and pretend he was going to drive over the edge, flick the wheel, gun the engine. I still feel the fear-weasel stretching in my stomach when I drive over certain bridges.

    When I was young, it was: “your face will stay that way” or “you’ll get worms.” My mother admonished me to always watch out for dragonflies because the can “sew your mouth and eyes and nose shut.” She called them darning needles.

    • @Darren:

      Hah, that was my Dad, too. Icy roads? He’d gun it. Or on good roads he’d suddenly cut the wheel and go off-roading. My Dad used to race motorcycles and jump snowmobiles and get into fights and do all kinds of crazy shit before I was born, but I think that daredevil thing always kind of lurked inside of him even when he tamped it down.

      — c.

  • The hardest thing for me to do has been to gradually loosen Livvie’s leash. Over the years I’ve had to feed out more and more slack knowing that one day I’ll have to let go of it completely.

    The rule out shopping is still that she has to stay where I can see her, and she has to be polite and not dance around in front of other people’s carts, but these days I let her walk a greater distance from me.

    If she doesn’t listen and gets in everyone’s way THEN she’s required to hold the cart. Preschoolers have a tendency to think they’re the only people on the planet at times, and my main deal while out now is to teach her to be considerate.

    However, watching her dance around stores because she’s so enamored with everything she sees is a total joy.

  • While there are some parents who are completely batshit, many well meaning, otherwise normal people turn their kids into neurotic basketcases because they themselves are becoming neurotic basketcases.

    The news constantly portrays the world as primarily inhabited by people who want to fuck your kids. Or by kids who fall into wells, or get lost in the wilderness, or are kidnapped by Costa Rican drug lords and sold into the sex slave trade on some vile island in the Philippines.

    I have this discussion with my wife all the time when the question comes up as to whether our children should be allowed to play outside without direct supervision or go to friends houses for unaccompanied play dates. There’s always a small chance that something disastrous could go wrong but, by and large, everyone is probably gonna come out of this OK.

    • @TNT:

      No doubt. They say that kids these days play very, very close to home — but when I was a kid, I traveled far and wide on bikes. We wandered into the woods for hours. Nobody was particularly concerned. And that was before cell phones, when (in theory) kids could call if there’s trouble.

      I think kids should be allowed to play outside and be unsupervised. They need to be, I think — I suspect it forms critical thinking patterns.

      — c.

  • Our yard is completely fenced, and I keep the gates latched with spring clips so the dog can’t nose her way out. While Livvie plays outside we’ll come inside and let her stay there while we grab something we need or whatnot. Her rule is to stay within sight of the windows.

    We were doing a great job with that, letting her feel that sense of freedom, when the giant passel of transient workers moved onto our street a month or so back. They’re strangers, they’re all men, and they wander up and down the street all hours of the day and night.

    Now she doesn’t get to stay out there a short time alone unless the dog is out there with her.

    I think I went free range when I was about 6. Of course, there were kids all over my neighborhood, and everyone knew who everyone was enough to either get a hold of my parents if they saw me get in trouble or even haul out the discipline on my ass if I was the one causing trouble.

    No one knows anyone anymore. That’s sad to me. I think it’s a large part of the helicopter parent problem, if not the main part.

  • Damn. This makes me appreciate my parents. As a kid I was afraid of werewolves and tornadoes (ok, still afraid of tornadoes …). But I also believed in faeries, wizards, levitation, friendly ghosts. Shoot, my parents were too busy filling my head with outlandish stories – they had me convinced for years I had been born with a tale – to worry too much about “stranger danger”, druggies (which, they were for a time) and whatnot. (Although school did enough of that. Thanks D.A.R.E!)

    In retrospect, they were mostly fucking with me, seeing what sort of nonsense they could get their wide-eyed little brat to believe – and perhaps to make up for their own fear-riddled childhoods. But hell, I far prefer it to what some of y’all got pumped with.

  • I was raised as a Jehovah’s Witness.

