I don’t remember being afraid of the dark.
I’m sure I was; I think all kids are afraid of the dark when they’re young. I know I had a night light in my room when I was little but I don’t remember when I stopped using it. I also don’t remember if the night light was for me or for my younger brother, with whom I shared a room (I’m going with my brother, since I was eight years old at that point). I do, however, remember being creeped out when my family spent a holiday at my aunt’s house and I slept by myself in the study. It wasn’t the dark that scared me; it was the print on the wall of the Mona Lisa with a monkey’s face instead of a woman’s. I was able to laugh at it the next morning when I saw it in the light but first seeing it in the dark had me feeling like it was watching me sleep. Not only that, I almost felt like the monkey was making fun of me with that goofy smile because I was scared of it.
Everything becomes different in the dark. Shadows twist common objects into fearsome creatures and threatening spirits. Kids hear the mundane clinks and whistles of a heater turning on or the creaks of a settling house and think burglars are breaking in. The darkest spaces of the room – under the bed and behind closet doors, for instance – suddenly become entry portals for monsters of all kinds.1 Disney even made a movie about this concept:
The fear of the unknown – even if it is actually “known” during the day – sends kids’ imaginations racing to conjure the scariest and most threatening images possible. We are so reliant on our sense of sight to show us what is real that, when that sense is taken away, our grip on reality is distorted.
I bring all this up because last night I ended up sleeping on the couch again. It’s not because we’re still trying to re-sleep-train Shayna; we stopped bothering with that because we’ll be out of town on vacation for Thanksgiving and Shayna’s sleep patterns are surely going to get thrown out of whack all over again. No, last night I started the night sleeping in my bed and had every intention of staying there until I had to get up for work in the morning.
I was interrupted around 1:30 AM, when Eitan came into our bedroom. He said he had heard a noise and he was “terrified.” He was clearly worked up and Trudy and I know that when Eitan has made up his mind about something, any hint at contradiction triggers a negative reaction. We didn’t want to take the chance that forcing him to go back to bed would result in him waking his sister so we let him stay in our bed. (It should also be noted that this was the third consecutive night he had come in because something had scared him.)
After dozing on and off for about an hour, I finally told Eitan he had to leave. We have a queen-size bed; it’s fine when Trudy and I are the only two people in the bed. It wasn’t even terrible for all three of us when Eitan was little. At some point, though, Eitan turned into a real person who takes up real space, so the three of us together in bed is no longer feasible.2 Eitan protested against going back to bed – he was apparently still “terrified” – but he agreed to my proposal that he and I would spend the rest of the night sleeping on the couch. I gave him a couch cushion for a pillow and took out two extra blankets from our closet. Then I brought my pillow and blanket over and we lay down with our heads near each other in the “L” of our sectional.
As comfortable as our couch is – as I mentioned in the other post about sleep training Shayna – last night’s on-the-spot solution is unsustainable. I’m hoping that the answer to Eitan staying in his room all night will be something simple. Maybe we will need to inspect Eitan’s bedroom with him to identify the shadows before the lights go off or spray his room with “Monster Spray” before he goes to sleep. It may involve teaching him some deep breathing techniques for him to use if he wakes up at night. We’re hesitant to put a night light back in the room because there is light from outside that comes through the window; plus, Shayna sleeps so much better when it’s darker and we definitely do not want to disrupt her sleep. We may have to try a number of different methods and just hope for the best.
Then again, Eitan asked me this morning if I remembered being at his school yesterday and punching a zombie in front of his kindergarten teacher. After assuring him that I had done no such thing, I realized that perhaps the reason for Eitan waking up is not actually because he has been hearing noises in his room or seeing shadows on his walls. It’s possible that our problems may be solved by a simple conversation about weird dreams.
2. I thought that the name I chose for this blog would eventually become obsolete; clearly, that is not yet the case.↩