My daughter M is a pretty well-adjusted 7-year-old. She has faced and coped with her birth defect with more maturity than I think I could have mustered in her place. She has one fear, though, that we’ve struggled to overcome for years now. She has a fear of mascot costumes. Specifially, she is terrified, paralyzed almost, by people in costumes that hide their faces.
We have talked about her fear ad nauseam. M is very aware of it being irrational and is able to describe the parameters of her fear very clearly. She is afraid of mascots if the costume obscures the face and she doesn’t know who is inside. She was fine this Halloween because everyone she saw in a face-obscuring mask was with a family in which she could place their role. She was okay with the local production of The Little Shop of Horrors because we were able to meet the actors before the show and see how the costume fit. She’s okay with her school mascot because she knows which members of the school staff wear the costume.
My favourite grocery store, HEB, recently opened a new store wonderfully convenient to our house. We were out shopping for last minute Christmas dinner fixings on December 14 when I caught sight of the store mascot, H-E-Buddy® walking the aisles, giving kids high fives.
I didn’t stop to get a video myself. Instead, I positioned myself to ensure that M’s back would be to the costumed employee and quietly said to M, “Sweetie, there’s a mascot here. What do you want to do?”
I could see her try to steel herself, but her words still came out in a scream. “Get away, Mommy. Don’t let him see me.”
We ducked down the nearest aisle, M begging me to check out immediately. I reminded her that we still needed to pick up our Christmas ham and chicken. This would be our last chance to shop.
Grocery shopping took far far longer than usual, as we chose where to walk based on whether H-E-Buddy would see us. J and I took turns scouting out whether it was safe to go around the next corner. At one point, M squeezed into the space between an ATM and the adjacent wall while I stood in front of her, hiding her existence while her sister got a cheery high five.
“M,” I asked her, picking her up, “Don’t you know I won’t let anything bad happen to you?”
“You always protect me,” she said through her tears, burying her face in my shoulder.
That’s why I let our ice cream melt in our long convoluted journey through our grocery trip. I can only help my daughter overcome her fears as long as she trusts me. In the short term, it means treating our Christmas grocery quest like a game of Pac-Man.
We’ve already worked through many of M’s fears. We no longer have to drive by new performance venues days before we go to see a play or musical performance. We no longer need to cross the street to avoid small dogs; she asks owners permission to pet puppies now! She now willingly goes trick-or-treating with her sister instead of begging to stay home to avoid people in Halloween costumes. She even rode on a bicycle without stability wheels and was proud of how long she stayed on instead of screaming about falling off.
Eventually, I believe that M will meet enough of the people inside mascot costumes that she can push her fear aside. Until then, I’ll continue to seek out ways for her to meet costume-wearers in their everyday clothes and help her avoid her demons.
I’ll always protect her.
Sadia (rhymes with Nadia) has been coordinating How Do You Do It? since late 2012. She is the divorced mother of 7-year-old monozygotic twins, M and J. She lives with them and their 3 cats in the Austin, TX suburbs and works full time as a business analyst. She retired her personal blog, Double the Fun, when the girls entered elementary school and also blogs at Adoption.com and Multicultural Mothering.