The childhood fear you probably never had.

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Most kids have normal fears. Clowns. Bees. People in full body animal costumes. But even when my dad would hide in my closet to try and scare me when I went to bed, it wasn’t my truest fear. No, mine was unique and…perpetuated by my whole family.

My dad describes it this way, “We would swear that we would never do it again, and we’d last about a week. I’d get this idea in my head. I’d go somewhere and tell you…you were about two-and-a-half or three. Scarred you for life, obviously. But it’s not like we tried to do it everyday to harass you. This is going to make us sound like terrible people.”

When I confronted my own sweet mother that she couldn’t have possibly participated in doing this to me, she replied, “It was just too hard to resist.” My own mom! The one who would not only lie on the witness stand if I (hypothetically) committed a crime, but would probably helped me bury the money as well. Thankfully, my wife would turn me in, so don’t worry Justice System, I’m not getting away with anything.

Anyhow, this fear became Kempston family lore and the big running joke of my life. But over the eons the mythology outgrew the facts, and most of us couldn’t remember what started it all.

Then my big brother came to the rescue with this retelling:

“I remember that you would be in my room and I would be sitting on my waterbed and you would be pestering me—from my perspective. Basically I wanted you leave or go away—or I wanted to entertain my friends.”

“I would usually begin by saying, ‘Shhhhhhhh. Listen, Shaun can you hear that?’ And you would get this concerned look on your face and say, “Hear what?’ And I would say, ‘Listen Shaun…can you hear them? They are coming.’”

“Since you were such a trusting little two-year-old, you would say, ‘Who is coming?’ And my evil 16-year-old self would say, ‘The goats. I can hear their little goaty hoofs on the steps.’

“At that point you would get this horrified look on your face and run out of my room crying.”

“And I would get in trouble.”

“That was how I usually did it.”

“You see there was this little golden book that had quite a collection of illustrated animal pictures in it. One page in particular had multiple animals on it. The goat was rather innocuous looking but you hated him. I accidentally discovered that when someone was reading that book to you and you wanted to skip that particular page.”

“Another way to get you would be to walk up to you with the book in hand and say, ‘Listen. Shaun…I can hear them calling your name.’ If I had the book in my hand you knew what I was talking about and I would get the same reaction. I will admit I was a terrible older brother. I am sorry, but I do believe you have not required counseling as a result.”

Well big brother, here’s where I admit that I would’ve done this to me too. So everyone’s off the hook. Even you dad, even for your “hide-in-the-closet-while-I-was-trying-to-sleep” prank.

The irony is that now I work for a company whose top product includes…goats. In fact, I have spent hours and weeks working on headers and email subject lines and clever words to sell goats for Christmas. The kind where you buy a goat in someone’s name for a present, and then someone in a developing country gets a goat. Then that goat has babies, and they all have little goaty hoofs, but the kids love ‘em and no one gets scared or writes about their childhood fear 31 years later.

Now, have I broken the cycle? Sort of. Are my own children afraid of goats? No. But we have our own version.

One day when my oldest son was four, our terrible dinosaur of an upstairs neighbor was clunking around angrily dropping bowling balls or knocking over furniture like usual. My son was scared and asked what it was. Here was my mistake, “Oh, just a huge scary monster, don’t even worry about it.” My wife and I would deal with the consequences of this offhand comment for years. YEARS. As in we still deal with this today.

Every clunk would send him rushing to us whether we were awake or not…“The monster! It’s awake! It’s coming!” Even now, even though we moved, my son still won’t go upstairs by himself. He’s also, through the power of oral tradition, transferred this fear onto his little brother.

Now it’s just an impractical waste of time. We’ll say, “Go put on your socks.” And they reply, “I can’t, my socks are upstairs.” “Then go upstairs.” “I can’t. Go. There. By. Myself.” “Take your brother with you.” “Where’s my brother?” “Uggg…fine I’ll go with you.”

If we catch one of them playing upstairs by themselves, we try and sneak past them like they are a sleeping newborn. At some point they realize they are up there alone and come clumping downstairs with their little goaty hoof sounding feet, sounding like the very monster I feared as I child. Thus, the cycle continues…

Check out the published article over at the Gig Harbor Life section of the Kitsap County Sun.

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