    I grew up thinking there was no future. I wasn’t going to have a family of my own in this “system of things.” I wasn’t going to go to college, or get a job, or even have to graduate high school. I was convinced that before the turn of the century, God was going to show his infinite love for the world by destroying better than 90% of it in a fiery cataclysm known as the “Great Tribulation.”

    The books that the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society distributed back then (this might still be the case) were full of contrasting scenes of a blissful, idyllic pastoralism with scenes of unimaginable suffering and symbolism that was high octane nightmare fuel. When I was a kid the UN was shown as the seven headed beast of Revelation and Satan was depicted as a seven-headed dragon that was large enough to encircle half the earth.

    And don’t forget, those are just the illustrations. The actual content of the books was even better. They were full of anti-intellectualist diatribes and polemics against all things “worldly.” I have to think that most of my young adulthood is a strong reaction against all of that.

    No wonder I have a fascination with the macabre and it’s amazing I’m not an even bigger neurotic basketcase than I already am. Yeesh.

  • I love my mother to death, but the amount of Things I Was Not Allowed To Do Because I Might Get Got was pretty astounding growing up.

    No riding bikes outside of the driveway, no playing in the yard by myself (well, those times when we HAD a yard), no wandering off, blah blah blah, you name it. Always accompanied by the “It’s not you, it’s OTHER PEOPLE. They could be CRAZY.”

    What I find really fun about this is that because I was more or less forced to be a shut in I ended up growing up more on the internet than I did with other people, and the day I left home to move 1000 miles across the country with internet friends she was way more okay with that – having never met the people – than when I moved in with friends I’d actually met.

    So, there’s that. :)

  • AS I noted in the other post I have a son (9) but I also have a daughter (8). One of the things I’ve come to believe is that most people don’t like their kids. They may love them, and even that is debatable at times, they care for them because there is an obligation to do so but they just don’t like and especially enjoy their kids. Most that have them, shouldn’t.

    I will never complain about a sax practice or a band concert after a long day at work or “what does this mean” or any of that stuff. I love it all.

  • What Brian said.

    I’ve had many moments of not liking things my daughter has done, such as when she’s been nasty to her little brother or hurt him on purpose, but the deal is-

    I like her. She’s silly, and dorky, and funny. She makes me laugh. I love the new things she learns about all of the time that we adults take for granted.

    I’m not exactly sure why so many people have kids and seem to be nothing more than inconvenienced by having them around.

  • “Am I the strange man who is going to steal her daughter?”

    Perhaps you shouldn’t have been wearing your assless chaps, clown makeup and t-shirt saying “I HEART JOHN WAYNE GACY”. That never goes over well at Target.

    Wal-Mart, sure, but not Target.

  • I use obvious empty threats–giggles work better than fear. My current favorite is “If you don’t stop X/start doing Y, I’m going to tie you in a knot and sell you to the gypsies.”

    My youngest usually says, “Gypsies! Oh, boy!”

    My oldest (who has read Shel Silverstein) usually asks how much she’d be worth today. We debate price for a while and that’s it.

    Both of them understand that this is the first stage of my early warning system. Nine times out of ten, it works. The other time, I remove us all from the situation.

    Do I sometimes want to mail them to their grandparents in a box, with the understanding that breathing holes are a privilege and not a right? Yes.

    Do I lose it sometimes? I mean, seriously lose it? Hell, yes.

    I don’t always have to like their behavior. I’m allowed to feel frustrated and embarassed and very, very angry. I am allowed to tell them why their behavior is unacceptable and give time outs and/or punishments that fit the situation.

    I am not allowed to make them feel worthless or unloved. Or powerless.

