December 14th, 2011

be happy

Curtain-dwelling monsters beware

There's a monster in Ellie's room, apparently. It hides behind the curtains in the mornings. It's there most days, until I open the curtains and show her it's not there.

I assure her the monster doesn't come to Ellie's house. Mummy won't let it, I tell her. And I can see she wants to believe me. She even quotes me when she's worried about it - "The monster doesn't come to Ellie's house. The monster's sleeping at his house." (That last bit came from her own head, but sure, whatever makes you feel better, kiddo.)

Where did this monster come from? No idea. One day, maybe a couple of months ago, she just started mentioning him. And apart from a few isolated incidents (like the morning Liam blew his nose really loudly, and Ellie banged on her door to be let out and ran terrified into the hallway because she'd heard "the monster") he doesn't scare her heaps - just makes her a bit nervous. She used to get up in the mornings, turn on her lamp, and have a little play before she'd start knocking on her door. But since the monster started coming, she stays in bed and calls for me. Not upset, not freaked out, just not getting out of bed until Mummy's there, thankyou very much.

I've tried talking to her about it. I ask where this monster came from - she says "He came from his house." Oh, of course he did. I tell her he won't come here because Mummy won't let him. She likes to hear that, but obviously isn't convinced. I show her he's not behind the curtains, and she comes and checks, and confirms that, indeed, he's not there.

But still, tomorrow morning, she'll wake up with a monster behind the curtains.

I have a theory that it started with her hearing the rubbish truck and not knowing what it was. She's much more aware of outside sounds than we are, probably because she doesn't know what's making them so her subconscious can't just dismiss them as ours does. But I've shown her the rubbish truck, and commented on the noise. "It's big," she says. "Big and strong!" And she does her mad strong-man impersonation, elbows out, fists almost together, muscles straining so hard her face turns red and shakes a bit. But it's had no effect whatsoever on her belief in the monster.

At least she's fairly calm about him. Yesterday morning she was in my bedroom and asked for her drink. I told her it was still in her room. "I'll go and get it," she said. Then remembered the monster. "But I'm scared," she adds. And goes anyway. Walks to the doorway, peers into her room (where the curtains are still closed). Runs to her shelf, grabs her drink, and high-tails it out of there. Scampers back to the safety of my room. "I was scared, Mummy." I ask why she's scared. "The monster was in the curtains. And he scares me. And the monster won't get me..."

The monster won't get me. She says it like she's trying to make herself believe it.

But here's the thing. I've tried questioning her about the monster. I've tried assuring her that he won't come here. I've tried showing her the source of the noises she attributes to the monster. But he's still behind the curtains.

One thing I haven't tried, and I don't plan to: I haven't told her he doesn't exist. That may sound strange, or wrong, or like I'm missing the obvious solution, or whatever. Well, before you give me that attitude, hang on a minute!

The thing is, this monster is real to her. Sure, there's no physical, flesh and blood (and purple fur and pointy teeth - I just realised I'm imagining Humf), monster. But there's something, in her mind, that's frightening her. And I know it's my job to teach her the difference between imagination and reality. But here's the thing. If I tell her the monster's not real, that she's just imagining it, she's not going to go, "Oh, okay, Mummy says the monster's not real, so despite all the evidence I have that tells me he's real, obviously if Mummy says he's not real, he's not real." No. I'd love it if it were that simple. But toddlers have their own minds, and we can't make them think what we want them to think, no matter how cleverly we word it or how loving our intentions may be.

Here's what I see happening: I tell her the monster's not real, that she's just imagining it. So now she knows Mummy doesn't think the monster is there. But she still knows it is. And now, instead of Mummy having her back when the monster's around, she's on her own.

And I'm not doing that.

So instead, I'm kitting up in my pretty awesome suit of Mummy-armour, I'm hefting my great big shield into position, and I'm ready to face the world of monsters with my little girl, wielding our monster-bashing clubs and bellowing like beserkers. This is all metaphorical, of course, because we're not quite completely insane. But what I mean is, when Ellie wakes up in the morning and tells me there's a monster behind her curtains, I'm going to open them and show her it's not there. I'm going to remind her I won't let it come here. And I'm going to congratulate her on her bravery in facing the monster behind the curtains, and not backing down.

Because we all have monsters behind our curtains. We know they're there, even if no one else can see them. And they scare us. And sometimes we need to stay in our beds and let someone else come and send the monster away for a while. That's fine - it's good to rely on each other at times when our fears get too much for us. And other times we're banging on the door to be rescued. That's fine too, because you get to see who your friends are - they're the ones who'll come and open your door, and give you comfort, and not laugh at you for being frightened by Daddy blowing his nose.

Sometimes our problems and fears are silly. Sometimes what looks small and simple to everyone else can look big and scary to us. Being told it's nothing won't make us see it as nothing.

But having a friend by our side, who maybe can't see the monster, but is willing to accept that we can, and to help us face it down anyway?

That's what slays him. No monster can withstand that for long.

And in the meantime, she's showing true bravery. There's a monster behind her curtains, and it scares her, but that's her room, man, and she's not backing down.

Couldn't be prouder.

Nick off, Humf.
dunno what ellie sees, but this is what I'M imagining