The Little One wakes in the middle of the night. “Mama, I’m scared,” she says. She is pressed to the side of my bed, her face inches from mine. I can just make out her tousled outline in the gloom. She is clutching her Elephant Lovey, wide-awake, restless, needing. I am sluggish and groggy, but not entirely asleep.
This is the fourth night out of the last five she’s come padding down the hallway before daylight. After the second night, my body reset itself to match her wonky circadian rhythm and I stir just seconds before I hear her door open. Each night before I click my light off, I plead to whatever divine power is in charge of slumber: “Please let her stay in her bed tonight.” My prayer is for me as much as it is for her. Once again my petition has been denied.
I ache for sleep and try desperately to keep myself in that middle place where I will effortlessly slip back into dreamland. Impossible. Already my brain is calculating the hours I’ve slept and the ones I won’t now that I’m half awake. I list the minutes I will miss in my bed while I tuck my Little One back into hers. I pray she’ll fall asleep quickly so that I can too, even though I know this isn’t the way.
I slide out from under the warm covers and take her hand as we walk back to her room. “What’s worrying you sweets?” I whisper as we settle into her slim twin bed.
“Crabs,” she says. “I think there are crabs in my room.”
I’m pretty sure the parenting books say not to talk at all and just put the kid back to bed, but my brain doesn’t work that way. I start down the Road of Rational, sure that once she sees reason, all her fears will flit away.
“I see. Well, crabs need salt water to live and unless your room is in the ocean, there for sure aren’t any crabs here.”
She snuggles down next to me, her head on my arm, her cold feet tucked under my thighs. “I’m still scared of crabs.”
Of course she is. She’s four. I try a different tactic: “Let’s think of a happy place without any crabs and then maybe we’ll dream of it, okay?”
“A magic beach,” she says. “With no crabs.”
Perfect. We make a list: there will be rainbow seashells and purple glitter sand, singing mermaids and talking dolphins. We will have a picnic and eat Nutella crepes and drink chocolate milk through bendy straws. We don’t have to wear sunscreen because even though it’s warm and sunny, our magic keeps us from getting sunburned. There will not be a crab for miles.
“Let’s meet in our dream mommy,” she says, her eyes closing, her breath evening out. I smooth out her hair, give her a soft kiss, then slip silently from the room.
Back in my own bed, my lit-up, totally awake brain whirs with the next day’s to-do list. I despair at how little sleep I’m getting and wonder if I shouldn’t just get up right now and start crossing off the tedious must-do tasks that rule my waking life. Luckily my rational self kicks in again and I decide some rest is better than none. I push my crappy, stressful list out of my mind and opt instead for the magical one. “Renew Passports” gives way to “Collect Rainbow Shells.” “Make Dog Grooming Appointment” morphs into “Sing With Whales.”
In the morning, Little One bounces into our room, all smiles. Not a trace of fatigue about her. “Did you meet me in our dream mama?” she asks excitedly.
Truth be told, I can’t remember whether or not I dreamt. I’m just thankful I fell back to sleep. I don’t want to be a buzz kill though.
“Did you see me there?” I ask.
She grins big. “Yes! You were there and the ocean was sparkly silver and we swam in it with the mermaids and they all had long hair but we had to wear bathing suits but they didn’t because they have tails.”
I grin right back, feeling less tired than I thought I would. Seems both our prayers were answered.
This post is part of the Reverb 15 December daily writing challenge, a series of writing prompts through which to reflect on 2015 and move into 2016 with clarity. Today’s prompt is inspired by Andrea Scher’s words “Maybe lists are like prayers.”