New Year’s Eve tends to bring nostalgic reflections and hopeful projections. Tonight, no matter how hard the year’s been, it seems we always find some warm, nostalgic feels for what’s come before. And no matter how hard life may feel in this moment, it seems we always find some excitement for what lays ahead. If our last year was more beautiful and joyful than not, well all’s the easier to touch those bright reflections and projections. I’m not sure why. If I was to hazard a guess (which I feel I should as I brought all this up), I’d say it’s because – deep down – we are fundamentally hopeful. We want to find reasons to celebrate, to believe. New Year’s Eve is as good a reason as any! While I’ve never been one to buy into the magic of tonight and the promise of tomorrow too much, I do enjoy a reason to be nostalgic and hopeful as much as the next person :). So, in the spirit of the night, I figured it would be fun to get way nostalgic and look back at a few childhood fears I spent ages preparing for, only to find they were problems I’d never encounter in adulthood (well, at least not yet).
First on the list, as the feature image teased, comes care of Disney’s Aladdin (1992). I adored Aladdin. It’s still my all-time favorite animated Disney movie! I watched this movie again and again and again and I always felt it was a little short changed, coming out between the MEGA instant classics that were Beauty and the Beast (1991) and The Lion King (1994). Everyone always raved about Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King! Everyone’s favorites were always Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King. But where was all the love for Aladdin?? While I’ve never seen an animated Disney movie I haven’t loved, Aladdin has been first in my heart since Mom, David, and I first saw it at the now long gone West Erie Plaza Cinema.
For as much as I loved this movie, it left me worrying – what happens if I ever rub a lamp, meet a genie, and get three wishes? What would I wish for?? And how would I phrase the wishes so the genie couldn’t turn them round on me? I spent A LOT of time pondering this. I also spent a lot of time rubbing every toy/model of Aladdin’s lamp I ever came across and rubbing anything that looked like it could contain a genie (when I first saw I Dream of Jeannie on Nick at Night and realized genies could be in bottles too my mind was blown and my wish-getting potential grew exponentially). What I’d wish for was a big deal but the wording I’d use worried me as well. Even when Aladdin CLEARLY said, “Genie, I wish for you to make me a prince!” the Genie ripped him off! Genie gave Aladdin fancy clothes and turned Abu into an elephant and gave Aladdin a large musical retinue to parade through the streets of Agrabah but where was Prince Ali’s kingdom? Aladdin didn’t wish to look like a prince he wished to be a prince. That means Genie needed to will into existence an entire kingdom with subjects and advisors and a royal family stretching back generations and an economy with intricate imports and exports and soldiers and borders and alliances and treaties and when Jafar started messing with him that would be a literal act of war. But Aladdin got NONE of that! He just got a poofy hat and cape!
Turns out though, all the time I’ve spent worrying about what I’d wish for and how to word my wishes was kinda pointless because, despite all that time rubbing lamps and bottles, I’ve never even found ONE genie.
Next we have National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989). This has been a family favorite we’ve watched at least once a year for as long as I can remember. Mom, Dad, David, and I quote it constantly. When I was a kid, one TV station (was it TBS? TNT?) used to play A Christmas Story for 24hrs straight. I never got that. I saw it once and felt it was, eh at best. But National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation? Gimme that for 24hrs! It’s not Christmas without it!
One of the film’s many, many (MANY) iconic bits comes when Clark is hiding his Christmas presents and ends up accidentally locked up in the attic. He tries to get out but the door’s latched. Then he slowly moves across the attic and sticks his head out the window to try and get his family’s attention as they head out to the mall for shopping and lunch. He screams and calls out to no avail and then ends up trying not to freeze in the attic and watching old family movies. Eventually everyone comes home, Ellen opens the attic, and he plummets down with the attic stairs. You have NO IDEA how much of my childhood – especially around the holidays – was spent brainstorming plans to be certain I’d never get locked up in the attic. How would I block the steps so they weren’t pulled up with me in there? How would I open them if they were? How would I signal for help to the outside world if I was in there? Despite Dad (who has done every job the world of construction and home remodeling has to offer from being a part of a crew to running his own business for 30+ years) assuring me attic steps don’t lock like that, it never quite quelled my fear. I needed to be prepared! I couldn’t end up like Clark!
And you know what? I’ve never been locked – or even almost locked – up in the attic even one time. All those hours spent strategizing and making plans! All for naught! But if you, dear reader, would like some strategies for how to handle yourself should you end up in just such a situation, well let me know. Because I’ve got PLANS.
Number Three on our list comes care of Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (1989). Unlike the previous two entries (and the one to follow), Honey, I Shrunk the Kids wasn’t a movie we watched all the time as kids. Still it was a classic and back in the magical land of the ‘80s and ‘90s, kids didn’t have endless streaming content to sort through so we took what we could get. And David and I did rent this several times from the video store.
