This week’s blog post is by The Paternity Test co-host Matt Boresi, who lives in the Edgewater Glen neighborhood of Chicago with his wife (“Professor Foster”) and their 4-year-old daughter, who is not allowed near the television, even if someone says the house is “clean.”
It’s been a long time since I’ve been in our house alone, but I don’t recall the experience being nearly as scary as the house has become since Viva came along. Maybe it’s all the kid stuff everywhere with faces on it. Maybe it’s a child’s talent for being creepy. Maybe it’s my dropped testosterone rapidly transitioning me into Don Knotts, but life as a parent seems like a constant string of scares. I’m not talking about fears like global warming, exponential tuition increases or drug resistant super bacteria, although that stuff is its own world of terror, I’m talking about spooky, silly Halloween-y scares. The house is full of them now.
So, let’s put aside our discussion of fears of dirty bombs, nano warfare and the fact that American toddlers shoot more people to death per year than everyone in the country of Japan does in two years. If I think too hard about all that stuff I’ll have to start dipping into the Fun Size Twix early to calm my nerves. Let’s talk about the things in a house with children that go bump in the night … and go beep in the night … and open their unblinking eyes to whisper at you in gleeful voices … in the night.
Jack in the Boxes
Or is it “Jacks in the Box”? Regardless, these things never lose their ability to transfix and unnerve. The song galumphs along out of tune, evoking cryptic 19th century lyrics and ending with the unpredictable but inevitable appearance of some sinister spring-loaded ghoulie. It’s bad enough that the operator of a Jack in the Box is irresistibly compelled to bring the shock upon themselves like the doomed owner of a Cenobite puzzle box, but the worst part is that what pops out will probably be from the second category on our list:
It seems odd that there was ever a time when clowns were considered whimsical or necessary. Circuses in general seem to now be just big canvas prisons of anachronism and suffering: abused animals, disturbed acrobat clans and white-faced slapstick demons wearing oversized shoes that hide their cloven hooves.
This is Chicago, so we’re particularly sensitive about clowns given the history surrounding a certain Norwood Park resident, but it’s hard to find anyone anywhere outside of a McDonald’s marketing department who doesn’t find clowns more than a little off-putting.
And yet, these Auguste gargoyles continue to be made into dolls and figurines and painted on wall hangings and trinkets intended for kids. They haunt our nurseries with their stippled-on stubble and ghastly bindles filled with who-knows-what.
The less said about clown, the better. We don’t want them to hear us.
Perhaps we should blame Rod Serling for our fears here, but talking dolls seem to fall perfectly into the Uncanny Valley of Grotesque Items that fill a parent’s home. Why have we chosen to outsource our storytelling and games of peek-a-boo to tiny robots? What good could possibly come of it? They’re frightening when their batteries are fresh, terrifying when the batteries wear down and if they still work without batteries … best to just move away and leave all your stuff in the house.
Viva’s first “sentence,” at a preposterously young age, was directed at a crawling Minnie Mouse toy that scared her to death. “Min-Mow Buh-Bye,” she shouted. Translation: Get that Minnie Mouse out of here–it has nefarious designs.
They’re irritating when you’re awake–they’re mind bending when you’re asleep. From our Little People circus (Circuses. Clowns. Ugh.) to our Barbie shopping cart and anything with a Leap Frog on it, toys have been going off in the middle of the night in our home for four years. They play jaunty little tunes made all the more blood-curdling by their suspicious banality.
Why do they set themselves off? Are they tripped by the motion of ectoplasmic figures navigating our bedrooms? Do they have a mind of their own? Regardless, when you’re awoken in the night by a circus theme or Pop-Goes-the-Weasel, you expect to open your eyes to a succubus sitting on your chest looking straight at you with the eyes of Rosemary’s Baby.
Blame “Magic,” blame “The Dark Crystal,” blame “Gigglesnort Hotel” (definitely blame “Gigglesnort Hotel” – that clay guy? [shudder]), but puppets are high octane nightmare fuel.
The scariest puppet in our house? Our Carol Channing ventriloquist dummy. Ventriloquist dummies are the most threatening members of the puppet family. “A ventriloquist dummy that is also Carol Channing?,” you ask, “Why would you allow such an unholy abomination IN YOUR HOUSE?” Well, we’re musical theatre professors–it’s a hazard of the trade. But if I were a betting man when it comes to my eventual demise, I lay odds it’ll be at the felt hands of Carol, with “Jam Tomorrow” gurgling from her celluloid vocal chords.
Though they theoretically allow us to spy on our newborns cooing and lolling about, everyone knows nursery monitors are telescopes directly into the netherworld. Why, in the 21st century, are they still so staticky? So low-res? So … creepy night vision-y? Because the are the modern day equivalent of a Ouija board or an itinerant Medium come to town in a clattering wagon– our direct line to the dark side.
One of these days when you roll over and hit the button and stare into that monitor, you can be sure something unexpected will be staring back.
And that brings us to the absolute scariest thing you find in any house with children:
Is it the fact that they are tiny, shrill, flailing humans that makes them so upsetting? Perhaps it’s the fact that they lack empathy and would blink you into a cornfield if they had the power to do so. Or maybe it’s their apparent connection to forces on the other side (They always see the ghosts first in movies and Viva spend the first two years of her life communicating with an unseen entity in the nursery she called “Caleb.”). Children are an endless font of terror.
Whether climbing into the television to meet spirits, climbing out of the television to mess up your face or just lurking in the corn, fictional children are always a problem and real world children are no less chilling. They ask haunting existential questions, they grow as we decay and they have every intention of waiting us out. Plus, they’re scary intuitive with touch screens.
So, sleep tight parents, in your house full of musical talking clown puppet jack-in-the-boxes and monitors that will reveal your child’s paranormal activities. I have to go see if the knocking sound from inside the wall marks the return of someone, or someTHING, known as “Caleb.”
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