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A Monster by Any Other Name

As we await the birth of our VP of Strategy’s second child (Bill Zimmer literally could be in the delivery room as you read this—it’s that imminent), the anticipation has led me to reflect on the joys of being a dad. And just how quickly time flies when you have a kid.


Last month marked my own son’s 15th birthday. And, to be perfectly honest, those fifteen years feel as if they passed in just fifteen days. There’s something about having a child that recalibrates your own internal calendar, not only reminding you just how precious life is, but also just how fast it passes by.


I think it has something to do with birthdays. When your child is first born, birthdays are celebrated first by days, then by weeks, then months—when, finally, you get to celebrate your child’s 1st year. As they pass, those days, weeks, months, and years feel like they’ll last an eternity. They don’t.


It’s only later you realize you really should have taken a whole lot more pictures than you did—because life stages never repeat themselves, and the opportunity to recapture those moments does not exist.


In those initial few days, you anxiously await your baby’s first smile—once it arrives, you quickly forget there was ever a time when smiles weren’t a regular feature of your child. Similarly, as you impatiently anticipate the day your son or daughter crawls, once he or she does, not long after, you forget there was ever a time he or she couldn’t. Likewise, walking, talking, first day of school, puberty, dating, driving…you get the picture. Take lots of pictures.


Another bit of advice I have for new parents is—don’t fret the monsters.


I’m happy to say there was never a time my son worried about them lurking under his bed, or anywhere else, for that matter.


Since the “there’s-no-such-thing-as-monsters” argument never seems to gain any traction with a toddler’s overactive imagination, I found an even better approach is the “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” strategy. It acknowledges that, yes, monsters do exist, but science has discovered a sure-fire way to defeat them.


And that’s by simply giving them a name.


“What do you mean, Dad?” I remember my son asking in a skeptical want-to-believe-you-but-not-just-yet tone. To make my point, I described the scariest monster I could conjure. “Imagine,” I explained, “a big, dark green creature with thick armor-like scales, beady snake-like eyes, stubby legs, webbed feet with sharp sickle-shaped claws, a long snout filled with razor-sharp teeth, and ridges extending the length of its back like a sawblade converging at the tip of a long imposing tail.” My son’s eyes grew large in anticipation of the big reveal. “Yeah! That would be a really scary monster!” “Not so fast,” I’d say. “It’s only scary until you give it a name.  This monster just happens to be a ‘crocodile.’”


I’d go on and explain that’s how you can be certain there are no such things as monsters because, as fast as scary creatures appear, scientists simply assign the monster a name and they instantly lose their monster status and become household names. In fact, once they’re discovered, people line up just to see them.


To prove my point, I’d describe one “monster” after another, with my son guessing what animal I was describing. “That’s a great white shark!” he’d say. “That’s a mosquito!” “That’s a rhinoceros!” “T-Rex!” The game would go on for hours.


It’s a lesson we’d all be wise to take with us into adulthood.


After all, now—as then—it’s usually the unknown that causes us the most discomfort and keeps us up all night. Once you can put a name to what’s scaring you, you’ve taken the first step to slaying the monster.