I have a jack-in-the-box that is exactly like the one my grandma and grandpa used to have in the collection of toys kept at their house for the amusement of all the grandkids. It isn't THE jack-in-the-box from my grandparents' house. After Grandma passed away and we were talking about memories of her and staying at her house, I mentioned this toy, but it was nowhere to be found. Luckily, resourceful Elecia, who must love me, found one on Ebay and got it for me.
I don't know why I wanted it, exactly. It always scared the hell out of me when I was a kid. (Okay, who am I kidding--it scares the hell out of me now.)
I used to be sure that the clown inside was an evil spirit, possibly because 1) clowns are creepy, and 2) this one bears a strong resemblance to Lady Elaine Fairchilde from Mr. Roger's Neighborhood of Make Believe. You remember Lady Elaine? She was the pompous, bitchy puppet who looked like this clown. I never liked her. In fact, I wanted to smack her every time she appeared on the show.
The jack-in-the-box plays a tinkling, creepy version of "Pop Goes the Weasel," and the clown always jumps out on the "pop" note, so you'd think I'd be ready for it. But there was never any being ready for this evil thing. I bet I jumped every single time. And then despite the shivers and tingles running up and down my spine, I'd somehow feel compelled to push the clown's head back down into the tin box and turn the crank again. Until he popped out and made me jump again. Madness.
So maybe it's the same dark fascination that made me want the thing now. That or just a desire to face old fears and reassure myself that they don't hold terror for me anymore. That I've moved on and nothing can scare me.
I played it for Eliot this morning and it scared the hell out of him too. It was hilarious. I'd turn the crank really fast so that it would pop up before he lost interest. And every time it popped up, he'd make an "O" with his little mouth and whimper. But he kept looking. And I kept shoving the clown back down and turning the crank again. (Perverse, and mean, I know, but the kid has been such a shit today he deserved a little jack-in-the-box action.)
For some reason, I didn't think it would scare him. I didn't think he'd be interested in it at all, but I figured that if he paid attention, he'd think it was funny. He loves peek-a-boo, and isn't a jack-in-the-box just another version of peek-a-boo? But he was scared, and for some reason that made me happy. Because I recognized him having the same reaction I once did? Because anytime I recognize myself in my child I'm delighted? Probably. But that isn't all. It isn't just vanity. I think it has to do with my hopes for him as well. My hope that his life will be full and complete. That the range of his emotion will be wide, his fear making his comfort more... comfortable?
Or maybe it's just a simple manifestation of my meanness to the ones I love most fiercely. Like if I'm mean to them first, no one else will be able to hurt them. Call it preparation for the big, wide, mean world.
And anyway, it's not like I'm making him watch Mr. Roger's Neighborhood.