When I was young, I wasn’t afraid of the dark. I was afraid of the things that lived in the dark: monsters. Monsters were very real. They lived in my closet. They lived in the basement (night or day). And they definitely lived under my bed.
Bedtime was around 9 o’clock for me. I’d tip-toe to my door with the hall light on. I’d turn the knob and tap it open. (You never just swung the door open. That’s a sure way to let the monsters know you’re coming in, rookie.) In those days, my light switch was by the door and my bed was at the other side of the room. So, I had to flip off the switch, sprint to my bed, jump the last couple feet, and dive under the covers before they got me.
If you move fast, the monsters can’t catch you.
Night lights didn’t help. My brother making scary monster sounds didn’t help (we shared a room then and, for some reason, his impression of Harry Monster from Sesame Street terrified me). The darkness didn’t help. And the fact that there was an entity of pure shadow and evil waiting just a few feet below me as I slept did not help.
Monsters under the bed.
As a man, I’ve come to terms with their existence. I think I’m too old to be much bait for them anymore. I enter the room and perhaps the monsters smell a faint trace of the terrified child within me. But I’ve got too many things on my mind to pay attention to that fear. That fear is tiny and see-through. I don’t even notice it. I’m really not much of an bargain to those midnight predators. So they leave me alone. I’m no longer a target.
But if I ever have kids, what will I tell them when they come running to me, crying about the beasts that wait for them in the night?
I’ll accept their story as credible. I’ll walk them back to their room. I’ll stoop under the bed and stare straight into the blackness and address that monster directly. “Hi. Remember me? We’ve met before. Listen. My kids are fast. My kids are smart. My kids sleep with semi-automatic weapons under their pillows and they tend to get twitchy when they’re scared. I won’t be responsible for what they do to you should you feel bold tonight. Sleep tight, monster-under-the-bed.”
After applauding me for training my children to be hardened warriors, you’ll probably tell me that I shouldn’t encourage their wild imaginations. I should turn on the lights and show them the cluttered, monster-free space below their beds (even though monsters have active camouflage when under direct illumination, silly).
But I’ll disagree. If I tell my children monsters aren’t real, I won’t merely banish their fear. I will also banish any ennobling courage that will make their fear endurable. If I threaten the monsters under their bed or if I make sure my kids are loaded up on ammo for the night, the fear is then treated as real and legitimate, and my kids will have a licence to fight that fear, to stand up to it.
I’d rather my children be afraid of monsters under the bed than a bully at school. If they can shoot a monster between the eyes in their sleep, how much more will they be able to overcome the fear of bullies, tests, public speaking, green beans, etc?
To echo C.S. Lewis on the merits of scary stories for kids, “Since it is so likely that they will meet cruel enemies [in life], let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage [and semi-automatic weapons].” I will not keep their minds from the knowledge that they were born into a world of pain and strength, death and healing, fear and courage, monsters and Jesus. My children will have open eyes and brave souls. That is why I support monsters under the bed. Face fear. Shoot it in the face, if you like. Cultivate courage however it comes. And by all means, sleep tight.