But I was never a big fan because IT FREAKED ME OUT. I was a kid! I could barely handle life as it was! Keeping my shoelaces tied was still a mystery to me! I couldn’t KEEP MYSELF ALIVE and I sure as heck couldn’t’ve kept myself alive IF I WAS SHRUNK TO ¾” TALL. I didn’t care how much “comedy” was in this movie, this was hardly a laughing matter. If this happened to me, I WAS GOING TO DIE. The kids get thrown out with the trash! Then they have to navigate the backyard to try and get back in the house and get their parent’s attention! That’s impossible! Whereas I tried – and did – brainstorm workable survival solutions if I found myself stuck in the attic à la National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, if I found myself in a Honey, I Shrunk the Kids scenario I was dead.
My mind would turn this over again and again and again and I just couldn’t see a way out of this that didn’t result in my dying at ¾” tall as I was devoured by bugs or sucked into the lawn mower. However, as it turns out, being shrunk to ¾” doesn’t really happen that often in real life. In fact, it’s never happened to me once. So crisis averted, I guess.
Lastly, we have Ghostbusters (1984). I was a Ghostbusters kid. I loved the cartoon show, The Real Ghostbusters. I loved Ghostbusters. I
loved saw Ghostbusters 2 which was deeply traumatic and scarred me. But now I love Ghostbusters 2! I love Ghostbusters (2016). (To be fair, I detested the emotionless, nostalgic-drenched, fan service remake that was Ghostbusters: Afterlife (2021)…but I digress.) All this is to say I loved the Ghostbusters as a kid and I love them just as much – though in a different way (I now understand all the jokes in Ghostbusters XD) – as an adult. So how did Ghostbusters freak me out?
Well, I’d bet the fact they kept calling Gozer’s minions “dogs” instead of “demons” or “gargoyles” helped shape my childhood fear of dogs, but that’s now what I’m talking about here. What really got my anxiety turnin’ and churnin’ when I was a kid was what happens when Gozer the Gozerian – Gozer the Destructor, Gozer the Traveler, Volguss Zildrohar and Lord of the Sebouillia – arrives and tells the Ghostbusters, “Choose. Choose the form of the Destructor.” While Ray is confused, Peter says, “Oh, I get it! I get it. Oooooh! Very cute. ‘Whatever we think of.’ If we think of J. Edgar Hoover, J. Edgar Hoover will appear and destroy us, ok? So empty your heads! Empty your heads. Don’t think of anything. We’ve only got one shot at this.” But then a second later, Gozer says, “The choice is made.” Ray looks so sad when he says, “I couldn’t help it. It just popped in there.” GAH! What if I ever found myself facing an ancient Sumerian god like Gozer?? What if the fate of the entire planet hung on my not thinking of anything?!? Do you know how hard it is not to think of something??? But I didn’t want to be Ray! I didn’t want to doom the planet! But how do you empty your mind?!
No action felt more pressing or more impossible in my young life. I spent SO MUCH TIME sitting in my bedroom, sitting in our family room, riding in the car, laying in the backyard and trying, trying, trying to empty my mind. To sit without thinking of anything, to just be, to be empty…because the fate of creation may hang on this! As you may be able to guess by this point in the piece, I’ve never faced any ancient deities – Gozer the Gozerian or any other for that matter – intent on destroying creation who would only manifest based on what I was thinking of. So this was another skill I spent time developing without any payoff.
Though, I guess this was probably my first introduction to meditation. I didn’t learn to meditate formally until I read Venerable Henepola Gunaratana’s Mindfulness in Plain English in my Philosophical Inquiry course during undergrad. But since then it’s become a central part of my prayer life and a key piece of my work in therapy, too. I don’t know that I can say it’s my favorite form of prayer…but it’s the type of prayer which helps me the most. For me, this – learning to still my mind, to be fully in the present moment, to let go of wayward thoughts – began as a youngster preparing for the frightening eventuality I’d have to face Gozer one day.
Writing this piece, mindful of how my anxiety manifests now, has been fun. I can see those anxious parts alllll over these childhood memories! Even then my anxiety was like my li’l spider-sense, trying to warn me of any potential danger and working to help me avoid it. And for that, I’ve come to love my anxiety :).
I began this piece saying New Year’s Eve is a natural time for nostalgic reflection and hopeful projections. So maybe it works out that none of these childhood fears and anxieties came to pass. Maybe that’s on brand for this piece; maybe there’s a lesson in all that. While our brains often like to catastrophize (especially if your anxious parts are like my anxious parts because my anxious parts love to catastrophize) and imagine the worst possible outcome for any given situation, those outcomes rarely come to pass. Looking back, there are so many things I feared – as a child and as an adult – which never came to pass. Those that did come to pass were often far less scary than I imagined, too. Looking to a new year, this seems a good thing to remember. This is something to celebrate! It is the sort of thing which helps soothe all my parts which carry anxiety and it’s the sort of thing which proves fertile ground for the growth of hope.
Happy New Year, dear reader! No matter how much heartache and how many struggles may lie ahead for all of us in the year to come, may there always be hope. And may the hope which fills your year shine brighter than everything else around it. I love you! You’re magnificent! Happy New Year!
