What Are We So Afraid Of?

So we’re watching TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD.

Despite my love of the movie, I am not giving it my full attention. I’m also watching my daughter out of the corner of my eye.

The reason is that I want her to adore this movie as much as I do. But I’m thinking she might not. It’s very different from the movies she normally likes to watch.

For one thing, it’s in black and white. And the story begins slowly; no Hollywood sis-boom-ba (she’s laughing as she reads this. Who, other than old people, say sis-boom-ba? What does it even mean?). Then, the story meanders, doesn’t go off course but moves at a leisurely, skip through the meadow and pick some flowers, pace. And the way they talk does not resemble what my daughter is used to hearing in movies or in the real world. For example, the children address the adults with respect. With Sir. With Ma’am. With full sentences.

Yet I am the only one not giving the film my undivided attention. Her cell phone buzzes and I’m the one who glances over at it. She doesn’t even flinch.

Then Gregory Peck appears on screen. I let out a quiet but shrieky girl “oh my.” Who cares about those ridiculous glasses? On him, they look dreamy. On him, anything looks dreamy. Now my daughter rolls her eyes. Of course that has less to do with the movie than it has to do with me.

Focus, Sara. Remember this is one of your favorite movies of all time. If you put too much energy wondering what she thinks, you are going to miss out.

Okay. Daughter’s impressions be damned. I’m going to sit back and relax. Let myself be drawn into the world of Scout and Jem and Dill and Atticus.

Much better.

I still can’t help but make comments to make sure my daughter is picking up on all the things that make this one of the only films I like almost as much as the book. For me, it would be impossible not to say something when the kids first meet Dill. I mean look at that face. The way that boy takes already exaggerated features and twists them just so to reveal his mischievous nature. Brilliant. But he isn’t the only amazing kid actor here. I believe Scout and Jem from the moment I meet them. High praise goes to the casting agency.( I just had a disturbing thought: I hope none of these actors suffered the fate of many child stars; if one of them ended up like Buffy from FAMILY AFFAIR, I’m not sure I could handle it. I’m still having a hard time getting over Buffy.)

It is during the scene where Scout climbs inside the tire and Jem pushes the tire so it rolls across the lawn that my daughter speaks up. She is in awe of the way they entertain themselves. It looks like so much fun. She even says she wished people were more like that now.


I hope I didn’t shout that out loud. Who doesn’t want their child to recognize the joy in simple things. In low technology experiences. I considered hitting the pause button to have a “teaching moment” but I always cringe when my husband does that. Later I tell him to let them just enjoy. Everything doesn’t have to be directed education.

We continue to watch. I make commentary here and there but I control my urge to make sure she sees this or that. She seems to be enjoying it all on her own. And then it’s over. “That was great, Mom.” I hold back my sigh of relief.

Later, I think about how different my childhood was from that of my children. On the weekends, I’d go out into the neighborhood in the mornings and not come back except to eat until it got dark out. Not every day but most of the time. My kids never did that. They sometimes played with neighborhood kids but the parents were always nearby, keeping an eye on them. I am sure that my mother (who was not a neglectful parent) was not keeping tabs on me when I was young and running around with the neighborhood kids. It was just what we did.

There are so many reasons why things have changed. Fear is behind most of it. There are predators out there. Evil lurks around the corner. This generation of parents’ fears are much more sinister than my parents’ generations fear that we might take a piece of candy from a stranger and it would be laced with LSD (Ahh, the seventies.) We also feel like our kids need to do certain things so that they can compete in the world. And that leads to overscheduling them when they are still so young. And when they get a little older, they depend on defined activities to keep them busy. Team sports. Voice lessons. Summer at Harvard. And when they aren’t involved in these activities, we worry that they’re going to get into trouble. Which they might. That’s what teenagers do.

At times, I feel very frustrated by the way we live our lives. I would like for us to slow down. To take our days moment by moment. To stop worrying so much about the future. About what will happen to our children. But I also am frustrated by comments about how the old days were so much better for children. Yes, they had more free time to explore and use their imaginations. But they also lived in a world where people like Tom Robinson didn’t have a chance at being found innocent even though every fact pointed to his innocence. All because of the color of his skin.

What is this fear we have of other people? This fear is what’s behind our prejudices and this fear is behind our helicopter parenting. I don’t have any answers. Right this minute, I don’t even have any suggestions for what can be done to break down the barriers between people. Maybe some of you do. I’d love to hear what you have to say.









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12 thoughts on “What Are We So Afraid Of?

  1. I see what you see, Sara. Fear. Lots of it all around and even when I look in the mirror. I wonder how my mother didn’t have this fear, but maybe she did and just handled it differently. I really have to work at not being a helicopter parent and trusting others around my kids. It’s work.

    We’re bombarded with 24 hour news reports on every bad thing that happens in this world that our parents weren’t bombarded with. Not that those things didn’t happen ~ they definitely did and I’m sure they were well aware of it ~ but they weren’t beat over the head with it either.

