We’re gonna need a bigger book.

Every October since Jaden was 4 months old, we’ve gone to this one apple orchard to buy pumpkins and take family pictures. We go with my in-laws (parents and sister) and a family friend’s family. This year we added a new family as my dear wonderful friends had their little baby boy, Jasper, who is adorable and sweet and whom I haven’t been able to love up like I want because I’ve been sick since the dawn of time. (Plus, he’s my GODSON. I haven’t been able to snuggle my GODSON!!) (I’m not happy about it.) It’s always a bit of a juggle trying to get everyone’s schedules to line up but we usually figure something out. Not this year. No details because no one wants to hear me whine about feeling left out of the family but…my sister-in-law, like, totally went without us and I, like, totally feel left out! Ahem.  Jessie and I tried going with our families on the 17th but that morning Jonas went and threw up roughly 8 times. He was fine that afternoon and was in full toddler tantrum-throwing mode but we weren’t about to drag him through an apple orchard, just in case. We thought we’d try yesterday but overnight Saturday there were 80 thunderstorms and it dawned grey and wet and chilly. We all desperately needed to get out of the house as my kids were ready to riot and Jessie had spent all morning “turning the ceiling fan off and on for Jasper” and was ready to riot herself. We both hit Google for some inexpensive indoor activities for young children.

[Time out for a mini-rant: I live in Minnesota. Minnesota has a reputation for being buried in snow and hanging around 15 degrees 6 months out of the year. You would think there would be more options for in-door children’s activities that didn’t cost half your mortgage payment. Also, everything is 40 minutes away. Sure, that’s partially our fault for buying a house 30 minutes north of Minneapolis/St. Paul but I’m not the only one living there! There are plenty of other families looking for something to do that’s NOT the library because, guess what: TWO YEAR OLDS ARE LOUD and I can’t play with those damn puppets anymore!]

I pulled the trigger and we drove the forty minutes to the Children’s Museum of Minnesota. The kids were so excited and Jessie and Jason were excited to be out of the house and gladly paid the admission price even though Jasper slept the whole time. If anything, they got to check out the place and see if it would be something they’d like to take Jasper to in a few months. (It really is a great place and if you’re a resident of Minnesota or will be travelling here anytime soon with kids, skip the damn MoA and take your kids to the Children’s Museum. /unsponsored plug.)

For the Halloween Season, they had a special exhibit set up called “Spooky Hallow”. They turned the Nature Center into a “night time” nature center and instead of day time animal sounds they had night time animal sounds. It was an extra dollar so we figured, “why not?” plus it would be the only way to see the nature center which has a kid sized ant maze complete with a queen ant sculpture.

Jaden heard the words “Spooky Hallow” and decided in the lobby that she wasn’t going. AFTER we bought the tickets (which, yes, it was only an extra $4 total but still.). Our tickets were for the 2:30 admission so we had 20 minutes to kill. We went to their rotating exhibit which at this time focused on Japanese culture (with little pretend sushi and tea pots, too cute) and was outside the Spooky Hallow entrance. We spent the majority of the 20 minutes trying to convince Jaden that Spooky Hallow wasn’t going to be scary

“Jaden, honey, there won’t be any ghosts or monsters.”

“Look around at all these kids. Do you really think they’d make something scary for them?”

“J, your letting your imagination get the better of you.”

“You’ll see more scary things trick or treating than you will here.”

No amount of pleading or “I’ll hold you”s or “We can leave whenever you want, but you need to go into the room”s worked. Matt was getting frustrated so I told him to let me handle it and focus on Jonas.

I knelt down next to her and asked her what she was afraid of. She couldn’t say exactly but just the idea of something called “Spooky Hallow” sent her mind racing into all sorts of directions and none of them ended with fairies or rainbows. “Sweetie, how about this: you hold my hand the whole time and you don’t even have to go in. How about you just take a peek inside?”

“No…” The poor girl looked like she was going to cry.

“Jaden, sweetie, everyone’s going to go and we can’t leave you here. Will you please come and just take a peek inside with me? If you still don’t want to go in after you peek, you don’t have to.”

She eventually agreed to just take a peek. OK, maybe she didn’t agree so much as let me lead her to the doors. She looked inside and there was a pretend fire pit in the middle of a room and pretend logs in front of the fire to sit on.

