TWD Apocalyptic Parenting Tactic

by Mariann E. Danko

I’ve never been a fan of “doomsday” stories  and am far from a “survivalist” thinker. Not that I haven’t found myself in challenging situations, wondering how I was going to make it through. None of which, of course, were comparable to the “end of the world”, but challenges that I now realize, could definitely break the weak of spirit.

My biggest challenge, thus far, was becoming a single parent at a time in my life when being a Mom was the last thing on my mind. Recently divorced and forging ahead with my new found love, screenwriting, falling in love with anyone other than one of my characters was not even a consideration. I had spent way too many years in a deadend relationship to give even Brad Pitt a second glance. That was until I experienced real love. Not just any love, the kind that blinds you and makes everything around you stop. The kind you never thought existed. The kind that truly touches your soul. The kind that makes you decide to have a child at 38.

When the relationship fell apart after our son was born, I was upset, but never gave up hope of reconciliation. Ours was a destiny thing and meant to be, I just knew it. That was until the summer of 2003 when the love of my life died accidentally. Our son was 3.

Yes, at that point, it did feel like the end of the world, but I had a child to raise and harboring heartache wasn’t going to help. So, I went into survivor mode. Instincts moved me through the hours, days, months and years. My son is now 14, some how I’ve made it through the papoose phase, toddler tantrums, pre-school chapter, elementary school shifting (It was during these years that I discovered my son was gifted IQ. A discovery that has brought with it challenges I never knew existed and forced me to get creative with my parenting tactics.) and am now on the last year of middle school. Ouch! I’m exhausted thinking about how far I’ve/we’ve come and how far I/we still have to go.

Don’t let my tough girl statement above fool you, I grieved, but in private, and for more years than I like to admit. To be honest, I was a crumbled mess at times. This one really kicked me in the gut. I truly believed in the fairy tale ending where the prince would come back and we would live happily ever after. Boy was I brainwashed as a kid. Still am to a point, I guess. I believe the glass is half full, not half empty. And try to see the positive in every negative, believing everything happens for a reason. Even on the days when my son pushes me to the point of questioning my sanity.

Wards off brain eating zombies.

Wards off brain eating zombies.

Which leads me back to the reason I brought up “doomsday” stories. Like a lot of teens, and adults for that matter, my son has become a huge fan of “The Walking Dead.” When this all started last summer, I thought “Oh dear God. He hated zombies as a kid.” As a matter of fact, when he was really little, he used to where a knit cap to sleep, believing if zombies attacked during the night it would protect him from having his brains eaten. He has obviously outgrown his zombie anxiety.

Just as he does with everything he is interested in, my son immersed himself into getting caught up with the show. He read everything he could on-line, including spoilers, but he still wanted to see every show from the beginning. He was preparing for the start of season 4. Oh joy, zombies invading on a regular schedule, I could hardly wait.

Figuring his new found zombie passion would be a passing phase and one I didn’t care to see, I told him he could watch that gross, depressing end of the world stuff in his room. I would chuckle as I would hear the squishy zombie slaughter sounds drifting from his room. My how far he has come from the knit cap days. At dinner I would get an overview of the show whether I wanted it or not. Nothing he would tell me could convince me to watch the show.

It took a chance opportunity to hear some of the actors speak at Parafest, in Bethlehem, PA this past September that would change my attitude. Being a (yet-to-be-produced) screenwriter, I have always enjoyed hearing writers, actors and directors discuss the process of creating their show or movie. Behind the scenes stories can be very educating as well as entertaining. So, with minimum knowledge of “The Walking Dead” I sat and soaked up all T Dog (Iron E. Singleton), Oscar (Vincent M. Wart), Jimmy (James Allen McCune), Axel (Lew Temple) and 3 walkers (Michel Koske, Tony Gowell and Alex Wayne) had to say. The stories were very intriguing, and sparked my interest. Maybe this show was more than doom, gloom and zombie guts flying. I left that night with a new found interest and a son who was thrilled that he could now watch the rest of season 3 on the big screen TV in the family room.

By the time season 4 started I found myself hooked. I was stunned, but the human drama certainly outweighed the flying zombie guts, gashed in heads and slashed body parts.  As a writer that’s all it took for me. My son and I had something new to bond over. Who would have thought zombies would bring us closer?

Like most teenagers, my son is not very self-reliant, expecting Mom to remind him, even though he doesn’t want me nagging him. Needless to say, this vicious cycle of me reminding and him telling me to stop nagging, has just about pushed me over the edge. What would break through the ozones of his teenage brain? What could I do to motivate him to action?

Carl in AMC's "The Walking Dead"

Carl in AMC’s “The Walking Dead”

My answer came in the form of our new found zombie bond. My son recognizes Carl (Chandler Riggs) as a strong teen character and in his mind believes that he too would react as Carl would. In reality, I know better. He would look to me to tell him what to do, which could lead to his demise because his head would be in the clouds waiting for Mom to tell him to move! Which he wouldn’t hear because he had tuned me out long before the zombie invasion. By the time he did, the horde of zombies would be feasting on his innards. So it entered my mind that maybe, just maybe, by using “The Walking Dead” as a tuning fork, I could break through the fog (note, they are all infected) and make a connection that my son would understand. What better way than then to ask “What would Carl do?” at the times he was slacking and not carrying his share of the load. Or just plain not making wise choices about how he uses his time, particularly with school work due. The first time I said it, he heard me, immediately, and gave me a strange look, like “what are you up to?” I just smiled, said think about it and walked away.

It’s only been about a month since I first started experimenting with this TWD Apocalyptic Parenting Tactic, but I can say that I have seen some subtle changes. Granted, my son is also at the tale end of a non-electronic marking period because of a poor report card, so, that could have something to do with it too, but I am hopeful that my “doomsday logic” will be just the thing I need to de-zombify my son.

I’ll keep you posted!


© Mariann E. Danko and Waking the Walker, 2014. All rights reserved.