On being … scared

By Ingrid Sapona 

Apparently, I have something in common with Jamie LeeCurtis: neither of us like scary movies or being scared. (I know, she’s the queen of horror, so they say… I guess a true artiste screws up their courage – and maybe considers the paycheck – and takes on the role.) Anyway, even though I like Ms. Curtis, I couldn’t watch any of her horror films. Heck, to this day, I can’t watch the Wizard of Oz. I just hate it. I’m sure there are all sorts of wonderful things about it, but there’s also a frightening witch who commands an army of flying monkeys AND snatches little Toto. That’s stuff of kids’ nightmares, I think.

So, growing up I had mixed feelings about Halloween. Sure, the prospect of candy was great and smiling jack-o-lanterns are ok. But I never liked scary costumes and spooky decorations. I understand that Halloween is All Saint’s Day eve and so originally it was about remembering the dead, which explains the skeletons and tombstones and maybe even ghosts. But so many people seem to feel the need to amp up the scare factor by putting cob webs with giant black spiders on their bushes and other scary decorations. There’s no way I’d go up to a house with a skeleton hanging or a skull near the door, much less a huge cobweb, for a piece of candy! (I’ll wait till the Easter Bunny, thank you.) 

I’ve never understood why people are attracted to things intentionally made to scare the bejesus out of you. I just don’t get the appeal of going out of your way to watch something – or going to something like a haunted house – just to experience fear. And yet, lots of people crave that. I guess from those folks’ perspective, they can’t understand why people like me go out of our way to avoid that kind of stuff. 

So, when I heard about the “Mississippi day care center scare” story last week, I couldn’t believe it. I had the news on in the background when the newscaster talked about some day care worker who put on some sort of Halloween mask and scared the children. Then they ran the video and the first thing you hear is children screaming. Now I know, children scream for a lot of reasons and half the time you can’t tell if it’s out of fear or delight. But in this case, there was no question. 

The video showed a woman in a black hood wearing what I – as an adult – recognized as a “Scream Mask”. Though I have NO idea what the mask is from, I recognized the white skull-like visage with black holes for eyes and the long mouth that looks like a ghoul screaming. But given the children’s blood curdling wails and crying, none of them thought it was just someone in a mask. 

In the video the masked fiend slowly walks around the lunch table where the children are sitting. At one point she bends down near one and lets out a scream – amping up the terror. I couldn’t believe it. The video shows a close up of one little girl screaming and shaking with fear.

Though I didn’t think it could get worse, it does. The video also shows another adult telling the masked worker which two- and three-year-olds have been bad. Then the masked one crouches down next to one child and asks if they’ve been bad. Then you see the masked person chasing a two-year-old who is running away, screaming. The video – the terror – went on for more than two minutes! What adult would do that to little kids – and what other adult would stand there videoing it? 

The reporter described the daycare worker as wearing a “spooky” Halloween mask “screaming at – and appearing to intentionally scare – young children”. If the mask wasn’t terrifying enough – as it certainly would be for many at that age – it turns out the incident wasn’t just a warped prank. As the woman in the mask explained – after she and her co-workers who didn’t intercede to stop the terror-inducing behavior were fired – it was part of her plan to get the kids to listen and clean up their toys. As though it matters, after being fired she said she realized her plan went too far. You think??  

But perhaps the biggest nightmare inducing fact to come out of this story was the explanation given by the woman who made the video. She explained on Facebook (after she was fired) that she recorded the video on purpose because “this sort of thing has happened before” and she wanted to show the parents how the kids had been treated. Wow… talk about a real-life horror story! Mind you, that explains a bit about her motivation – but why didn’t she step in to stop her colleague before she donned the mask, or once the kids’ fear was so apparent? 

For a long time, I was embarrassed to admit that I don’t like scary things. Indeed, seeing stories like what those daycare workers did to those kids makes me feel stronger about saying that folks should know that not everyone sees fear-inducing things as a benign form of entertainment. 

So, what about you? Where do you stand? Are you more likely to hand out Halloween candy dressed as Freddy Kreuger or as Mr. Rogers?

© 2022 Ingrid Sapona



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