Sometimes parents do things against their better judgment.
Like the time my husband and I let our 7 1/2 -year-old daughter talk us into taking her through a haunted house. This one, called “The Terror,” was fittingly described as a “warehouse turned fear factory.” A clue we obviously overlooked.
It was October 2006. She would be 8 in December. She was an only child of two 40-something parents, and we obviously thought she was mature for her age.
She insisted she would not be afraid, and she persisted.
So one Friday night, we went. It cost $7 for adults and $5 for children under 42 inches. I’m pretty sure we had to sign waivers.
When our group was called to meet our fate, we were shuffled into a dark room to be instructed via video on a minuscule TV about the rules and what to expect. I remember looking down at my daughter and thinking, “This is a bad idea.”
I was right.
According to the National Retail Foundation, one American adult in five plans to visit a haunted attraction this year. That’s the count for the 18-and-older crowd, so I would imagine the number for those younger is as high or higher.
The annual NRF survey also says Americans are expected to spend a record $8.4 billion this year on Halloween candy, costumes and parties.
Count us in. We now have three daughters, and the younger two especially love to spend our money on costumes and decorations.
For my taste, our yard has more than enough ghosts, scary characters and spiders. One night recently, I woke my husband because I swore someone was outside our bedroom window waving a flashlight. Instead, the horror behind the curtain was just the wind tossing a tree-hanging ghost side to side, bobbing in and out of the illumination of a street light.
That scene would barely move the needle at a haunted attraction nowadays. But it was enough for my cortisol to spike.
As the weekend before Halloween nears, many little monsters will be begging to go to their first haunted house. Some parents will no doubt type into a search bar: “Is my child ready for a haunted house?”
I surely don’t have the answers. But I do know more about each one of my daughters since I “interviewed” them for this column. Scary what you can learn, if you ask.
‘I was terrified’
Daughter No. 1, now going on 17, vividly recalled her experience at The Terror. Seems it never left her.
“I for whatever reason thought I would be OK to go through it, but probably not even halfway through I was freaking out so Dad had to carry me.”
The haunted house had several rooms themed after popular scary movies, such as “Halloween” and “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.”
That’s where she lost it.
“Somewhere close to the end of it, there was a guy with a chainsaw and by this point I was kicking and screaming because I was ready to get out of there. I was wearing flip flops, so as soon as I heard the chainsaw rev up, of course, my shoe fell off right in front of the guy.”
My husband threw her into my arms, and I yelled at him: “Get that flip flop!” Call us crazy, but we were not moving until we had that $2 shoe.
“I was screaming at Dad about getting my shoe,” Daughter No. 1 said, “but I was terrified because I thought the chainsaw guy was going to get him.”
As I cradled my petrified offspring, the bloodied guy with the chainsaw repeatedly lunged toward us. Everyone else in our group was long gone, and I’m sure Mr. Big Guy with Motorized Sharp Object was thinking, “Why won’t they leave?”
Time is big money in these houses, and they surely were ready to usher in the next batch of unsuspecting paying customers.
“When I think about that haunted house,” Daughter No. 1 said, “it just reminds me why I hate anything scary, especially haunted houses. I can deal with some scary stuff now but I still refuse to go to any haunted house mainly because I can’t get out of most houses. If I could get out at any time, I might not be so hesitant.”
What’s in a scream?
Daughter No. 2 is all about adrenaline. From an early age, she would find the most thrilling ride at any amusement park or fair. She’d ride it, get back in line and go again and again.
Granted, she was 10 when two years ago she visited her first haunted house. She had the advantage over her sister of being a few years wiser.
And she had a job to do. She and her friend, Peri, also 10, had agreed to wear GoPro cameras strapped to their foreheads to capture video. Both girls deliver with screams.
Peri pleaded to get out. “I was scared,” she said. “I fell on the ground during it, and I slapped one of the people inside — one of the ones who jumped out at me.”
Daughter No. 2 said she was not afraid. Her screams, she said, were for the camera. “Who wants video of us going through a haunted house without a lot of screaming?”
Just one person in our family has not stepped foot inside a haunted house. It’s Daughter No. 3 and she is 11. She hates when anyone even talks about scary movies. She does not like those big, thrilling rides.
What she enjoys most about Halloween is free candy, dressing up and getting the green light to wear makeup.
So when she declares she’s ready to be terrified, we’re not buying it. Once bitten, twice shy.