“NO!” She shouts as she pulls the hat down over her eyes. “I SCARED!”
My toddler is startled by a loud duck on the lake. She runs towards me, arms outstretched, as she begs to be carried away from the source of her fear.
Two days later, a visit to a nursery sees a lady drag out a hoover. “NO!” My daughter whimpers. “I SCARED OF THE HOOVER!” And she pulls at my arms, attempting to wrap her legs around me as I walk.
Later that night, as CBeebies is turned on for the regular pre-teatime juggle of cooking, stroppy toddler distraction and washing / cleaning / wiping multi-tasking…. “NO!” My two year old screams from the living room. “I SCARED OF MR WHOOPS!” She cowers under a blanket, occasionally peeping out as Grandpa In My Pocket blares from the television.
My daughter is a scaredy cat. She wears her badge with pride, regularly boasting of the latest thing she’s frightened of because – in her own words – “I scaredy cat. I don’t like it”.
At the age of five months, my baby girl happily gurgled in her bouncy seat as I moved around the kitchen tidying. Emptying the bin, I shook out a fresh bin bag with a satisfying shake. The high pitched scream and the tears that followed told me to beware binbags near my daughter in the future. Her binbag phobia lasted a good four months.
After the binbag it was the hoover. She’s now fine with the hoover she knows and loves, but not with unfamiliar hoovers, preferring to scope them out before allowing them near her.
Nakedness terrifies her. She admires her own naked self in the mirror but the sight of my bare backside sends her running. For some unknown reason she’s started refusing baths with her mother. What was once an occasional fun activity that saw me jump in the bath, wash my hair and quickly scrub at my armpits while she happily played with her plastic ducks and pretended to paint the bath, is now an ordeal. Rather than laughing at “Mummy’s bottom”, Frog hides her face behind her hands, shouting, “No Mummy! No tuppy! Bye bye tuppy! Put pants ON!”
This is all normal. It’s an odd toddler phase that will pass, my mother tells me. I’m reminded of my own childhood fear of hoovers and motorbikes. Images flood back to me. I’m three years old again, sitting on a stool in the living room as my mum hoovers around me. I’m terrified she’ll suck up my toes, desperately trying to tuck my knees under my chin. Walking to nursery, a motorbike whizzes in the distance. I reach for my mum’s arm, jumping up and down in a mad panic as the noise gets nearer.
I remember. I remember being scared to kiss my uncle goodbye because of his scratchy beard. I remember being scared to go to sleep in the dark in case monsters climbed from under my bed. And I remember walking with a renewed sense of urgency every time I passed the cupboard where my childminder stored her hoover.
It should come as no surprise, then, to find my own daughter’s fears so clearly resembling the ones that plagued me in early childhood. But there is one that shocks even me.
Drawing a picture this evening, I started to talk about the impending festive season with my toddler. As she chatted, I drew a Christmas tree for her to colour in. And then a reindeer. And a present. And…. Father Christmas.
At the sight of the fat jolly man with his bushy white beard and rosy smile, my daughter winced. Standing stock still in frozen terror, she gasped, whispering, “No Mummy! Father Christmas NOT come in MY house!”
I’m now under strict instruction to leave a clear sign on the front door for Father Christmas and at the top of the chimney, lest he miss the original note. It will read:
Dear Father Christmas, please leave presents outside the back door. They will be collected in the morning. You are under no circumstances to enter the house. You will find your mince pie by the back step, next to the spot for presents. Thank you in advance.
I think I must have the only child in the whole country who is scared of Father Christmas. This could be an interesting few weeks.