Improbable Fears

A child in our play-group had gone to a Christmas affair featuring Frosty the Snowman. You would expect her to come home pleased and excited and babbling on and on about Frosty. This child, however, was not pleased. Her mother tried to find out what had happened, and the little girl said that it was scary. Was she scared of the crowds? No. Scared of the noise? No. Scared of something that happened? No. What scared her then? “Frosty,” she said.

It was about the most improbably thing I had every heard. That totally friendly, cheerfully innocuous, blandly lovable guy? If I were to prepare a list of things that scare children, and Frosty the Snowman every occurred to me as a possibility, he would surely go at the absolute bottom of the list. Her mom was equally at sea. She probed a little to get more information about what it was that made him so scary, but the little girl couldn’t say. All we knew was that Frosty scared her.

There was a chorus of voices in my mind. I could hear me and the other adults protesting earnestly to this little girt, “You can’t be scared by Frosty the Snowman. He is simply not scary. Trust me--I know.” I could hear us saying, in quiet amused asides to each other, “Did you every year anything so ridiculous?” I could hear the other children taunting, “I would never be scared by Frosty. If she is, she must be a real scaredy-cat.”

As parents, we don’t like to see our children scared. It’s hard to acknowledge and listen to their fears in general--and doubly hard when those fears make no sense in our own experience. Our children learn fast that fear is seen as a weakness. They learn that they can gain points with other children by not being (or pretending not to be) afraid, and that one way of pulling attention from one’s own fears is by poking fun at someone else’s.

The most wonderful part of this experience was that none of those words that I heard so clearly in my mind were spoken. The adults did not protest or ridicule. We accepted the fact (demonstrably true) that she had come to the play group scared, accepted the fact that, for whatever reason, Frosty had triggered that fear--and put our minds to how best to play with a scared little girl. The other children did not taunt her. Perhaps taking a cue from the adults, or perhaps drawing on their own innate kindness, they let her be.

It was so refreshing. Who hasn’t encountered patronizing disbelief or ridicule when we shared our fears? Who hasn’t kept most of them secret for fear of such a response. What would it be like, for us and for our children, to have the space to be openly scared about what scares us, without fear of the consequences? What would it be like to have our fears accepted with confident, unworried love?

And--the most nagging question of all, and one to which I will probably never have the answer--what was so scary about Frosty the Snowman?