return to the scene of the crime

Yesterday Chicken and I popped into a thrift store. 

He needed an oversized button-down for an art smock at school, and thrift stores are the best place to score 99-cent children's books from illiterate jerkoffs who evidently toss hardback Newberrys and Caldecotts in a trash bag with the toe-holey socks and nonfunctioning wall-phones they've been saving just in case this whole cell phone thing was a blip.

It was a standard visit to the thrift store, an unremarkable success. 
They were having a sale. 
They had just opened a Halloween section.

Smock? Check.

Children's books? Check times 12.

Innocuous toddler animal costumes from the Halloween section? Check, check.

Stand in line for 25 minutes (behind a gourd-shaped man in polyester slacks who would like each piece of his Fiestaware wrapped in newspaper, 
while the Indian grandma behind us strokes Chicken's giggling/flinching face repeatedly and tries to teach him how to say her name, which, I believe, was either Pathi. Or Bati. Or possibly Potty. 
She might have been fucking with us.)

Check.

Fast-forward to 9:45 pm, three hours after Chicken got the patented Katie three-story, nine-stuffed-animal, what-are-you-going-to-dream-about-tonight (eating puppies) three-year-old-put-down... a bloodcurdling scream cut through the night, like a really serious fart in yoga class.

MOMMY
MOMMY
MOMMY
HELP ME
MOMMY
MOMMY
PWEESE
HELP

I took the stairs seven at a time and barreled down the hall like a 5-hour-energy-ed Black Friday shopper. I didn't have time to wonder what I would find in that room. I only knew that sometimes, like right at that moment, the sound of a piercing, pulsing, screaming, living child is the sweetest sound in the world. 

I slammed open the door and found Chicken sitting in the reading chair, his face streaked with tears, reaching out for me and whimpering.

Side note:
Buster was totes fine tho. He was all, 

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA
LOOK
LOOK MA
IF I FALL ON MY BUTT
IN THE CRIB
I BOUNCE
LOOK
WATCH ME
WATCH
MOM
MA
WATCH
WATCH
WATCH ME
(bounce)
HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

I ran to Chicken and gathered him in my arms. "What happened, baby? What's wrong?"

He spoke in the panting, tear-filled voice of a child 
who has ridden a stallion one thousand miles 
to tell me how his puppy fell out a window. 
Onto the train tracks. 
Which were electrified. 
Also it was Christmas.

"It's so scary
the red stuff
from Value Village."

Fucking... of course.

What am I, a fucking amateur? 
Why yes, that's exactly what I am right now. 
Ooooh, look at me, taking an imaginative child to the thrift shop
where we spent 15 minutes
in Halloweenland,
domain of bloody fangs and cackling red-eyed motion-sensor skulls, 
without having a conversation about costumes, and silly makeup, and funny wigs and masks. 
Like a fucking rookie.
No wonder he woke up screaming.

My heart ached and my eyes squeezed shut as I rocked him, 
as his heart beneath my hand began to slow from its rabbit run, 
as Buster repeatedly threw himself onto his mattress, 
squealing in ecstasy with every bounce.

I was that kid. 
Kept awake by the tale of the convict with the hook, 
scraping the hood of a newlyweds' car. 
Frozen in my bedroom doorway at ten o'clock at night
because I thought I saw a shadow move on the wall. 
I went back to bed thirsty.

Oh, my baby.

I began to roll through the options of things I could say to help. 
"Things I can say to help" always fall into one of three categories:

1. Things my mom would have said, pragmatic, no-nonsense, and rooted in reality:

"It's just a costume, just cloth like a shirt. 
It can't hurt you."

I think he might be too young... this is magical thinking at work, and the fact that it's "not real" doesn't stop him from believing that it's real. It feels real to him, and that's all that matters.

2. Things a person who has never raised a child might say because they think it sounds right, but they don't understand that the principal consequence of assigning a mythical protector for a fantastical threat is, in fact, VALIDATING the fantastical threat: 

"Good thing you have this giant cowboy doll 
to stay up with you all night and keep you safe 
from the red monster from Value Village!"

So, your takeaway here is
YES, the red monster from Value Village CAN hurt you. It's totally real. 
This is me, your mother, the person you most trust in the world, 
telling you that THE MONSTER IS REAL. 
Here's your cowboy. 
I'll see you in the morning. 
Hopefully.

3. Things that... seem... honest? And... mostly right...? Please? God? Are you there? Little help?

"I don't like scary stuff either. 
You know what I do when I think about scary stuff? 
I try to change it in my imagination so it's just silly instead. 
Like if I was afraid of spiders, I might imagine that the spider was wearing roller skates, 
and he slipped and slid all over the place 
before he fell on his bottom 
and decided to get an ice cream sundae."

Yes, that is lifted 100% from Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.
Yes, my parenting style can best be described
as
Gryffindor.

I ended up doing a heavy dose of #3 with a dash of #1 for good measure.

Oh, also we went back to Value Village to play with the Halloween stuff today. I'm calling a do-over. I can do that.
Because I
am
the mom.

Chicken had a blast.

I may or may not sleep tonight.


CHICKEN?
CHICKEN WHERE ARE YOU?

I'm inside the clouds
or
maybe
they're just curtains
but I'm inside them

Here I am!
Phew.
It was stinky in there.
Not like most clouds.

You spend a lot of time in clouds, do ya?

Do I ever!

Uh oh
This guy
ate some 
crazy
strawberries
and he also
drew on his face
with marker.
Markers are for paper
and
towels
and

plates
Paper plates?

No
Regular ones

That's the red stuff
I don't like that stuff

Is that scary?

Yeah. I don't like it
because
he looks so sleepy
like
his Mommy is gonna say
you seem tired
and then he'll have to take a nap
but he just wants to pway

That's hard, when you want to stay up instead of rest.

Sometimes I feel mad about that.
So
so
mad.


WOAH
WOAH
Look at this guy
huh?
Look at this
crazy guy
huh?
What a mook!
Why'd you color your face white,
huh?
Silly guy?
He's silly.

Yeah, and did you see his yellow eyes?

Yeah!
Look at those silly yellow eyes.
You better stop drinking lemonade,
you
silly.

Hey there
Hey little guy
where are your
eyes?
Huh?
Did you leave them
in the car?

Mommy
Did you know
that bears
love
bananas?
And that's why their teeth are yellow?
And red?
Like this guy?
He eats so many bananas
that his poops
are so hard.
Poor guy.
He needs somethin
somethin
like
hmm...
let me think...
what makes poops soft...

This baby drew on her face too!
Uh oh baby
You better stop eating brown things
and wash up.

I bet he knows
a lot
about
octopusses.

Those are mean teeth.
I don't like those.

Let's touch them, just to see what they feel like.

How do they feel?

Soft!
Like
Like
Like
my toes
except not my toenails.

He has long hair too
it feels like a horse.
Let's call him
um
horseface

Horseface?

Yeah. Or
just
cock.

I'm sorry?

Yeah, horse
face
or
cock.

OK, well, I think we're done here!

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