Conquering Fear like it's a Mean Frog

The Mean Frog is the Meanest Frog: Drawing by Author's Son

In response to the title of the film, Muppets Most Wanted, my son says, "It's not wanted by me! It should be the Muppets Most Non-Wanted!"

He means Constantine, specifically, the Russian doppleganger of Kermit—master criminal with an incriminating mole. He has haunted my son since our attempt to see the movie in a theater last winter. 

For all the years he can remember, my son has been the friend of an imaginary frog, named FROG. We used to have a frog-head puppet (looked like Kermit), but lost it. It’s just my wife and I now. Acting frog. At times I acted frog constantly. Asking at the end of the day if I could just be Papa for once. At a point of saturation, I thought we should let Frog go, but my son cried like death had come. It was horrible. Redo! He’s not around as much as before, but Frog is still recognized as a little brother, naive best friend, co-pirate, conspirator, and savior in times of crisis. He is my son's proof that the world is safe and he has mastered it. We all love him.  

So when the movie opened to the Kermit double, Constantine, escaping in a storm of ninja kicks, shadows, and detonations from a Russian Gülag, I was concerned. My son withered. By the time Kermit got jumped, framed next to the wanted poster of Constantine (EVILEN FROGGEN!), blindfolded, abducted by German police, and tossed into a van squealing off to prison, my son had melted into a puddle of tears. We scurried out of the theater. “Why?!” he cried. “Why was Froggy like that?!!” He couldn't separate the two frogs in his mind. He was caving in.

Two weeks of nightmares. After that, a looming fear that the frog was still out there. "It's just a puppet," I told him. “There's a puppeteer that operates him.” “He doesn't actually exist.” “It wasn’t actually Kermit. Just a bad frog that looked like Kermit.” Nothing helped. We even wrote a letter to Disney telling them to never show this movie to anyone (unless they lived in the very far north of Minnesota). Disney didn’t write back. I spoke with the Russian accent of Constantine to try to make amends. Eventually about a month later, sealed by a new dream-catcher on the wall, we got past it.

Last week, out of nowhere, my son got interested in Constantine again. He began asking if he could see the movie. He drew a diagram (above) to clarify the images taking over his mind. We found the Muppets encyclopedia that pictured Constantine. My son needed details: Constantine’s neck spikes are shorter than Kermit’s, black-and-white photos can be made to look darker and meaner on purpose. Wanted posters are used to find bad guys. Sometimes they don’t work. Sometimes police officers get confused. Constantine and Kermit are in the last scene together, but they’re not friends. Constantine was abandoned by his mother, and grew up at a bomb-factory, that’s why he’s so evil. Heavy stuff.

We checked the DVD out of the library, but also a CD of the soundtrack. I played the soundtrack for days with him (Ty Burrell kills it!) and he especially paid attention to the tracks where Constantine sang about being the number one criminal in the world, (we’re criminals at large, but I’m at larger than you!). We partied and danced with my one-year old. He explained over and over to his friend, Frog (played by me and his mother), that Constantine tricked the police into arresting Kermit by sticking a prop mole on his face, and disguising his own mole with green makeup. The low-down…

One morning, he walked into the kitchen and said, “Mom” and then pointed to the open page with Constantine, “HIM.” We understood what he meant. He was obsessed. For the good of all of us, he would beat this.

The second night, he stated, “It’s like I feel he’s here in my body, but I’m not scared of him anymore because I know he’s not actually here.” 

To watch him parse out all the layers of his fears! To see him turn this bone-chilling fear into curiosity! He still hasn’t watched the movie (it’s too hard to follow anyway), but I watched it for him and he keeps asking me to fill him in. He’s building his own version of the story from the music, pictures, and my explanations. It’s elegant. He’s breaking it down, or open. He’s healing. His way. 

I never did this as a child. Or if I did, I’ve forgotten how. To take a fear so forceful, and turn it into something almost pleasurable as I mastered it. I’m inspired to try this. There are so many fears, I hardly notice how I am ruled by them. I challenge anyone to take even one fear apart this way. To not abandon it. To point to your Evillen Froggen and say, “HIM.”