It’s a been a scary month. The crows have now set up residence in our yard; Alexa repeatedly wants me to ask her “when will winter be over”; and a recent birthday turned me into the title of a Beatles song.
And now there’s Halloween.
I love Halloween. Dressing up, candy and Pumpkins! But I’m not a fan of scary. Things I’m Afraid Of is a long list for me. It includes needles, snakes and what might happen if Thong Jeans are really a thing.
But the thing that scares me most is how quickly my granddaughter is growing up. I called her Big Friendly Giant over the summer, for the eight inches she’s grown this year, but the new changes are just as frightening.
Now that she is a soon to be 12-year-old, I have learned to expect the unexpected.
The middle school introduction to Greek studies, combined with her first year of theatre, has turned her habitually dramatic self into a daily show host for “How Can I Scare You? Shock You or Totally Gross You Out?” (the answer: most meals we eat with her).
Every Halloween since she was three, Soon to Be 12 and my husband carve jack-o-lanterns together. They are very competitive when they cut things. Last week, she returned from the pumpkin patch with a perfect 3 lb. baking pumpkin. I took one look at it and imagined my favorite fall appetizer- a bubbling pumpkin stuffed with nutty gruyere, bacon and chiles.
Soon to Be 12 was not thinking that at all.
No, she saw that pumpkin as a rotund little jack-o-lantern with the entirety of his insides spewing out one giant opening from its face. An homage to hurling, to be frightfully positioned on our front doorstep.
Her taste for the appalling makes me homesick for the days when her Halloween costumes were ballerinas and ‘good’ witches. When she wore princess dresses every day except Halloween and rewound all movies to: Prince Plants the Happily-Ever-After Kiss. Her fears revolved mostly around what she might be forced to eat for dinner.
Now, Soon to Be 12 is 61 inches of contradiction.
One minute she is silently working up a record-breaking belch and the next she is shrieking over a spider the size of a ladybug. She spares no grotesque detail when she shows you the day’s scrapes or cuts. But when kissing appears in a television show we’re watching, she pretends to have something hung in her throat and leaves the room at light speed.
Last night, we were in the kitchen preparing dinner when Soon to Be12 came in the room and asked:
“Guys, what is the most terrifying thing you can imagine?”
Terrifying, I thought, THIS is a showdown. Sure, she’s over there washing her hands like she’s here to help. But my bet is she’s got a scenario she needs to be audience-tested.
“Nana?” she asked and raised one eyebrow. (I was totally right about the showdown.)
Well, I’d already had creepy that day when I grabbed the creamer and the sides of the bottle were so sticky that no matter how many times I washed my hands, everything I touched was still on my hands. For terrifying I had to dig deeper. Suddenly I remembered Geneviève Bujold in a scene from “Anne of the Thousand Days”. It kept me awake at night for months as a kid.
“Being beheaded!”, I blurted out like I was on Jeopardy.
The contorted faces of my husband and Soon-to-be 12 assured me I had at least chosen something shock worthy.
“Nana, that’s just weird,” said Soon to Be 12.
She was stalling. Downplaying my answer, while surely working on her new one. I used the time to describe how terrifying it might be if you didn’t instantly die, but had to watch your head roll…
“That’s disgusting”, she interrupted and went right into what she’d come up with:
She is being tortured to death in an unimaginable fashion, but she is immediately paralyzed. She can’t move. She can’t speak. But she can feel and see and hear everything horrible that happens to her.
I was still reeling from wondering Where in her adolescent brain did these words come from? when she smiled smugly and turned to my husband.
“What about you, Papa? What’s the most terrifying thing you can imagine?”
He looked at me and then at her with a smile and said, “If something happened to Nana.”
“Aww,” said Soon to Be 12, as she crossed her hands on her chest and looked up at him, adoringly. My heart sank a little. My beheading now seemed so petty. But I knew what I had to do. Without a word, I walked over to my husband, threw my arms around him and kissed him.
And, just like that, Soon to Be 12 covered her eyes and ran out of the kitchen, howling.
We might not be 12, but we know a few tricks!
(My favorite pumpkin appetizer, if all your pumpkins don’t have to be scary.)