    I try to snap out of it by not watching the news and avoiding fear inducing stories online. Not to stick my head in the sand, but to steer clear of paralyzing fear of something happening. I also read freerangekids.wordpress.com ~ I don’t always agree with everything she writes but it gets me thinking.

    If none of that works, I’ll quote Dory from Finding Nemo to myself: “If you never let anything happen to him, then nothing will ever happen to him. Not much fun for little Harpo.”

    As far as barriers between people ~ well ~ I don’t have a great answer for that..

    Great post!

    1. Years ago, I read a book by Andrew Weil where he talks, in part, about taking a news fast to lessen the stress in your life. Don’t listen to it, don’t read it, don’t engage in discussions about it for a week. Clearly, there is some value in knowing both the good and bad things that happen in our world. Unfortunately, we focus on the bad and that makes us anxious and afraid and tied up in knots about how to be good parents and decent human beings who have a meaningful impact on the world.

      I love that Dory quote. If only it were easy to live by it.

      Thanks for your comments, Kim.

  2. Fabulous post, Sara, as always. To Kill A Mockingbird isn’t my favourite book/movie, but it’s a dangerously close second, and it is my favourite coming of age movie.

    What did mothers do in the days before baby monitors? Trust.

    As for the movie, Sara, kids will always be fascinated with what their ancestors did, it’s hard-wired. When I shared To Kill A Mockingbird with my kids, each time, I saw it differently, not while the film played, but later, as they spoke about the themes, and I saw the film anew.

    Trust your daughter to take the lessons from that story. Her insight is not your insight, her insight is all her own not only because of the times she is coming of age in, but because of who she is. And trust that you had something to do with the young adult she is becoming.

    1. It is such an interesting shift when you really start to see how unique each of your kids’ minds are. I am constantly reminding myself that while they come from me they are not me and that is definitely a good thing. It truly is amazing to watch them develop into themselves and express who they are at any given moment. But enough sap: there was a time before baby monitors?

  3. Wow, Sara. Great post! At the beginning you talked about how you were missing the movie because you were so intent on making sure your daughter was catching every detail. I have done this so often with movies I love when someone (anyone- spouse, friend, child, parent) is watching it with me. I worry about whether they are enjoying it, why didn’t they laugh at that line, did they make the connection to an earlier reference, etc.

    But then, you turned the direction of this post toward big, BIG topics. Childhood, technology, fear. Things certainly are different now. Like you, I spent a great deal of time with friends, especially during the summer. And yes, our parents knew generally where we were, but didn’t necessarily watch us like hawks. We were usually doing something simple and silly like seeing how many times we could bounce a tennis ball straight in the air off a racquet without letting it fall to the ground. In fact, we did that until 11:00 p.m. one time in middle school.

    I don’t have any answers either. Still, thanks for raising the topic.

    1. That made me laugh about how you were up until 11 pm one time seeing how many times you could make a tennis ball bounce off a racquet. Those were exactly the kinds of things we were doing as well. On really hot days, we used to sit in the middle of the street and pop the black tar bubbles that formed on the surface – for hours. Thankfully, we were not in an area where there was much traffic. I think my kids have experiences like this (maybe not tar bubbles but . . .) but maybe not as many, because they and their friends are pretty busy with scheduled activities. My experience has been that on vacation the kids get a big taste of the freedom we used to have.

  4. I’ve taken quite a long break from the media hype over negative events and I have to say it has been NICE. Sure, I’m a little out of the loop at times, but with the internet it’s not hard to look something up and get caught up quickly. Fear is such a powerful thing and I decided I have enough real worries in my day to day life that I didn’t need to add to it with the fear-based news.

    I could totally relate to what you said about hoping and watching to see if my kids get what I want them to get out of something like a movie. What I remind myself is that I am not them and they are not me and while we can have shared experiences, how we each filter them in our heads will ultimately be different and that’s a good thing.

    Great thought-provoking post, Sara!

    And just for the record – I popped tar bubbles, too, and I grew up outside of Chicago. 🙂

    1. I’m glad tar bubble popping was not limited to my hometown. We spent a lot of time sitting in the middle of the street on hot summer days.

      I would rather be out of the loop than spend my life stressing about all the things I can’t change. Not that I wish not to know what’s going on. Just maybe a little less frequently.

      Thanks for commenting. . .

  5. There was a study done some time ago that showed how beginning in the late 1980s a new type of news reporting took hold, one slanted toward fear and terror rather than neutral reportage. The 80s were also the time when the whole “satanic child abuse” travesty gained steam, to be followed in its stead by other false panics. Crime rates have been at historical lows since the late 90s, yet the streets are sadly empty of our kids.

    1. As true as I know this to be, I have to admit that I am impacted by the advertisements of the false panics. I wish I weren’t. Why do you think the sensational reporting began? I find it hard to call it news when the news is such a small nugget of the reportage.

So what do you think?