Dan Conradt: Parenting on a dark and story night

September 30, 2018

It was little more than a whisper, but it was enough to pull me out of a deep sleep.

Even the middle of the night is filled with sound … the refrigerator motor cycles on and off, the overnight freight train whistles for the crossing on the edge of town, dogs bark and owls talked about whatever owls talk about.

They’re sounds that rarely woke me up, but this one did.

It was little more than a whisper, yet few things are louder in the wee hours of the morning than the sound of footed pajamas moving through the house.

“Mom? Dad?”

There was just enough light in the room to make out a tiny silhouette, barely tall enough to see over the edge of the bed. My voice was raspy with sleep and shaky from having been awakened abruptly. “What’s wrong, Steven?”

“I’m scared,” he said. “I don’t like the thunder.”

The timing was uncanny: he had just said “thunder” when a flash of blue-white light lit the room, followed by a menacing rumble that seemed to roll toward the house and engulf it.

From the edge of the bed I heard a frightened whimper. “Can I sleep with you tonight?”

He hadn’t been in his “big boy bed” for long, and I’m sure that if I’d read one of our parenting magazines from cover to cover I would have found an article about how to deal with a toddler’s “I’m scared” nights. It probably would have explained why you should never say, “Sure, climb in.” That’s while I’ll never be “Father Of The Year.”

“Sure,” I said. “Climb in.”

It’s a long way up into a grownup bed when your legs are that short, especially when you’re making the climb while holding the paw of a Teddy bear named “Bear.”

Carla said something like “Oooooff!” as Steven climbed across her and wedged himself into the space between us.

Another flash of lightning sliced into the room, and a clap of thunder rattled the windows.

Steven wiggled under the bedspread with Bear in tow and pulled the covers up to their chins.

“That was pretty loud,” he whispered. The window was open just wide enough to let the first scent of rain seep into the room.

Another flash of lightning brought another peel of thunder. From the kitchen, the microwave oven chirped to protest a momentary power outage. Steven pulled the covers up to his eyes, and the next flash of lightning revealed that the only part of Bear not hidden under the covers was one ear.

“Storms are scary,” Steven said in a voice that was muffled by the bedclothes.

“When I was little I used to be afraid of storms,” I said. The middle of the night seems to lend itself to confessions.

“You were?”

“Uh, huh.”

“How come?”

“Well, they’re loud and bright and …” I paused to let a sharp clap of thunder rattle away into the distance: “ … and they just kind of jump out and surprise you.”

“Are you still scared of them?”

“Sometimes a really bad storm scares me. But I kind of like storms like this. We’re all together in here, and the storm is going on outside. It kind of makes me feel … safe.”

We wiggled a little closer to each other, and Bear decided it was alright to come out from under the covers.

Rain drummed on the window, and the gap between lightning and thunder grew as the storm inched away. Steven’s breathing settled into the long, lazy rhythm that comes just before sleep.

“Is the thunder over?” he asked in a dreamlike voice. For the first time I noticed that he smelled like talcum powder. It was nice.

“Just about,” I said. “Do you want to stay here tonight?”

“Uh, huh.”

The sharp strobes of lightning had weakened to dull smudges, and the thunder was now just a faint rumble in the distance.

“Could you tell me a story?” Steven asked in a barely awake voice.

Our bedtime book was on the dresser in his room, but I’d read it so many times I knew it by heart: “In the great green room there was a telephone and a red balloon and a picture of the cow jumping over the moon …”

Steven was fighting a losing battle with the Sandman: “Me and you and Mom and Bear …” he said in a thick voice. “Safe …” And then he was asleep.

In the distance the thunder faded into silence, and the night grew quiet.

Good night, noises everywhere.

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