I was having a discussion with a teacher recently who mentioned his five-year-old son was telling him at bedtime that he was afraid of monsters. He asked me how a guy like me (I get it… a weirdo who studies monsters, ghosts, aliens, and every other kind of oddity) would respond to something like that.
I paused and looked off into the heavens for a moment, hoping for some divine answer. I’m a monster hunter, sure. But I’m also a dad. I believe in monsters, let there be no doubt. But I also believe in children who feel safe at night, and who will sleep soundly in their own beds.
For as long as there have been humans, there have been tales of monsters. Of giant sea creatures from the deep who can crush ships into splinters if it suits them. Of dragons who blast you with jets of water (and later fire) should you trespass on their turf. Of hairy, human-like beasts who roam the forests trying not to be seen. Of little, magical creatures who can shapeshift.
These aren’t the monsters most of us are actually worried about. I’ve never seen a dragon, or a sea creature I couldn’t identify, or a hairy beast in the woods. We have accounts in legends and lore, and there are eyewitness accounts, of course. Even in modern times. Sometimes these things come down to a matter of labels. We don’t have another word for what we saw, so we push it into a box such as Bigfoot, Thunderbird, Kracken, or Dragon. These creatures frighten us, but for the most part they don’t kill us.
Yet, there’s no argument against the existence of monsters in our world. The Hitlers of the world, the serial killers like Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer, or that animal who shot up those mosques in New Zealand recently. Those are the monsters who really scare us because they wear brilliant disguises like world leader, or friendly neighbor. Those are the ones we don’t see coming until it’s too late.
We never want to lie to our kids, but we do want them to feel safe. So we read them stories of Brothers Grimm tales, of magic beans and giant stalks that lead to the realm of giants. If Jack can outsmart that blood-thirsty giant in the clouds, maybe our own kids can outsmart the next Ted Bundy. We hope. So we tell the tales. We also ask them to ponder that big question: Do we know every creature that walks this earth with us? Have we categorized and labeled them all yet? Could there still be something out there lurking, maybe something that doesn’t operate by the traditional laws of time and space?
I suggest we continue to talk about monsters with our kids and with each other. We live among them, so we should do our best to try and understand them for our own survival. But what to tell a five-year-old? I suggested to my teacher that he tell his own son that, yes, there are monsters, but they’re not in our house. And as long as mom or dad are around, we’ll do all we can to keep you safe from them. Sleep soundly. I’m keeping guard.
We want our kids to grow up brave and strong so they can get out there in a sometimes frightening world and help us find the monsters, fight them, if need be, and answer the big questions. I, for one, welcome the help!