Still afraid of the dark
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.