Gray Matters — How to traumatize your child
Belfast — For those of you who are parents like me, I have to ask: Have you ever had an occasion where you look back at a decisions you've made and wonder, "How could I have been so stupid?"
I had just that experience over the past weekend, when I came up with the grand plan to have my eight-year-old son Shane accompany me on a news assignment.
It's not unusual for me to bring Shane along to events I am covering for the paper. The weekend before, Shane joined me, my sister Jess and her family at Fling into Fall, and a great time was had by all. I've brought him to Fourth of July celebrations, parades, and other family-oriented events, all with great success. The end of the day usually comes with a suggestion from the boy that we make sure and do it again next year.
But this latest assignment was a little different than the ones he's accompanied me to in the past. It was, after all, the opening weekend of Fright at the Fort, an event that is known for going the extra mile to scare the pants off all who dare to walk among the fictitious — but very convincing — zombies, scary clowns, vampires, demons, ghouls and other monstrosities that line the fog-filled corridors.
I've known adults who have been too scared to complete the journey over the years, so I figured it might be smart to describe the scene to him and ask him if he wanted to go. After I explained that the monsters are really young actors in fantastic costumes and it's all a great big show. After considering it briefly, Shane decided that he would like to go this year.
Looking back on it, I suspect because in addition to myself and my boyfriend Mark, Mark's daughter Tyana and her boyfriend Zak also planned to come along for the ride. I think Shane wanted to put on that brave face because he was looking forward to the chance to prove he is a big kid now and does not scare easily.
But lacking that insight at the time, I decided Shane could come, too. That would be stupid mistake number one on my part.
Shane was all fine and good when we first took our place in line to get tickets in the visitor's center. He asked me a few questions about what he might expect to see or hear during the fright tour, and commented on how cool it was that there was a guy dressed as Dracula who was waling on an old-school organ.
Then we got our tickets, and soon we were all joining a larger group that was preparing to enter the fort and all the frightful experiences that were sure to come with it. We all situated Shane so that he was walking in the middle of the four of us so he would feel safer.
It didn't work.
It was really dark as our tour guide led us along the river side of the fort toward the entrance. I could see silhouettes of some monsters who were gearing up for the performance, and I raised my camera in an effort to capture the action that I suspected was coming within the next few seconds.
As I took my eyes off Shane for as long as it took me to adjust the settings on the camera (stupid mistake number two), I heard the first sounds of a chainsaw screeching across the night sky. Within seconds, there were several more firing up. And they were very close.
When I looked up from my camera, I saw the short dark shadow that was Shane clinging to Mark's hip and running circles around him aimlessly, his head hidden inside the camouflaged hood of his jacket. I could faintly hear him saying "No, no, no," as I pried him off from Mark and told him he didn't have to go in if he didn't want to.
Tyana offered to join us for the journey back to the visitor's center, so the three of us made our way toward the well-lit area. I kept Shane close to me because it was dark, and then I noticed a dark figure approaching from my right side, rumbling and snarling chainsaw in hand.
Immediately I raised my hand, palm out, and said, "That's enough."
As my son started freaking out again, the noise didn't stop, despite Shane's obvious fear. I remember uttering a few other comments expressing how unimpressed I was at that scenario on my way through the chaos, but short of knocking some poor soul onto his or her posterior (because that would have been stupid parenting mistake number three), what else could I really do?
And there you have it folks, a sure way to traumatize your child. I felt so bad about what happened the night before I took Shane out to lunch the next day, just the two of us. He said he was okay and it only scared him for a minute, but he did mention he was a little leery about visiting the fort, at least for now.
Perhaps now would be a good time for him to ask for that new game console he's been wanting.