Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Ho Ho Ho

This is me:
I am scared out of my mind.  I remember what it felt like: wordless, helpless terror.  A distillation of terror.

The reasons I am scared are:

1) I am three,

2) I am shy,

3) I am Jewish,

4) I do not like funny hats,

5) I have no idea who Santa Claus is, and

6) I know I’m supposed to be happy about all this, but I can’t imagine what planet I would have to be on that would make sitting on this guy’s lap okay.

This picture made my family laugh a lot for many years.  It was not mean laughing, but still.  I pretended to laugh, too, but inside I wasn’t laughing.  I was screaming, WHY IS THIS FUNNY?  HOW WAS I SUPPOSED TO KNOW WHAT TO DO?  I’M THREE AND I’M JEWISH, YOU IDIOTS!  QUIT LAUGHING AT ME!

Now that I’m fifty-four, I can see that it’s sort of funny.

I keep this picture in my office for two reasons.

One is to remind myself that if this is the worst thing that ever happened to me when I was three, I was a pretty lucky little girl.  No one hit me or locked me in a closet or shoved the edge of a dining room table into my chest on purpose.  I had nice clothes, enough to eat, a family, a healthy body.  No one I loved had died.  Lucky.

The other reason I like to look at this picture is to remember that you shouldn’t ever laugh at other people’s fears.  Even if they are afraid of something you think is benign or even wonderful: cats or roller coasters or the out-of-doors or feathers.  (The fear of feathers is called pteronophobia.)  You don’t have to get it.
Just don’t laugh.

And also, don’t make children wear funny hats if they don’t want to.  Be honest.  You’re doing it because you want to laugh—not meanly—at them, and someday they will tell you how really pissed off they were about it.

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