The bellowing began before I’d finished stirring the Splenda into my coffee.
“D-A-A-A-A-D-E-E-E-E!!!!” Jellybean yelled as if she’d just woken up in a pool filled with piranhas and she was having a nosebleed. While the uninitiated response would have been to drop everything and sprint up the stairs to rescue my child from whatever horrors had befallen her, I knew better. Jellybean was fine. I just happened to be out of sight — but sadly not out of earshot.
So I rolled my eyes, finished with my coffee, grabbed a Pop-Tart and trudged upstairs before the bellowing began again.
Once in the bedroom, I was confronted by a child I hardly recognized. Jellybean was cowering under the covers, gripping a naked baby doll and acting as if the Closet Monster had leapt from the shadows and eaten her eyeballs.
Only it was 8 o’clock in the morning. The sun was shining and Squidward was yelling at SpongeBob for ruining his peaceful Sunday. There were no monsters, no boogeymen, no flesh-eating zombies, vampires or werewolves. And if there had been, there was a baseball bat leaning against the wall – and did I mention I was less than 50 yards away?
The child we proudly called “The Daredevil Boss” only five months ago has been replaced by a scaredy cat. These days she’s less Khaleesi and more Cowardly Lion.
It’s been an abrupt change, and I’ve finally figure out what happened. We left our Jellybean in Disney World and brought home her doppelgänger.
It’s the only explanation for how the child who fearlessly rode Space Mountain, giggled when the T-Rex tried to eat our faces on the Jurassic Park ride and proclaimed, “Look how high up we are, Daddy” as we ascended hundreds of feet up the side of a faux mountain on Expedition: Everest has been replaced by one who refuses to walk through an open door past a dead mosquito.
I don’t recognize the child I’m living with. This one’s scared of everything. And this time, it’s not my fault.
Sure, in the past I’ve made some questionable programming decisions – letting her watch “Lost Boys” and “Interview with a Vampire” at 4 years old, or reading her “The Tell-Tale Heart” in the bathtub at 5, or those 12 seconds she saw of “The Walking Dead” when My Lovely Wife and I thought she was taking a nap.
It’s not just bugs and empty bedrooms that transform her into a walking panic attack. It’s normal stuff that even boring kids would yawn at. For example, riding her bike.
True, she fell off once, but the thing’s got training wheels and it’s not like I’m shoving her into traffic. But she won’t go near it.
“I’d rather not,” is all she’ll say while shaking her head.
Sure, she slipped under the water one time in her grandfather’s pool and got bubbles up her nose.
Ever since, she has insisted on clinging to the steps like it’s the last life raft off the Titanic.
“I don’t wanna get my hair wet,” she says, dipping in a pinky toe.
My child is missing, possibly kidnapped and enslaved as a Minion on the Despicable Me ride at Universal Studios. We went from roller coasters and scary movies to puzzles and “Punky Brewster.” I want my Daredevil Boss back. This one’s not nearly as much fun.
Contact Brett Buckner at firstname.lastname@example.org.