My Daughter Loves The Dead – When Your Child is Fascinated with the Macabre
Summary: My daughter loves blood, dead animals, scary movies and making homemade haunted houses. It’s in her blood, so to speak. So why not go with it?
It’s no secret that raising my daughter has not been easy. Early on there were some tough challenges around potty training, social anxieties and violent tantrums. But some parts of her are so unbelievably cool, that it kind of makes up for the rest. One of those things is her love of the dead.
No, not the band, I mean dead things.
Human corpses, bloody body parts, dead fish in the supermarket or floating in an aquarium, roadkill, that type of thing. And of course, haunted houses and Halloween. Which, at our house, is pretty much everyday.
As far as I could tell she’s always been this way. While other children would cry and freak out over their wounds, my daughter would examine them. She was in no hurry to get the blood to stop. If she saw a dead animal she went right for it. Poking and prodding and checking it out from all angles. If the television was on, she’d perk up every time she heard scary music or saw action that looked violent.
This lead to some unusual parenting judgement calls. She was clearly fascinated with the macabre, and I’m a firm believer of letting your child guide their interest and supporting them 100%, but how much is too much? Could she handle the level of intensity that she seemed to be drawn to?
Our Haunted Mansion
Some stuff was a no brainer.
She loves making haunted houses so make sure she has the supplies she needs to do creative scary play. Red and black pipe cleaners make great blood and spiders. Keep her well stocked with tape, string and cotton sheets for making spider webs, hanging stuff and holding things together. Collect Halloween stuff on the cheap in November.
Some stuff I bought online. I found a realistic set of 24 eye balls on eBay. I found a 12 pound bag of assorted educational quality bones at Skeletons and More. The eyeballs were a big hit, but she doesn’t seem to use the bag of bones too much. Perhaps they’re just too big and heavy. They were great for Halloween though, and we use them to decorate our outdoor cemetery.
Basically we just give her a bunch of stuff and let her figure out what to do with it. We’ve never told her what anything was for, or how to use it, and we definitely don’t guide her play. She just goes through her boxes and drawers of stuff and creates these haunted houses in her room and living room about once per week, year around. She’s even tricked out her doll house and turned into a haunted mansion from time to time. Nothing’s sacred or safe. If it can wear fangs, or look injured or bloody, it’s in.
Like I said, a no brainer.
However, other choices were borderline.
I’m Scarred for Life
One day my daughter, who’s about four years old at the time, strolls into the room while I’m watching MTV ‘s Scarred. It’s a reality show that features mostly young men and boys doing dangerous stuff on skateboards, roller blades and bikes and getting hurt really bad. That’s it, just a half an hour parade of injuries and severe trauma. She perks up instantly.
I go to change the channel.
“Wait, don’t change it, what’s this show?
“Uh, well it’s a show about people hurting themselves really bad.”
“Can I watch?”
“Uh, OK, we’ll try it for a little bit, but if it’s too scary let me know and I’ll change it.”
“It’s not too scary for me. I like scary things.”
So we watch the first episode. The host is exactly the type a host you would think you’d see on a show called Scarred. The editing is fast and aggressive, the music pounding, and the spiky haired, tattooed host points and gestures at and the camera while it pans and zooms. And of course it includes the most “Fucked Up Clip of the Week”. The show features five injuries per episode and it counts them down from least to most severe.
My daughter loves it.
“This is not scary at all. I like it!”
She not only likes it, but after a couple episode she starts getting picky.
“I want to see a bone stick out. There’s not enough blood in this one. Let’s see one were they get hurt really bad.”
She’s too young to understand that a severe blow to the groin or a snapped ankle, though not bloody, are actually very intense injuries and far worse than a cut on the head that bleeds a lot. None the less, the girl wants blood.
I Tivo the show so we can watch them at our leisure and skip through the commercials, which in my opinion are always far more damaging to your kid than any show could be.
After about six episodes, I pull the plug on the show. She seemed cool with it, she didn’t have nightmares, and it didn’t encourage her to do reckless things in an attempt to mimic what she saw. I just seemed like six episodes was more than enough for the both of us.
Our Bodies, Ourselves
In early 2008, the Body World’s exhibit came to San Jose Tech Center. It’s an exhibit featuring plastinated bodies. Plastination is a form of preservation that replaces all of the moisture in the body with a synthetic polymer. The result of is a perfectly preserved body. And they just don’t show you the bodies. They are posed in interesting configurations and the bodies are splayed apart.
