My son, Connor, was terrified of the Gooze.
Connor was four years old, and we were reading a children's book together when we first encountered this exotic creature. The main character of the story had just climbed into his submarine with a few friends when we turned the page to find ourselves face to face with a purple sea monster chasing a small red submarine through the water.
Connor quickly closed the book and said, "I don't want to read this story anymore. It's too scary."
My first response was a stifled laugh - how could anyone be afraid of such a silly, cartoon-like drawing?
One look at his frightened expression changed my outlook entirely. His fear, though it seemed foolish to me, was quite real.
I studied the picture of the Gooze, trying to see what could possibly have frightened my son.
"I don't want to read that story anymore," he repeated.
I explained to him that I was trying to figure out what had frightened him.
"It startled me," he said.
Now, this was something that hadn't even occurred to me. The Gooze had just popped up out of nowhere like something out of a Stephen King novel. I told Connor about this famous horror author and how he'd managed to frighten me with that technique. Connor was amused by the fact that I could be scared by a book too.
"Let's take another look at the picture," I suggested. We went over every line of that illustration, analyzing what the
artist had done to make the Gooze look so scary. We studied the eyebrows painted with deep black brushstrokes. We discussed the choice of yellow for the sharp fangs, which gave us the impression that this was a monster who didn't brush his teeth regularly.
We marveled at how the artist had made the water look dark and threatening and how the white bubbles made us think that the monster was moving quickly toward the submarine. Then we drew scary monsters with menacing claws and pointed ears. We wrote a story to go with our illustrations.
Somewhere along the way, Connor forgot about his fear of the Gooze.
Connor is 11 now. One evening, about a week before the end of summer vacation, he confessed that he was afraid of the coming transition into middle school. I asked him, "What is it that scares you about starting school?" The size of the building, the lockers, and the number of new people were the top three causes of his fear.
The next morning we got up early, drove over to his new school, and requested a map. We studied that map, tracing the steps we'd taken from the entrance to the office, where we would have traveled if we'd wanted to go to the library instead, or the science lab, or the bathroom. We guessed about what room he would be in for his first class and then figured out the quickest way to get there. Once we'd learned our way around, I pulled out an old combination lock, and he mastered it in no time.
He came home from his first day of middle school bubbling with joy over what a great day it had been.
Thanks to that silly purple Gooze, Connor had learned, at an early age, how to face his fears. He also discovered that valuable lessons can be learned by taking the power of a frightening picture and placing it firmly in your own hands.
Kathy Brinton lives with her husband and two children in Boulder, Colo. Parents: To submit a first-person essay on your own parenting experiences, send an e-mail to email@example.com.
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