Plus, do you have any memories of similar childhood fears you’d like to share?? If so, let me know below!
9 thoughts on “Childhood Fears I Prepared For…Which Ended Up Never Factoring Into Adulthood”
I have to say that this post is totally relatable. I also spent countless hours wondering about the best way to spend my three wishes and how to word them so they were ironclad. I even pondered if the wisest course of action were to just reject the wishes and refuse to play the game. I know, I know. But I didn’t want to wish for a bunch of stuff just to realize it made my life miserable when my life was at least manageable, if not perfect, in the first place!
And, yes, to wondering how to keep my mind blank. Not specifically from Ghostbusters, but from similar storylines. I ultimately concluded I would be doomed in this scenario because I’d just be thinking, “Blah blah think of nothing, no that’s thinking, hm nothing nothing darkness, wait is darkness something, oh dear, you’re thinking again, darn it.”
My other great worry was about how to survive if a giant dinosaur rampaged through town, squashing all the buildings under its feet. This is a recurring nightmare I have for some reason. I have concluded again that I am probably doomed, as I am unlikely to be able to outrun a giant T-Rex.
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I didn’t have that dinosaur nightmare specifically but ‘Jurassic Park’ scared me SO MUCH. I remember being torn between loving the idea of dinosaur stuff being everywhere (yay for movie merchandising!) but hating how scary the dinosaurs/movie was.
Rejecting the wishes and refusing to play the game…may just be brilliant?? This left me thinking when I first read your comment and I’ve been pondering it since. Because how do you do just let go of THREE WISHES??? But that may well be the best strategy. Could I overcome my desire though…
Also, now I’m imagining what it would’ve been like if we were friends in elementary school, using recesses as planning sessions for what we’d do if we found and freed a genie XD.
Haha! I have a friend who was absolutely traumatized by Jurassic Park. Sometimes I think she still is, but she’s trying to play it cool. But no judgment here. Dinosaurs seem exciting in theory, but would be absolutely terrifying in real life.
Have you seen the latest Jurassic Park movie? I forget what it was called. I did not like it. But I was absolutely baffled that the world seemed to accept that they were all just living with dinosaurs now. That wouldn’t happen in real life, I think.
I think I could let go of three wishes because I am absolutely boring and overly logical. I prefer the certainty of the life I know over the promise of a life I don’t know. Like, yes, you could change the future, but you could make it SO MUCH WORSE. When I weigh the odds, they seem way too high!
Ha, yes! That would be the best recess ever!
The Mommy Market (though Google is saying it’s now called Trading Mom…but I watched it in Australia so maybe that’s why the title is different). These kids get fed up with their mom and wish they had a new one and she actually disappears and they go to a market where there is basically a bunch of moms in booths selling how awesome they are just like a flea market. They choose one mom who is awesome at first but after a while they don’t like her and next time they go, they choose another and then after the 3rd mom, they realize they want their own mom back and they love her and miss her.
It really sat with me and I tried to figure out what to do if I ever had the chance to get another mom. And what if I did wish my mom away and a mommy market popped up next door? The biggest fear I had was if I did trade my mom and really liked the new mom and never wanted my mom back. It made me feel sooooooo bad inside.
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Okay…wow…I’d never heard of this movie until I read your comment but OH MY GOSH this would sit with me, too! I can see young me thinking along these same lines – especially worrying about liking the new mom better! I’d feel so bad about that too! Hmm. I think maybe I’m glad I never saw this as a kid.
I do feel you about the emptying your mind bit! I’m still terrible at meditating and if an angry God ever pulled that on me well… I mean my first thought would probably be, “Oh like the stay puft Marshmallow man!” Then I’d be in trouble.
Christmas Vacation is also the classic of choice for my entire family! It’s still my brother’s stated holiday goal to one day out decorate Clark 🙂 Happy New Year!
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Ahhhhhhhh, yes! Oh my gosh, I can totally see immediately thinking of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man because of the movie and then it showing up! Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis would have doomed us all.
I am so with your brother! In fact, I’ve never decorated the outside of my house because when I think about doing it a part always says, “If you can’t do what Clark did then why are you even trying?” I wish your brother luck and I soooo hope he pulls it off someday :).
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Lol, I had detailed training plans for Ghostbusters to make sure they never crossed the streams. However what I most feared, in terms of fiction were two things:
– being shrunk to a microscopic size and then sent in a spaceship inside another person and then being engulfed by a gigantic white cell.
– having the Medusa Touch and accidentally thinking of something bad and then it happening. I got myself tied into horrible knots with that one.
All the very best. I wish you a happy new year!
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Crossing the streams! Oh my gosh, I worried about that one too! It seemed so easy to do and then…yikes, total protonic reversal :8.
I can absolutely see Young Me worrying getting freaked out about white blood cells and the Medusa Touch too, had they occurred to me in that way. They are exactly the sort of thing I’d turn round and round in my mind.
And thank you for the new year wishes :).
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