Why is Scaring Dad So Funny to Kids?

There are only four things in this world that scare me: snakes, my wife, people named Larry and a common household toy known as a Jack-In-The-Box. For the most part, I do a good job avoiding these things—except for my wife, who seems to be hanging around my house all the time. The main reason I'm afraid of her is because she's always next to me when I sleep—and shouldn't we constantly be a little bit afraid of someone who can poke us in the eyes when we sleep?

Recently, though, my house became a little less safe. For Christmas, my in-laws (who clearly have a secret plot in the works to murder me) gave my daughters some books, some clothes and one giant, scary Jack-In-The-Box. Seriously, he's enormous and frightening. On a scale of one to 10, with 10 being the scariest, he's a hundred billion. Plus two.

I did my best to hide him. One morning before work, I marched him to the basement, put him in a Rubbermaid container and stacked several other extremely heavy Rubbermaid containers on top of it. When I got home from work, there he was, sitting on our living room coffee table as if our trip to the basement had never happened.

I almost pooped myself.

After realizing he couldn't be contained, I opted for Plan B: I could just avoid him. We could lead our separate lives. I could eat breakfast, go to work, come home, play with the kids and then go to bed. He, in turn, could spend all day scaring the other toys in the toy chest and, at night, take a yoga class. A perfect harmony of co-existence. Problem solved.

"Mom, what's this?" asked my 3-year-old daughter as she pulled him out of the toy chest.

"That's a Jack-In-The-Box. Did you know your Dad is scared of them?"

And so it began. From that moment forward, my life was never the same. Everywhere I turned, there were my daughters with that Jack-In-The-Box. They could focus on nothing else. They chased me around the house with the kind of tiny kid laughter that's also commonly known in most parenting circles as "Trouble Making." No matter where I was, they'd find me. In the kitchen? They'd spring out of the pantry and wave him in my face. In the car? They'd pull it out of the diaper bag and yell BOO! In the bathroom? I couldn't even read Entertainment Weekly in peace without hearing that high-anxiety, dastardly tune creep up on me. Do-da-do-da-do-dee-da-do. Da-do-da-do-da-doooo-do. Da-do-da-do-da-do-dee-da-do. POP! goes the weasel. The door swings open. Jack comes jumping in. Tiny little laughter ensues.

It was on to Plan C: Distraction. Hey kids, want to watch a little Dora the Explorer? Look, I have a big bag of lollipops with your names on them? I know Mom says not to draw on the walls with crayons, but I don't see why we couldn't give it a try today. 

It was working! Slowly, they began to lose focus, as their voices trailed off in a not-so-uniform rendition of "I'm the Map, I'm the Map, I'm the Map, I'm the Map, I'm the MAP!" This lasted until I tucked them in at bedtime, rescuing me from hours of torture.

I headed in to my bedroom, relieved and proud all at the same time—relieved because I wouldn't have to deal with that Jack-In-The-Box again until tomorrow (at the earliest) and proud because my girls finally showed signs of becoming a team. Until that Jack-In-The-Box showed up, Ella (3) and Anna (nearly 2) played, but not really together. Ella wants to do puzzles and board games; Anna wants to stack things and knock them over. Thanks to one frightening clown, the pendulum had shifted and the two found a common interest: scaring Dad. As the memory of their tiny, united laughter trailed off in my ready-for-bed head, I was happy to know that my girls we no longer just sisters—they were becoming friends. It's a friendship that I hope grows as they grow. And if it means they need to scare me to get there, so be it.


It was the Jack-In-The-Box, hanging out under the covers on my side of the bed. My wife walked into our bedroom, howling with not-so-tiny laughter.

"Gottcha! I see you found our little friend. Oh, by the way, did I tell you that the other day I found that Jack-In-The-Box in a Rubbermaid container downstairs while I was looking for my maternity clothes? Scared me so much I almost pooped myself."

You and me both.

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