I can't keep track of how many times my 5 year old has asked me this question. And I have always told him, "No honey, Monsters aren't real."
At least not the kind of monsters he is talking about. How do you tell your children that? How do you explain to them that though Vampires, witches, werewolves, and closet monsters don't exist, that real living, breathing monsters do, without terrifying them? How do you tell them that real monsters don't look like the Frankenstein monster, but disguise themselves as people? How do you tell them that without making them frightened of every single stranger in the world? Without making them so fearful that they turn and run as fast as they can screaming "Stranger danger!" every time a new person says hello to them.
The truth is, I am VERY leery of people whom I don't know. So leery in fact, that I have to bite my lips sometimes in crowds. How do I not project that fear and mistrust on to my children, but still keep them safe and appropriately fearful?
When I was a little girl, I remember feeling afraid a lot. I thought that when I was an adult I would be so much braver. As a matter of fact, as time has marched on and I have grown, I have actually become more afraid. I no longer fear that there is a monster hiding under my bed, but because I am now aware of what goes on in the world, from watching the news or hearing stories from friends, I realize that I am afraid of a lot more than I ever was as a child. And when I had children, those anxieties heightened.
This morning, we all heard about the bombings in Boston at the Marathon. This was nationwide news. It was horrible. But this morning, one of my worst fears happened just blocks away from my house. A little girl was walking alone to school, and she disappeared. Her parents didn't find out she was missing until she didn't show up at home when school let out. Today, the nation witnessed what real monsters are capable of, and we as a community, on a smaller scale, are worried that another monster has turned up in our neighborhood and is preying on our children. I do not know if she was taken, but that is usually how the story goes. And it is what is on every parent's mind in our town tonight.
I feel like crying. I feel so helpless. I feel like that little girl I used to be, afraid of the dark and scared at every little noise I hear. How do we keep our children safe, without locking them inside the house and insisting they hold our hands until they are thirty?
Hug your children closer. Turn off the distractions. Be present in the moment. Cherish it. Because right now, there are families all over the world who are wishing and praying to have that opportunity with their children again. Fearful families who don't know what has happened to their little ones, and are terrified that their worst fears have come true. That they might not ever see their children alive again.
Are monsters real? Yes. Yes they are.