Sunday, June 11, 2006

There's something in your teeth

Rachel and I took Caroline to a children's museum last week. One of the displays consisted of anatomical sculptures, and one of those was an open mouth. Of course, I had to get a picture of Caroline being eaten.

She dutifully climbed up into the mouth and posed for the picture. Rachel urged her to act scared. "You're being eaten, Caroline!" she said. But Caroline knew she wasn't being eaten, and the only other expression she could give us was a frown. She couldn't act frightened on cue. I didn't get to see her crawl through the big intestine, but I would guess that would not have scared her either.

It's funny what scares little kids and what doesn't. I think when I was a little girl, the mouth would have fascinated me, but wouldn't have scared me. I'll tell you what really scared me.

There's a museum in Memphis called the Pink Palace. When I was little, there was not much rhyme or reason to the exhibits; it was mostly a hodgpodge of various curiosities. There was one huge room full of animal heads hanging on the walls. They were killed in Africa on safaris, I believe, back when it was socially acceptable to kill an innocent animal to provide a conversation piece for your wall and a souvenir of your adventures. Every time I went into that room, I was surrounded by huge dead animal heads. Most of them had been posed so that they looked capable of jumping down at any moment. It was quite eerie and uncomfortable and may have given me nightmares.

But the thing in the museum that scared me most was The Log. It had several holes in it, and the holes were totally dark. We were urged to stick our hands in each hole, feel around, and try to figure out what we were touching. Then we could turn the light on and see what it was. The whole thing totally freaked me out.

Maybe The Log experience was the earliest childhood "trauma" that made me fear the unknown, and maybe not. But it seems to me that as a kid, I was more frightened of things that I had no reason to be scared of. I knew those animal heads couldn't drop down and attack me. I knew those mysterious things in the log weren't going to harm me; otherwise, the museum would not have encouraged children to stick their hands in. Nonetheless, I was terrified.

When I became an adult, the situation changed. I had "eaten the apple of the tree of knowledge of good and evil," so to speak, and the things that frightened me had changed. Oh, they were still encased in the "unknown," but the fact that I knew they could happen changed everything. It's the difference in watching a scary movie - even though your emotions are affected, you still are aware you are watching just a movie - and barely avoiding a high-speed collision on the interstate. In real life, things that scare adults are very real, from terrorism to car accidents to financial ruin to losing your job to deaths of people you love. That is reality, and that is scary. It's so overwhelming that sometimes it is even tempting to step back in time and just have The Log to deal with.

I don't know if The Log is still there in the Pink Palace. They've gotten high tech in a lot of ways, I believe, and, of course, things change. But with Matt and Sarah visiting Memphis this week, my mind landed on the Pink Palace and its "safe" way to be scared out of one's wits. Too bad reality eventually sets in, and somehow the scary things get scarier.


Joy said...

Yes, the log is still there. And it still intimidates me. The last time we went there, I put my hand in and my husband freaked me out by screaming in my ear--just to scare me. It worked.

RJB said...

I wish I was there to see that!