I don’t know how it happened. I just said it; and once I had, it was too late to pull back the words.
They just hung there, like graffiti in the space between us.
I told my daughter, “Monsters are afraid of dogs.”
It was two o’clock in the morning.
Opal has largely overcome her many-month phase of having had bad dreams nearly every night. She now sleeps with her light on and collects stars on the reward chart when she wakes up in the morning after a good night sleep. (Giving her a gift from the Sleep Fairy every night she slept got a little expensive when she began sleeping more regularly.) She even slept through the night while we were in Ohio, and in a hotel with three other people in the same room! She seems to have traversed a major developmental hump where sleep is concerned, though I know better than to say that out loud.
Which is why, now when she wakes, I am awkward and out of practice.
Last night, she was up for the better part of three hours, initially from a bad dream and then from the lengthy consideration of the contents of that dream.
Monsters, mommy, MONSTERS.
I offered up my standard list of (genuine, but admittedly a little stale) offerings to alleviate her kid-fears: I told her she was safe. I told her Mom and Dad were right across the hall. I set up her stuffed DORA and gorilla by the door to keep watch, even though she was, as I said, totally safe. I reminded her that Elmo was a monster and he was totally innocent, just a machine-sewn puppet. I reminded her of the Dr. Seuss book about the pants that run around with no body in them. How they scare the heck out of the little guy in the story, but in the end, the weird empty pants were more afraid of the little guy than he was of them.
Then, I asked her if she knew why the monsters were so grumpy? Were they hungry? Did they want a little attention?
Often, she’ll get into this particular exercise and we draw up elaborate out-loud scenes of monsters wearing party hats and tutus, getting hugs and high-fives, having had their bad moods popped by being treated with a bit of kindness.
But, for whatever reason, last night she replied to all of it with an expression of “I’m just not buying any of this.”
When I could see that we were clearly not making any headway, exhausted, I found myself grasping for a big ticket something-to-say to get us all back to bed:
“And since there is a doggy in your house, no monster will EVER come close to your room. Period.”
This statement inspired the first look of relaxation we had achieved up until then. She almost smiled, as if to say, No shit. Why haven’t you mentioned this sooner?
For a cycle of about 10 seconds, I was feeling like a badass. Like I may have inspired a final reprieve from the concerns of monster-invasion. Like we may have only full nights of sleep in our future.
Then I was reminded of how the brain of my daughter works.
“Why don’t monsters like dogs? Did a dog do something mean to them? How could they not like Big-Boy (one of her nicknames for our dog, Elvis)? He is the sweetest pea I ever knew.” (Her actual words.)
“Well, I’m not sure, honey. They just don’t—“
“Are they only afraid of dogs? Adhrit (one of her friends) doesn’t have a dog. Do they go to his house more?”
Ooh, dang. I hadn’t thought about the kids who didn’t have dogs.
I scrambled. “Well, monsters don’t even like the smell of dogs. So, if Adhrit even has the smell of a dog on his clothes, he’s good.”
A look of skepticism on the face of my three-year-old returned, so I switched gears.
“Honey, it’s time to get back to bed. I love you so much. We’re right across the hall. You are totally safe, and nothing is getting by Elvis. Really, I love you.” I kissed her conclusively on the forehead, gave her a bear hug and exited, exuding as much parent-confidence as I could muster.
She was quiet as I crept into our bedroom for the dozenth time and slid under the sheets, thankful for the blowing fan that created enough white noise to keep from waking Jesse every time she yelled and every time I left and came back in. She was quiet as I felt my face sink into the cool cotton of the pillowcase. She was quiet as the strange and lucid images of almost-sleep began to scamper, welcomed, through my mind.
I stumbled out of bed, across the hall and into her room. I was bleary and dumb as I said, “Sweetie, what is going on?”
“Dragons!” She cried. “What about DRAGONS?!”
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Ed: Sara Crolick