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Terror

April 4, 2011

I do let my kids see scary movies. I put a lot of thought into it, and I do it for a reason. I let them see scary movies because they have faced scarier stuff in their six and eight years than many people see in a lifetime. I put a lot of thought into movies that address some of the stuff they’ve had to deal with, metaphorically, and then I unleash the monsters so that they can see them vanquished.

They’re smart.

They get it.

When I first finished everything and we were all, all four of us, shell-shocked, I knew something needed fixing, so we sat our kids down in front of Lord of the Rings, all seven extended director’s cut hours of it, and let them watch. We paused it to answer their questions, and let them know that it was all pretend, and we explained that it was a really good story that told the truth, even if the story wasn’t a true story.

At the end of it, five-year-old Georgia said, on her own, “Mommy, the ring is like cancer and you are like Frodo.” On her own. My son, who was three when he first saw the movie, said, “I want to be like Sam.”

My kids are smart, and they get it.

When they were having a hard time understanding why we all had to work together as a team to deal with the aftermath of my cancer, as well as the repeated surgeries of breast reconstruction (we’re at six surgeries and counting) I sat them down in front of Jaws. I let them see Jaws so that they would know that you need practical knowledge, academic knowledge, and hands-on leadership. That, and a bigger boat. We sailed through my recent surgery without a freakout, but with plenty of jokes about some bad hat, Harry. And the shark-chewed torso you see briefly? Nowhere near as scary as what I look like when I come back from surgery, and no, I don’t parade around the house like that, but what parent hasn’t had their kids walk in on them drying off after a shower.

Right now, they’ve clued in to the terror that cancer sometimes come back. I don’t know whether they picked that up from me and Chris talking, or from well-meaning idiots talking about it in front of them, whispering as if they did not know that whispering in front of kids is like waving a red flag that says, “HEY KIDS HERE IS SOME JUICY INFORMATION SO LISTEN UP.” We don’t spend a lot of time at home talking about the risk of recurrence, largely because my doctors treated my cancer so aggressively that I have a much greater risk of dying from a side effect of my treatment than my cancer coming back. My primary risks are infection from a compromised immune system, stroke from damaged blood vessels, heart failure, or secondary cancer. My kids don’t know that, so I’m inclined to think that they picked up on the recurrence thing from someone who is not me speaking out of turn.

I can’t think of a better metaphor for “there is something terrifying inside me that might surprise us all and kill me, but I am going to beat the crap out of it because I am a survivor,” than Ripley beating the crap out of Alien so stop sending me nasty messages about how I am a bad mom for letting my kids see terrifying movies, and telling me I ought to put my kids into therapy, or I need to put my kids into therapy because I let them see scary movies. And no, I’m not going to approve your comments.

I did put my kids into therapy. Of course I put my kids into therapy. They saw their mom walk through the shadow of the valley of death.

Their therapist called me. “I’m concerned,” she said. “Well, specifically, your daughter said something that I need to follow up on. She said, … ” and then the therapist went on to describe the specifics of breast reconstruction surgery.

“Yes,” I said. “That’s pretty much how it happened.”

“Oh,” she said. “Thank you. I see.”

I haven’t found a movie that deals with the issues around breast reconstruction. I’d let them see Frankenstein but that’s a little dark, it doesn’t get the message across, and the monster kills a little girl and that’s way too scary for my kids. I’d let them see Young Frankenstein but I haven’t picked it up yet from the bargain bin. It’s not like The Wonder Pets has an episode around amputation, which, from where I sit, is the closest way to describe what my kids have had to watch me go through.

There’s a lot of stuff I don’t let my kids watch. I have nothing against Miley Cyrus, but Hannah Montana sets up a culture of materialism and superficiality, not to mention backtalk, that I don’t want to expose them too. I don’t let them watch Caillou because he’s fearful and neurotic, and bald, and the baldness creeps them out. I don’t let them watch a lot of stuff on TV because it’s full of commercials for processed food that’s chock full of high fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated fats.

I let my kids watch scary movies because I believe in the redemptive power of literature.

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One Comment
  1. Great post, as per usual. I know you and I don’t agree about “Jane Eyre” but I think that story could be a parallel for reconstruction. Both Jane and Rochester are trying to reconstruct their lives, after BAD things have happened to each of them. It’s true that they find fulfillment in other people (each other). But they also find peace (and in Rochester’s case, contact with God).

    To me, “Jane Eyre” is a great story of reconstruction after time spent in the Valley of the Shadow of Death. You’re right that LotR is probs the ULTIMATE.

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