On a weekend trip to the L.A. County Fair (yes, we've got one, and there are pigs and pies like all the rest, not just Botox and weight loss competitions), I saw stunning acts of courage. No, it wasn't watching folks inhale Krispy-Kreme burgers and a deep-fried Coke, though that was impressive.
It was seeing toddlers -- some from my own family -- take on scary rides that had me wanting to hug my mom's leg.
They'd laugh at roller-coaster loops and free-fall drops that would make a forensic pathologist puke.
But oddly, I've seen some of these same little ones at Disneyland, and they fear half the rides as though they're tours through the underworld -- the easy can't-scare-Tinker Bell kind of rides. They think of Mr. Toad, Pinocchio's whale, and at times even Buzz Lightyear as demon spawns from hell.
On my 2-year-old's first trip to Disneyland, our whole agenda was determined by my girl's need to stay clear of the costumed Pluto and Goofy characters that spooked her.
I asked why.
"Because they don't talk," she said.
I understood. Big, smiling, and silent = creepy. At her age I once missed a whole parade while huddled in the back of a car because it featured a man prancing in a Big Boy suit. (Scary, right?)
Of course, the small children are wise -- Mr. Toad, Monstro, and Goofy are pretty demonic. It is Disney after all. And many adults who've been through college know that most of the park's rides, even the sweet new Winnie the Pooh pushover, are just bad acid trips re-imagined.
While some toddlers might have had bad drug experiences, what gives with the rest?
I'm reminded of a survey asking kids in troubled inner cities, full of real dangers like guns, drugs, and assault, what scared them most. They inevitably give answers like spiders, snakes, and darkness.
Fear just isn't rational. It comes from old, deep places in our evolutionary make-up that we struggle to understand. Toddlers -- lacking our ability to hide and swallow it all -- are just better at making their fears known.
Nobody screams in horror in a car doing 80 on the freeway, even though that's the most dangerous thing we ever do. Yet we're horrified by mannequins, possums, creepy young twins, and Ronald McDonald (again, scary, right? Who's with me?).
Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go huddle in a backseat.
Is your toddler scared of things that surprise you?
Image via Flickr.com/HarshLight