Is it just me, or have birthday parties come a long way since we were kids? Back in the eighties, I’m pretty sure we were happy with pass the parcel and food with enough colouring to dye all the flags for Pride. These days it’s all bouncy castles in church halls, face painting, pinatas, gluten-free fairy cakes, and men called Ian pretending they’re qualified to do “Jedi training” because they’re wearing a brown dressing gown.
The quest for ever more exotic entertainment may explain how last weekend, we ended up seeing the same Snake Guy at two separate parties. My seven-year-old daughter sat in the front row each time, eyes wide, mouth agape, hand shooting up to volunteer to hold whatever was wriggling away in the lumpy pillow case.
“Look, mum! I’m holding the head!” She screamed in delight. I gave her a thumbs up and a beaming smile, from the sensible distance of 17 meters away. We may share the same DNA, but a love of snakes and scary stuff? Forget it.
I thought that becoming a mother would turn me into some kind of fearless warrior - and it has, in some situations. When it comes to protecting my children, I’d happily run across a motorway or jump out of a plane; I’d think nothing of wrestling a tiger, or a deputy head. I have no fear of staring down that huffy puffy couple at the next table, who tut as they judge me for letting my kids have an iPad in a restaurant. (If they get really huffy, I take away the iPad, and let them enjoy my kids loudly asking where poo comes from while repeatedly knocking their cutlery on the floor. Then they’re sorry.)
I also knew how I wanted my children to see me - as a brave superhero, untroubled by creepy crawlies or things that go bump in the night. I would be that kind of Alpha Mum who laughs in the face of fear, and tackles life’s challenges head-on. Basically, I thought I’d be some sort of cross between Bear Grylls, Wonder Woman, and Kirstie Allsopp.
How wrong I was. The reality is, I can usually be found hiding behind the sofa when Doctor Who’s on. The sight of a single mouse dropping can send me jumping on a chair clutching my apron strings, like I’m in a Tom and Jerry cartoon. (Except no one wears aprons in 2016, apart from Kirstie Allsopp, so more usually I’m clutching the hem of my Primark cardigan.)
But when it comes to being frightened of bugs and the like, I think my fears are justified - I grew up in rural Australia, where we were taught that anything with either no legs or more than four WILL kill you. And look at our so-called family entertainment - Crocodile Dundee. Oh, the horror.
I know most of my fears are irrational, though, as my kids are always pointing out. “Mum, calm down, it’s just a story… Mum, relax, the nice man is going to catch the nasty ghost... Seriously, Mum, the Marshmallow Man is supposed to be funny…”
OK, so getting the heeby jeebies over Ghostbusters is pretty pathetic. Unfortunately for me, that’s exactly the kind of film our kids always pick for our regular Friday movie night. Strangely, they will always opt for Harry Potter or Star Wars over my suggestions of Mary Poppins or The Sound of Music. I just don’t get it - why would you choose being scared over watching a bunch of kids dressed in curtains sing their way through the Nazi occupation of Austria? They’re really missing out.
My daughter in particular has a thing for the Goosebumps books, and loves the new movie tie-in. I watched the whole thing with her, and didn’t even hide behind the sofa or disappear to make an 18 minute cup of tea once. I wasn’t a huge fan of the abominable snowmen, or the weird ventriloquist’s dummy, but it helped that the film stars Jack Black as author R. L. Stine, and there are lots of references for adults. And I liked the fact Goosebumps isn’t just about spooky stuff - it deals with themes like friendship and love, as well as loss and loneliness. Now THOSE things are frightening.
Of course there’s a part of me that wishes my daughter would happily sit down with me in front of Show Boat. But at the same time, I’m proud that she loves scary things, that she’s so courageous, and that she and her brother play such imaginative games. It’s a relief they’re not all about handsome princes or happily ever afters. I’d much rather watch them create magical lands populated by Cybermen, unicorns who shoot lasers out of their eyes, and an evil kangaroo warlord called Roger.
Learning to be scared and survive is part of growing up. So I’ll keep letting my kids watch these films, and I’ll be watching with them. Maybe they’ll make me a little braver, too.
This post is sponsored by Goosebumps, out on 30th May on Blu-ray & DVD.
Watch an exclusive clip from the Blu-ray.
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