In Northwest Indiana, we’ve been enjoying warming temperatures that feel downright springlike, even for February. But March approaches, with the worst fear of all: the leprechaun.
One of my children–we’ll call him “Fred”—is terrified of leprechauns “because they’re little and sneaky,” he claims.
I told him not to worry because our cat, Piki, would chase and eat a creature that small.
Fred looked at the hearth, where my kids were dressing Piki with a glittery purple hat and pink miniskirt. Piki looked bored.
“I don’t know, Mom,” Fred said. “Piki is pretty sheltered. He won’t chase anything.”
I knew Fred was right. I patted my Jack Russell Terrier’s head. “Bandit was bred to fight and kill little animals. He’ll eat any leprechaun in our house.”
Just then, a uniformed Girl Scout rang the doorbell, probably selling cookies. Bandit sprang up, barking furiously, certainly thinking the one idea that’s characterized the breed for centuries: I’m going to eat her head.
Fred nodded. “You’ve got me there, Mom.”
When I was a kid, we had authoritative phobias. At age eight, I lost tons of sleep because I was afraid a vampire lurked under my bed and would bite me if I shut my eyes. It never occurred to me that an immortal creature who might’ve met Einstein or cavorted in Paris would think, “Hey, I’m gonna chill beneath this kid’s bed because I don’t have anything better to do.”
Now, of course, eight-year-olds only wish vampires waited beneath their beds.
When I was little, I accidentally saw The Exorcist’s rotating head scene on TV. For months, I worried the devil would possess me. I’d be embarrassed to admit that, but I understand that fear was common to kids in 1975. Scary stuff was happening: The Vietnam War still rocked the country, the American dollar was devalued by 10 percent, and huge lines snaked outside gas stations.
The world seemed infinitely complex and out of control. I couldn’t understand the anxieties TV anchors expressed, but I could understand a vampire under my bed.
On Sept. 4, 2001, I was teaching at Valparaiso University when the class discussion drifted to students’ fears. A second-career steelworker raised his hand and confessed that, during his childhood in the eighties, he lost sleep worrying about nuclear war. Products of peace and excess, the other students laughed.
A week later, in front of the campus museum, we watched a tiny TV in horror. In just a few minutes, our entire culture changed.
Psychologists might say humans need danger—real or perceived—to keep us on our evolutionary toes. Today, not much scares me, which concerns me. Maybe I’m saving up anxiety for my kids’ driver’s ed.