  • I had a very hard time letting my son go out to play without me hovering nearby, but I did it anyway. It caused nearly unbearable anxiety. But I did it because I was able to roam far and wide as a child in the early 1970s. Those experiences were so valuable to my sense of self, my independence, and my understanding, that I just couldn’t deny my son that same opportunity. I also let him watch TV – any TV – as long as we discussed content; no passive watching. He is now almost 17, and is a reasonably happy, self-confident, young adult. Nothing bad happened to him out in the big, bad world, except for those little experiences that sometimes hurt, but that teach life lessons. I’m happy to say he is smart, bold, and unafraid. Because of the critical TV watching (and reading), he is also not naive about the perceived and real dangers of the world.

    We will inevitably fuck up our children in some ways, however, in the final analysis, if you cherish the tra-la-la-la songs, encourage creativity and independence, model tolerance and a good work ethic, and ditch the fear mongering of religions and the media, you’re gonna do a good job as a parent.

  • Sheesh Chuck, you really ARE needlessly worried. The nuclear child molester just has a THYROID CONDITION, not AIDS.

    Personally, I’ve only told my son he was in danger of having his toes blacken and fall off from frostbite when I was carrying him across a snow-covered field with his (and my) boots full of icy creek water. Actually, I told his older brother to keep up because I wanted to get to the car quickly.

    And you know what I said, verbatim, ten minutes before he went into the creek and couldn’t get out? “Okay, you can go by the creek but don’t fall in. I have better things to do with my afternoon than haul you out of freezing cold water.” But of course, I didn’t.


  • An exchange between my Dad and the fear-mongering twit parent that lived next door.

    July, 1970

    “Doc, did you know your kid is riding his bike out to Westwind by himself?”

    (Westwind was the local swim club — probably three miles from our house, half of it quasi ruralish. I had swim team practice at 8:00 am, then used to hang out there until whenever I felt like riding my bike back.)

    “Yeah. He’s got swim team first thing. Deb’s got a couple younger ones to run around. He’s old enough to get himself out there.”

    “Well. are you sure that’s safe?”

    “I’m not sure anything’s safe, so what?”

    “Oh. I just thought . . .”

    “Look, the kid knows to stay out from in front of cars, and he knows not to get in a car with anybody. All I can do. Time for him to learn he can take care of himself. Personally, I don’t want to still be holding his hand when he’s 18.”


  • I make it a point never to lie to my children. That means if there’s a safety concern, I tell them what it is, but if I need them to do something, I make it clear I expect them to do it because I’m their father and that’s how things work – but respect goes both ways. (My son, who is two, is still figuring all of this out.)

    But what I most want to teach my children is to love the world and to be the light that I know they can be. If my daughter is dancing in a supermarket, I’m likely to sing her a tune. :)

    That said, I’m highly protective – but I know a threat when I see one.

  • My parents were overprotective and absentee all at the same time. My mother had MTV blocked because she thought it would turn us evil or something (even though our only TV access was between 4-5 on random school days) yet the rule while playing around the neighborhood was to “come home when the crazy neighbor starts firing his rifle into the woods.”
    I’m trying not to be overprotective with the cats. And if there were anything on MTV these days, they’d totally be allowed to watch it.

  • my parents seem to think I lack the appropriate amount of fear. Tall tree? Climbed it. Big ass kid mocks my brother? ya wanna fight, buddy? And now I’m a grow up lady *cough* I take nighttime walks and I don’t avoid pretty secluded woods just cause there are sickos out there. But then again, I do have the faja for a dad.

  • My Mom wasn’t one to tolerate acting like a store was a playground, but she would never embarrass herself by yelling at me or smacking me in public. She had other methods and they worked, and I was well-behaved and never, EVER threw temper tantrums. I don’t mind kids playing in the stores, although the tolerance level drops severely at the ones having screeching fits because they can’t have something.

    I have to say that my Mom instilled the fear of the child predator in me. I don’t remember how, but I don’t remember being terrified of anyone. However, even though she’s gone for 4+ years now, I still say “Thanks for that, Mom.” Why? Because decades later, I remember being 8 years old and walking to my grammar school in a “good” Chicago neighborhood on a Saturday afternoon (they had a playground; I lived in an apartment building) when a man pulled up in a car and tried to entice me into his car with candy.

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