One night either just before or after our family reunion this summer, I was reading in the comfy bed of my parents’ guest room. Everyone else had gone off to sleep; Mar and Mark had returned to his place, Mom and Dad were in their room, Ann was on the pull out couch in the den, Ellie and Bill were out in the Westy, and my kids were sacked out on absurdly tall inflatable bed in the living room.
You know how it is when you’re sleeping somewhere away from home? You don’t quite recognize the sounds of the night. The location of my parents’ place is such that you sometimes catch the sound of a truck on the highway, footsteps on the floor above your ceiling, or an animal shuffling through the nearby woods. This night was no different. I read as I conspicuously ignored the sound of clothes tumbling in the drier and other things that went bump in the night.
When the drier blurted out its buzz to signal that the cycle was complete, the silence grew deeper. Maybe I started to doze off a bit. I thought I heard crying, but I laughed it off as the “phantom baby” phenomenon that has plagued me since the very first day that my very first child exited my womb. I read a bit more, then threw in the towel and turned off the light, falling asleep even as my head neared the pillow.
But what was that?
I heard something…. someone….crying.
Yes, definitely crying.
I hurried out to check on the kids, and the second I opened the door and turned into the hallway I heard my girl in hysterics.
She was on the air mattress, paralyzed with fear. Well, not exactly paralyzed – she was actually pounding on her brother and bellowing into his ear, her voice rising with panic as he failed to respond.
When she saw me, she flew into my arms. She said:
“I heard an alarm!”
I opened my mouth to ask: “an alarm?” but those of you who know my girl know that when she's got a fire brewing, there is no getting a word in edgewise. And she was worked up.
“I didn’t know if it was a fire alarm or a burglar alarm, but I thought there was a thief out there!” she wailed, pointing toward the dark hallway from which I had just emerged.
“I thought Aunt Ellie was in the kitchen so I yelled ‘HELLO’ but no one responded!” (I quote) “And I didn’t see any smoke or fire so I thought it was a burglar and maybe he got Aunt Ellie or was over there behind the couch and…..and.....and....” ....collapses into incoherence.
"Baby girl," I soothed: "it was just the drier! It buzzes when the cycle is done; I heard that about 15 minutes ago, have you been in here scared all that time?"
She had. My poor baby girl.
Do you remember being scared like that? God, I do. Lying there in the dark, so certain of your impending doom, your imagination not limited by the fleeting exposure you’ve had to horror flicks and scary reading.
The unknown is way scarier than a familiar enemy. When camping, you fear the supernatural or criminally insane more than that fluffy old rabid bear. We grown ups still have our share of seemingly unrealistic fears, but for the most part we’ve come to accept the unknown as unlikely to cause us harm, at least in the form of those things that go bump in the night. But there was that one night when my boy was a wee baby and my husband lay sleeping beside me. I watched The Blair Witch Project, and I had the poo scared right out of me. When it finally ended, I was a mess of trembling nerves. I slept poorly, and when a noise woke me in the middle of the night, I thought: “I hope the baby is okay, because I am NOT going out there to check on him.”
My girl was pretty easy to calm and reassure that night, she just needed an explanation for that noise that had set off the warning bells in her imagination, and to know that Aunt Ellie hadn’t been pulverized by a thief in the kitchen, she had just slipped out to the safety of her westy.
We laugh about it now, especially about how she was unable to rouse her brother from the dead of sleep to save her. At least she knows who she can’t rely on in a time of raw fear.
But for now, thankfully, the biggest problem facing my sweet baby girl is the challenge of learning to properly cross her eyes.