Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - September 20, 2013

Treat to trauma

When daughters Mariya and Katie were small, we thought such things as trips to our North Woods cottage and Disneyland, attending family reunions and holiday celebrations, decorating their rooms brightly and other typical childhood activities would contribute to fond adulthood memories. For the most part, I think we succeeded. But we also had no idea at the time that some of the things had the reverse effect. Traumatized may be too strong a word, but let's just say that some of those things we thought were fun were not quite as amusing to the girls.

One example comes from Mariya's baby days. Even though circuses were pretty much a part of history by the time she was born, I loved the sights and sounds of them. So I decided to decorate her nursery in a circus theme, complete with colorfully colored clowns, balloons and circus trains. There was a brightly-striped cushion on the rocking chair, stuffed clowns on the rocker and dresser, laminated clown faces my Mom had drawn ... even a blanket covered with clowns.

Years later, Mariya confided that she was terrified of clowns. What we adults saw as funny colorful characters, she saw as creepy ones. Where we adults saw Emmett Kelly playing Weary Willie or Red Skelton playing Freddie the Freeloader, she saw Jack Nicholson playing the Joker in the "Batman" movie or Tim Curry playing Pennywise the Dancing Clown in Stephen King's 1990 "It" miniseries.

And then there was the time in 1991, when our family traveled to Pennsylvania for a Freeland family reunion. We saw the Gettysburg battlefield, visited local museums and shared family stories. But wanting to do something that would be special for a child, we also took a tour of the nearby Hershey chocolate factory. I thought Mariya, then 5, and her cousin Gabriela, 2 1/2, would enjoy it for obvious reasons. The tour included a short ride through the factory in a little cart. While we were on it, we saw a movie that showed where the chocolate came from, how it was processed - including being melted - and how it was packaged. I thought it was fascinating.

Mariya - sitting right next to me - was experiencing something a bit different! In an e-mail, Mariya described her recollections.

"This is one instance where my imagination got me into a tad of trouble. The ride seemed rather boring at first, mostly because it was like a moving lecture on the process of Kiss creation. No child likes to be lectured ... Even if the lecture is about chocolate. I wanted to eat it, not understand the production process from tree to mouth. The boredom continued until we entered ... the tunnel. The creators probably though it was clever to take people through the process as if they were Kisses, but shoving children into a tiny tunnel with strangers while telling them that they are entering the ovens just seems like a terrible idea. The walls began to glow ... I began to think about being cooked to death, and convinced myself that the heat was rising right along with my panic... My imaginings continued on that gruesome path until we finally exited the tunnel and I could breathe cool air and feel sweet freedom. I have no fondness for Hershey Kisses to this day."

Wow! Who would think that what seems like a fun adventure for a kid could actually be a source of terror.

I have photos of Katie dressing her stuffed "Sesame Street" Big Bird in her yellow footed pajamas. What I didn't know until a few years ago was that once alone in her room, Big Bird, perched high on a shelf, scared her. She said she thought it had a red mouth because it had blood in it! At night, she felt the bird "stared" at her.

I was 10 when Mom and Dad took us kids for what should have been a fun evening at the movies. The show was Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds," a story where several species of birds - seagulls, crows and others - inexplicably begin attacking people in a California town. Although the movie scared me at the time, I can't say it scarred me for life. I like birds just fine now ... well, except when large groups of them gather and look down at me quietly.

Art couldn't recall anything similar from his childhood, but mentioned a story his dad told him from his. When Tom was 13, he wanted to earn some money, so his dad arranged for him to work for a week on a farm of a pair of newlyweds. One night, the couple went to a dance. His dad said that even though he knew it was just the normal creaking and popping produced by the new farmhouse settling, he wasn't able to sleep until the couple came home. The noises made him think of someone ... or something ... walking.

Parenting is tougher than I imagined. Whoever thought giving your kids a treat could be so tricky!

Left: four-month-old Mariya with some of her bedroom items; middle: Mariya, left, and Gabriela after surviving the chocolate tunnel; right: Katie showing Big Bird who is boss.

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