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.
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.