Still afraid of the dark

Maryland Independent - - Southern Maryland Classified - Twit­ter: @right­meg

Are you afraid of the dark? I am. And not just in the con­text of the ’90s Nick­elodeon show, ei­ther.

Since be­com­ing a par­ent, I’ve had to deal with all sorts of both­er­some things that a younger, more squea­mish me could not have han­dled. I re­mem­ber part of the play “All I Re­ally Need To Know I Learned In Kinder­garten” talk­ing about adults as types of su­per­heroes for will­ingly putting their hands into sink drains to clear them of gunk.

With a new­born and a tod­dler? That would prob­a­bly be the clean­est thing I’d han­dle all day.

Much like scrub­bing bath­rooms, pay­ing bills, chang­ing di­a­pers and fight­ing off wasps, there are some “adult” tasks that re­quire us to put on our flat, sen­si­ble shoes and just power through.

Dur­ing a re­cent visit with my sis­ter, I spot­ted a spi­der near our feet. Be­fore my two-yearold could paw at it, I grabbed a pa­per towel and re­lo­cated the in­sect (into my trash can — sorry) with­out break­ing con­ver­sa­tion.

“Wow,” Katie said, im­pressed. “I can’t even do that. You’re a real mom now.”

Just not when it comes to the dark.

Even at 31, I’m un­set­tled by bumps in the night. I’ve also be­come some­thing of an in­som­niac, so the lit­tlest noise — a tree branch snap­ping; a floor­board creak­ing; the air con­di­tion­ing kick­ing on — can pull me straight out of sleep.

I blame par­ent­hood. Like the many gray hairs I’ll soon have to dye, my fit­ful sleep­ing started with need­ing to lis­ten for tiny voices. That’s not usu­ally a chal­lenge, given Hadley’s wail could shat­ter glass. Oliver’s — usu­ally the re­sult of 4 a.m. bore­dom — isn’t ex­actly easy to ig­nore, ei­ther.

I keep think­ing that if I’m tired enough, I’ll doze off. But an hour will slip by, then two, and I’ll still be sip­ping an aw­ful elixir of worry while run­ning through men­tal to-do lists.

That’s where I was headed when a late-night thun­der­storm blew in Tues­day. Our house backs up to trees, most of which seem per­ilously close to our house, so the slight­est hint of wind means I’m plan­ning an es­cape route for Spencer, the kids and me.

From the time I was young, night­time storms have scared me. I can re­mem­ber turn­ing to­ward my bed­room wall to shield my­self from see­ing light­ning flashes — usu­ally by pulling a Care Bears blan­ket over my face. I stum­bled to find my par­ents at 2 a.m. dur­ing many a howl­ing storm and of­ten slept down­stairs to be with Rudy, our fam­ily golden re­triever, dur­ing bad weather. (To com­fort him, of course.)

When Tues­day’s storm hit be­fore mid­night, I was still awake lis­ten­ing to Hadley breathe. I’ve gone back to a ter­ri­ble habit of ob­ses­sively play­ing around on my phone, es­pe­cially when I can’t sleep: a self-ful­fill­ing prophecy. I can’t sleep so I get on Face­book; I get on Face­book and then I can’t sleep.

So I was ad­mir­ing friends’ cats and ba­bies when ev­ery­thing — my night­light; the clock that cru­elly projects the late hour onto the ceil­ing; my white noise ma­chine — went out. As my kids and hus­band snoozed, all none the wiser, a fa­mil­iar panic set in.

It was dark — but I was in charge. I’m a real mom now.

When we lost power grow­ing up, one of my par­ents would run to re­port it to SMECO from an up­stairs land­line. Now we can mon­i­tor out­ages on an on­line map in real time, per­fect for a crazy per­son like me, so I im­me­di­ately went about re­port­ing our is­sue. Def­i­nitely needed SMECO to be aware I was hav­ing an ex­is­ten­tial cri­sis.

But it’s dark when you close your eyes, peo­ple say. Why would that keep me from sleep­ing?

I don’t know, hon­estly. But like all my quirks, it goes back decades.

On a trip to Ten­nessee in 1998, my par­ents thought it would be fun to rent a cabin in the Great Smoky Moun­tains. And when I say in the moun­tains, I mean it: the sort of place you’d ex­pect to see the pi­o­neers tak­ing refuge on their long jour­ney west, cook­ing over an open hearth as black bears made them­selves com­fort­able on the porch. To­tally iso­lated from civ­i­liza­tion. And on a cliff, no less.

Me? I was a city slicker. To­tally used to street­lights and squeal­ing tires, hum­ming ap­pli­ances and neigh­bors’ bark­ing dogs. To be in the mid­dle of the Ten­nessee wilder­ness was a jolt to the sys­tem (anda lit­tle un­set­tling), but also cool.

Un­til the power went out.

My sis­ter and I were sleep­ing in a loft at the cabin, snooz­ing be­neath a sky­light with my par­ents down­stairs. It was a clear night, but some­thing star­tled me awake. I thought I was awake, any­way? In that un­fa­mil­iar place, the black­ness was so com­plete that I wasn’t sure if my eyes were open or closed. I re­mem­ber look­ing up at a weak moon through the sky­light to ori­ent my­self.

I was a month shy of 13, ver y nearly a teenager; I didn’t ex­actly want to be caught cry­ing for Mom and Dad. But I pan­icked. In­stead of let­ting my lit­tle sis­ter sleep, I had to rope her into my blub­ber­ing. My par­ents were next: I started call­ing out from the loft. One of them fi­nally heard me. It took for­ever; I was re­ally freak­ing out by then. Mom stum­bled to­ward the sound of my voice, say­ing she couldn’t see her hand in front of her face. “The power’s out!” I yelled — one of my more as­tute ob­ser­va­tions. Every­one would have been bliss­fully un­aware of the Ten­nessee dark­ness if I’d kept my mouth shut . . . but they say mis­ery loves com­pany. This mis­ery def­i­nitely does. I nudged Spencer on Tues­day night, my face lit by my slowly-dy­ing iPhone. “The power’s out,” I whis­pered, hop­ing Hadley or Oliver wouldn’t sud­denly wake and need me to fum­ble to find them. I’d like to think I’ll al­ways be re­as­sur­ing to my chil­dren, cool and col­lected and strong. Per­sonal his­tory makes me skep­ti­cal. Maybe be­ing hu­man is bet­ter than al­ways pre­tend­ing to be brave. Take away my night light and we’ll find out.

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