Yesterday morning I went back inside the house after clearing the back lawn of half-chewed bones* to find Ella crying and calling out for me.
Me - Tell me what's wrong, sweetie.
Ella - I had a bad dream about monsters and they are still here.
Me - Ooh, we'll need some magic to scare them away then, won't we? Here, you take one fairy wand and I will take the other. Now we'll go to every corner of the room, make a circle with the fairy wand like so and say: "Abracadabra abra hey! Make the monsters go away!"
Ella - No, we have to turn them into fairies.
Me - Ok, what about "Abracadabra abradairy, monster turn into a fairy!"
So we walked around to every corner (and dark crevices between furniture) of Ella's room, my room and the lounge room to exorcise the monsters. (It appears monsters only like carpeted rooms?) It took me 10 minutes of my valuable time between waking up and rushing off to work, but it was well worth it. No monsters have reared their ugly heads in the past 24 hours.
There's a bit of a story behind this too.
When Ella and I (and my niece) shared a room at my sister's place in Belgium last August, Ella started crying loudly late one night. I rushed over to her bed, saw how distressed she was, picked her up and put her on my lap on my bed and tried to get her to focus on me so I could calm her down. But she looked around and screamed hysterically at the dark corners of the room, yelling about monsters. She behaved like she was on some hallucinogenic drug. I had to rush her out of the room and down to the lounge room. There I finally managed to get her to focus on my face and she calmed down eventually. It was then that I realised how hot her skin felt and after checking her temperature, she turned out to have quite a high fever. It was a classic case of fever-induced hallucinations.
When she finally regained control over her speech, she feebly but surely told me that she would not go back into that room because the monsters were still there. I remembered the advice from another parent years ago about not denying the existence of whatever young kids might be scared off. And this was even worse than your average irrational fear. I saw that she SAW those monsters coming towards her. To her they were as real as the furniture in that room and there was no way that anyone would've been able to convince her that was she saw was not actually there.
I did some quick thinking and then told her that what monsters are more scared of than anything else in the world is… bubbles. It was the first thing that came to mind and it really did not matter at all what it was. I went up with a bubble blower and came back down to report to her that the monsters were sooo scared of the magic bubbles that they tripped over their own feet running down the stairs and out of the house. That they were really far away now and would never be able to find their way back to the room.
It worked. She went back to sleep in the same room, though she never really felt totally at ease there again unfortunately.
Since then we have had magic marbles, magic pebbles, magic fairy wands and a magic bear to ward off the monsters. Ella has also decided that monsters are scared of beautiful things (which is why beautiful clothes are important!) and somewhere along the track the fairies got involved - because the fairies can 'ding' the monsters into fairies. (It's all very logical, really!) At the last Halloween party we attended, Ella came up with the idea of dressing up like a fairy because then [smug laughter] "all the scary monsters at the party would be scared of her."
She only once brought up the monster experience herself, a couple of weeks after our return. "Remember mum, that there was a room in Belgium, that had monsters?" And I have brought it up myself a couple of times. Not because I am a sadist and want to remind her, but because I know that noone - not even a 3yo - could that easily forget a harrowing experience like that. It may be one of her earliest memories that will stay with her forever. It is part of her history and part of who she is now and there is nothing I can do about that. What I can do is acknowledge to her that it was real and try to put a positive spin on it by reminding her of the power of magic, which now - fortunately - is every bit as real to her as the monsters were. I have at times asked her serious questions about the experience - because I really want to know what it was like. The last time I mentioned those monsters was when we read an illustrated book in which a fairy has a dream about shadowy monsters coming out of the walls towards her. I asked Ella if the monsters she saw were like those in the book. She said they weren't because hers were real and the ones from the book were only a dream. And she said they looked "different".
Before I had a child myself, I think I was probably one of those people who thought it was rather unethical to "lie" to your children e.g. about Santa and the Easter Bunny. But this experience has ultimately taught me that a child's imagination has both negative and positive sides and it is better to use the positive aspects in their advantage then to just leave them struggling with the negative ones on their own.
And besides, who am I to tell her that 'my reality' is more real then 'her reality' anyway? People believe in all sorts of things, so believing in monsters and fairy magic really doesn't seem that far fetched. As far as I am concerned she can believe in fairies for the rest of her life. If it offers her comfort or enjoyment. But I do hope that one day she will see the monsters for what they are: a figment of a child's vivid imagination and nothing at all to be afraid of. I also hope that it will teach her something about dealing with the other kind of monsters inside our head that we all get haunted by at times: that she will always know that all it takes is some skilfully applied fairy magic to make them run away in fear!
*Just re-read this and thought I'd better clarify that
a) the bones were not of the human but of the bovine variety
b) all the chewing was done by the canine occupant of our residence