Our Oldest Fear

As I sit on the couch in our living room, I can just make out a faint, sweet, tuneless singing floating down from Short Stack’s room. It’s past bed time. Actually, it’s WAY past bed time but the tune, though incomprehensible to my adult ears makes me smile and I’m deeply happy to hear it percolate throughout our small house. This did not start out as a good night.

The day was normal enough. It’s the weekend and that means that my folks are here. They don’t live near by, nor even in the same state, but about three years ago they bought a small vacation home very close to us and for our kids, it has meant that Grandma and Grandpa are never out of the picture for long. This has been a boon to all parties involved.

Though Lulu Belle is pretty new on the scene, she has already spent a few nights over there with us. Short Stack, on the other hand, has slept over sans Mon and Dad, quite a lot. In fact, he spends almost every Friday night there and sometimes Saturday night too. This gives us a chance to go back to taking care of one child for a change and though we always talk about how we don’t want to leave him there as we drive the short distance back to our own house, there’s no denying that it makes life way easier and provides us with a little respite from juggling two small children. It also give my Mom and Dad a chance to spend some magical time with It’s a good deal all the way around.

This time though, my folks are here for an extended stay. They will be around for a whole week including weekends. Short Stack had spent the last two nights there and my parents, fully embracing the grandparent life and the chance to keep a beloved child who now sleeps through the night, had offered to keep him sunday night as well. Action Girl and I had hemmed and hawed about this. She works late on Sunday night and eventually fobbed the decision of his slumber party off on me. I finally decided to fob the decision off on Short Stack. If he wanted to stay, then he could.

He did.

Like every other little kid, Short Stack likes routine. There’s not a lot of his life that he has direct control over and having an expected way for things to unfold day after day provided him with a sense of safety. At Grandma’s and Grandpa’s, he has a ritual bed time routine and they stick to it. Normally, all goes well. Normally.

Tonight, all went according to plan as usual and it looked like he’d be asleep in no time. I had stuck around while my Father put him to bed and chatted with Mom. So far, so good. My Dad went off to shower and our conversation dropped in volume to allow little kiddos to drift off to sleep. Then, after ten minutes, there was a strange cry. Mom and I looked at each other and she went up to investigate. Finding nothing the matter, she returned and we continued to talk. Another few minutes and then another strange cry, this time kind of panicky. I bolted up the stairs and went into the room. There he was, standing on his bed with arms out, practically leaping into my arms.

“What’s dat?” He pointed at the wall with an accusatory finger.

I looked and say nothing but wall. “What do you mean, buddy? What do you see?” I learned a long time ago to listen to him when he says he sees something. The kid has the eyes of an eagle and misses nothing.

“Up dare. What’s dat over the bed?!”

I looked again and it slowly came into view. A faint, odd shaped stripe went up the wall just above his bed. It was being thrown by the meager wattage of his night light. I tapped my finger on the spot and asked, “Is this what you mean? This stripe on the wall?”
“Yah. What is dat?”

I did my best to explain, but Short Stack was having none of it. When I pit him back in bed, he burst into tears. I did my best to talk him down from the edge and once things seemed to get back to normal, I headed back down. Almost immediately, the crying started again. This time, he made clear his wishes to be brought home. So, an hour after bedtime, he was buckled in, PJ’s and all, and we were heading towards his own bed.

All I can figure is that he got scared of the dark. All the way, as we drove home, he talked about it being dark out. As I listened, I thought that the dark was the most basic thing to fear. It’s the one thing that at some time in all our lives, has unnerved us. It had peen a part of man kind from the very beginning.

Not much has scared Short Stack yet. Thunder barely gets his notice. People, are just people to him and animals of all types are to be studies and puzzled over. In his scope of experience, there just isn’t much to be afraid of. That makes this night rather poignant. It marks the beginning of the fear of the unknown.

I knew it was coming since at some point, it comes to us all. I can remember being huddled under the covers in my own bed, sure that I wasn’t completely safe, though I could hear my parents breathing not more than a few dozen feet away, in their room. I think of all the times I walked home after dark and watched an approaching black hole in the string of street lights with trepidation. We tend to fear what we can’t see and darkness is our ultimate place of uncertainty.

I tucked him in his familiar bed and did my best to reassure him that he was home and safe. As an added comfort, I switched on his little planetarium, and happy little stars appeared all over the walls and celling, casting a friendly glow. A kiss on his head and down stairs I went to deal with getting Lulu Belle ready for her night as well. His singing has stopped now and at this point, his planetarium had clicked off of it’s own accord. It’s dark in the house and other than the glow of the computer screen, his night light is all that makes navigation around the various toys possible. I feel sorry that he get so scared tonight as inevitable as it eventually was. At least we can all understand why. It’s somewhere we’ve all been before.


3 Responses

  1. Oh, poor little man! Let’s hope he won’t stop altogether wanting to sleep over at the grandparents’ place.

    That’s what we’re all afraid of. We might try moving him to a new room and see if that helps.

  2. That does not bode well for your the future of your quiet Friday nights and it’s difficult to reason about these kinds of fears.

    For years, I slept horribly at night, the shadow of a tree being projected on the wall facing my bedroom. It looked like the shape of a man. I was absolutely terrified. My parents would wake up every morning with me sleeping between them.

    Eventually, they got mad and forbid me to climb in bed with them. Fine, I waited until they were sleeping, and lay on the floor next to their bed until early morning. I was not all that young either.

    I’m not sure how the problem got solved. Perhaps they cut the tree. If I had been my parents, I would have taken my kid to a children therapist and investigated the origins of the fear. You are not there yet! Perhaps, just changing the shape of the shadow. A circle instead of a stripe? Replicate the same setting as in his own bedroom? For one night of peace a week, I would certainly get VERY creative!

    You puff on cigars? You don’t even swallow the smoke? Really? Wuss!

    We can try moving his room. There are a couple of them that he could sleep in. Obviously, I’m going to try moving his night light first. We’ll see. Like you said, convincing a little munchkin that it’s OK when they are terrified is not an easy thing to do. Why did a stripe scare him? Who knows. But it sure did.

    I too, remember being scared of the dark. I’d have the blankets pulled right over my head, sure that I was moments from instant death. Why? No idea either. I lived in a safe place, in a good house with loving parents. Peril was not part of my daily life. The only thing my wife and I could come up with is that he’s inherited our wild imagination and that’s a double edged sword. He can happily entertain himself with toys for hours but late at night, it’s hard to turn off your brain.

    And hey! Who you callin’ a wuss? You and me lady! Moxie drinking contest! Looser has to play five hours of D&D!


  3. Poor little dude! Lil’bug still wakes up in the middle of the night. Every night. And the further she is from me the more awake she gets. For now I’ve decided I’d rather have her right there and be awakened a little than having to bolt through the house to keep her from waking everyone a lot. It’s not a perfect plan, but it’s working for now. Scout used the crib mattress at the foot of our bed almost weekly until he was seven. We drew the line there because I was pregnant with Lil’bug.

    Short Stack usually sleeps right through IF you can get him to fall asleep. That was the tough part because he got him self so cranked that it was hard to talk him down again. Last night we had a small, white, fuzzy solution show up on our doorstep. Some time ago, I had ordered him a special stuffed doll. It’s Miffy and he loves watching the show more than anything on the planet. We have no TV so I’ve been ordering DVD’s and playing them on the computer. This one came with a 15 inch tall Miffy doll. It was tucked into bed with him last night and we could hear him telling the stuffed bunny stories until he finally fell asleep. The timing of the package couldn’t have been better!

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