“Teach me about Slenderman.”

Slenderman is Declan’s new “thing.” For a while, it was Jacob Marley, then dinosaurs, then video games.

Declan loves Minecraft. Minecraft lies somewhere between Legos and little kid engineering–it’s great stuff. It makes me motion sick but he create the universe. Minecraft inspires Declan to research. “I’m not watching YouTube, Mom, I’m doing research. I’m learning strategy.”

No adult can argue with “research,” or “strategy.”

Minecraft “research” is where Declan found Slenderman.

Adults fear things like “Slenderman,” not because of his legend, but because he was sensationalized in the news. The real story derives from a German and Romanian legend “der Grossman,” a fictional man who impaled and tortured children. The real Slenderman is no different from the Brothers’ Grimm we’ve sanitized to use as bedtime stories.

“Let’s read about a wicked stepmom who sends kids into the forest to be cooked by a witch. We read that one?  How about the one where kids go into the woods and get eaten by a wolf….Sweet dreams!”

Fairy tales are a series of parent lies to make kids obey, no different than when we tell kids their faces will freeze that way.

“Mom, the woods are safe. I can hypnotize coyotes. But Slenderman will protect me,” says Declan. He knows to stay out of the woods. I told him ticks will jump all over him and start chomping on his body. He’s had a tick or two. I tell him there are millions, and they’re hungry for little boys.

Better to invent the big bad wolf and a couple of extra ticks than lose a kid in the woods or have to treat Lyme disease.

The news gives adults big bad wolves to fear all the time–how do we protect our kids? We’ve started by sanitizing basic expressions and speech so much–zero tolerance–that it’s tough to speak at all.

I once knew a girl who got suspended for ten days for saying, “Knock it off, kid, I’m gonna kill you.” Let’s break this down. It means, “Kid, you’re really annoying.” He was. “Knock it off now!” There was clearly no intent to kill, maim, murder, injure, or malign. One look at the girl and “annoying boy” in the three days prior to the incident, and the context would’ve been clear.

Still, we’re terrified as a nation. What’s going to spark the violence? Who will we blame for the next incident? There’s always got to be someone to blame. In medieval times, when children went missing, Christian villagers frequently and wrongly accused Jews even in the face of no evidence or evidence pointing elsewhere. Some of these missing children were even cannonized after the accused were killed. Sadly, one look at the news and we haven’t stopped the madness.

We always need someone to blame. A religious or ethnic group, a political situation, a condition, a policy…if we don’t, if there’s too much good news out there, we’ll create a boogeyman. He’ll be on every station before you know it.

Slenderman’s become one of Declan’s imaginary friends. Declan’s friends come everywhere with us. He’s terrified I’ll leave one at the store. Now, Declan informs me, Slenderman is his bodyguard.

“Don’t worry, Mom, he’s nice. He’s only mean to anyone who tries to harm me.” Declan feels safe. I can’t protect him from the mean in the world, but his new “friend” can. How safe he feels. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a bodyguard… someone to protect us from all the mean that comes our way? Someone who could even protect us from the tragedy in the world?

“Don’t talk about Slenderman at school,” I asked. “They might not understand him like we do.” Declan and the principal are already pretty tight. No need to waste the man’s time with fairy-tale boogeymen.

“Okay,” Declan promised. “Can we take a walk in the woods together? I have to find some clues the giant worms left me.” We do. There are no wolves, witches, or biting ticks. Just a few clues left by nature and one golf ball.

“Giant worms love golf.” Who knew? Life is all about learning, isn’t it?

We’re enjoying the end of summer–the first leaves have turned–just a few–but the rest will soon follow, leaving a crisp smell in the air, and a clear view into the woods, where if I squint and the light hits just right, I may indeed see a tall, lanky man in the distance protecting the reservoir against wandering children.

Maybe the boy is right, after all.


[photo credit: Nadia Torres via deviantart]

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