“Look, Jaden! A pretend campfire! This isn’t so bad, is it?” I entered the room and pulled her gently along and she, not surprisingly, came willingly. Who doesn’t like a pretend camp fire? “Do you want to sit on a log or a chair?”

“A log.”

She sat on a log next to Matt and Jonas sat on his other side. I sat on a chair next to Jason and Jessie so I could keep an eye on things, just in case she needed to flee. A lady wearing a cloak walked the kids through a little rhyme that explained what they were going to see inside the “forest”. The kids all patted their thighs to the rhythm (including Jonas who was just tickled pink at playing with The Big Kids.) and echoed the rhyme.

Then the doors were opened and it was time to enter and time for Jaden to re-freak out.

“Jaden, remember how you were so scared to come in here and you peeked and it was just a pretend camp fire?”

“Yeah…”

“And remember how the lady said it’s just a forest at night and there’s nothing to be afraid of?”

“But I don’t want to go…”

“Let’s just peek again, ok? And remember: we can leave whenever you want but the exit is on the other side of the forest. We can’t go back the way we came.”

We were the last ones to go through the doors, but the important thing is we did go through. Jaden had her fingers in her ears (it’s a new coping mechanism she uses to block out loud or scary sounds. She tends to use it whenever she’s in a new situation.) and was glued to my side. I pulled one finger out of her ear and told her the only sound was a screech owl. The room was dark but not Pitch Dark. Jonas took off running and Matt went after him. This is what’s great about our set up: one parent to one kid. We don’t need it all the time, but at times like these, it’s invaluable.

Jaden didn’t want to venture far from my side at first but about 30 seconds in, she saw a little girl playing with some game and her fear dropped a little. After the game, we explored the forest a little bit and thunder struck and she gripped my hand and simultaneously tried to put her fingers back in her ears. “Jaden, look,” I pointed up at the fake clouds hanging from the ceiling, “That’s all it is, a pretend thunderstorm.” “I don’t like the noise,” she said. “How about we go up to the lodge? It’s got all the lights on.” She agreed right away and once we were in the lodge, she loosened up even more. She found the wheels that kids can turn to move the clouds and make the storm: “It wasn’t real, mommy. It was just a pretend storm.” We spent a lot of time in the lodge with Jessie and Jason and Jasper and eventually made our way back downstairs.

We went into the ant maze together to find Matt and Jonas. As I saw her loosen up even more, I told her my knees hurt and I couldn’t crawl in the tunnels anymore but I didn’t want to leave Jonas and Daddy in the tunnels. “Don’t worry, mommy, I’ll go find them and I’ll be right back!” And off she ran, er, crawled.

Eventually we made it around the whole Spooky Hallow before Jaden announced she had to go potty. As we left the room, each kid got sticker that read: “I Braved the Children’s Museum Spooky Hallow.”

In the bathroom, Jaden asked me to read her sticker again, which I did. “Jaden, you know what?”

“What?”

“You really did brave it. Do you know what brave is? I know we’ve talked about it, but do you remember what it means?”

“It means not being scared.”

“Kind of,” I said, “being really brave means you’re scared to do something but you face your fears and you do it anyway. That’s exactly what you did. You were so scared but you went into Spooky Hallow anyway and you had fun, didn’t you?”

“Yeah! I was so scared but it was just a pretend forest. It wasn’t scary.”

“Yes, you were very brave and I am very proud of you.”

Two hours and 20 (non-spooky) exhibits later, we were on our way to the car. Jaden asked which part of her sticker said, “I Braved” and Matt showed her. Then she asked which part said “Spooky Hallow” and he pointed to it. “I Braved Spooky Hallow, Daddy,” she told Matt. “Yes, you did, peanut.”

At bedtime, I came into her room to read a story and she showed me where she had put her stickers on the wall. “Oh, sweetie, I know you want to keep them, and you should keep them but let’s not put them on the wall.” I took out her photo album, put them on the first two sleeves and put it back on her shelf.

This morning, I found her looking at the stickers in her book.

Badge of Bravery

Anyone know where I can find a “I Braved Trick-or-Treating” sticker?

********

Bonus: PICTURES!

Space Potty, Bubble Tube Team, Family Rock Band

Shadow Puppets, Water Tubes, Reading up on Astronauts, Line Cooking

Reassurance, Creek Exploration, Rescue from the Ant Queen, Boat Race

Working the Receiving Dock, Readying the Boats, Grocery Shopping, Serving the Customer

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