So I show my daughter pictures of the show online.
“Would you like to go see this exhibit? It features dead people and you can see all of their bones and organs.”
“Does it look too scary?”
“No I’ll be fine. I like scary things. If it’s too scary I can just close my eyes.”
We invite one of her friends and her mom to go with us and we all hop in the mini van to check it out.
It’s just drop dead amazing. You really can’t describe the intensity and the sheer beauty and inventiveness of the exhibit. It has to be experienced in person.
My favorite was the drawer man. It’s a full-sized naked man and all of his body has been sliced into drawers like you’d see on a dresser. these drawers of flesh and bone and nerves are pulled out to show the contents. It’s both awe-inspiring and funny.
Both our children love the exhibit but after about 45 minutes they start to lose interest, which is to be expected, and I’m truly amazed they lasted that long.
The exhibit was so good that we saw it again in Los Angeles on our way to Arizona later that same year.
This time a partner was with us so she could experience it too.
Happy Halloween..Uh, I mean Birthday!
2009 was the year of my daughter’s sixth birthday. As usual we let her pick the theme for her party.
“So what kind of theme do you want?”
“No problem. Halloween in May it is. What do you want on your cake?”
“I want it to say happy birthday, but I want it to look like it’s dripping blood from the letters.”
“Ok. We’ll see what the bakery can do.”
So the entire party was black and orange. The plates and cups had ghosts on them and dry ice filled the room with fog. We had a black bat pinata and we covered the windows with black and orange paper. The kids dressed in Halloween costumes and everyone loved it.
But the Halloween birthday party seems downright normal compared to her other fetishes with the dead.
Pets or Meat?
We have a 29 gallon fish tank. As a teenager and I was a total aquarium head and I missed having a tank. So I was quite pleased when my daughter started asking for one. I got it all setup, cycled it, then stocked it with nice collection of community fish. I’ve always loved dojos, so of course we had to have one of those. For some unexplained reason the dojo just died. He was stable, happy, healthy and growing fast, but one morning he was just dead.
“Bummer, the dojo’s dead. I don’t get it, he was so healthy.”
“Let me see.”
I fish it out of the tank and show to my daughter.
“Let’s cook it and eat it!”
Now I’m a flexible guy, but I could see this would just not work out the way my daughter was envisioning it in her head.
“I don’t think that’s such a good idea. We don’t know why he died and if he’s diseased we shouldn’t be eating him. Also there is no way to filet him because he’s so small, so you’d have to eat to him whole, including the bones. And you don’t like fish that much anyway.”
“OK, but let me look at him before we throw him away.”
I put the dead dojo on a napkin and she pokes and prods for a while and then throws in the trash can.
“Let’s go buy another one.”
Needless to say she’s not sentimental about her dead pets.
Yet, even that tale pales in comparison to the “dead deer in the crosswalk” story.
The Dead Deer Hunter
One Saturday morning as we are coming back from the Cabrillo Farmer’s Market, I spot a dead dear right on the entrance to the pedestrian crosswalk on Soquel Drive. The deer looks pretty fresh.
“Wow, did you see that?”
“It was a whole dead deer on the crosswalk. Want to turn around and check it out?”
“Can we get out of the car?”
“Of course, that’s the whole point.”
“YES! I want to see the dead deer!”
So we whip a u-turn and pull into a parking lot right next to the deer. We jump out of the min-van and hustle over. When we get there my daughter looks around a bit and then says something that I could hardly hear because of the roar of the traffic. It sounds quite bizarre, so I ask her to repeat it as I think I may have heard her wrong.
“So what did you say. What do you want to do?”
“I want to cut of the leg and take it home and show mom!”
Yep, I did hear her right the first time.
“Cut of the legs?”
“Yes, cut them off and show mom!”
“Where would we cut them off?”
She leans over an makes a line with her finger across the deer’s hind legs.
“What do you think she’ll say if we brought home a deer leg?”
“I think she’ll be surprised!”
And I think she would be surprised as well, but not as surprised as you’d think. She’d probably be more concerned about the mess and how we plan to dispose of it. After all this is our daughter. And it’s no secret she loves the dead.
Don’t believe me? Hah, I recorded it!