When I was a young child, my parents had hanging in my room a painting, most likely mass produced, of several girls dressed in white playing Ring Around the Rosie. In the moonlit dark of my room, those girls came to life and danced and twirled in their canvas cage. Sometimes they would form a tight huddle and point and whisper in my direction. They terrified me. I went to bed each night with the sheets pulled high above my head, and the sweat of fear mingled with the sweat of poor ventilation. My parents, thinking I was cold, added more blankets to the bed. I was too scared to tell them of the painting, but I can’t remember why. Maybe I knew it was silly, maybe I didn’t want the girls in the painting to know I was on to their hijinks.
So when I first saw Mikey several weeks ago covered in sweat with the sheet wrapped around his head, I knew the monster he insists lives inside of the ceiling light was keeping him up at night. At four years old, Mikey’s imagination is now developing faster than his compact little body.
He is interested in the difference between good and evil, heroes and enemies. His dinosaurs hold elaborate conversations with the cars and trucks in his playroom while they wait patiently for the chocolate cake to come out of the toy oven. Superman counsels the Incredible Hulk on why it’s not nice to be a bad guy.
He won’t go in his room if the noon sun isn’t there to blind him as he walks in. I set up a child’s stepping stool next to the light switch so he can climb up and turn on the light, even in the bright light of day.
He doesn’t like for me to roar loudly, and never when his back is turned. If I do, he holds up two small hands and admonishes me by saying, “Mama! Don’t do that! You’re a mama, not a monster.”
He always sleeps with his stars on, and when he wakes up at 1:30 or 2:00 in the morning and finds them turned off, he creeps into our room and asks the Mister nicely if he could turn them back on because his room is very dark.
I remember so clearly being his age. I remember being afraid of ghosts and monsters and things that went bump in the night. I slept on my back so no one could sneak up on me. I closed my eyes during most of the Wizard of Oz.
The only thing that made me feel better was having my mom sleep with me or, even better, sleeping sandwiched between my parents in their bed. I remember that feeling of comfort and safety and warmth. And, within minutes, I wasn’t afraid anymore and quickly fast asleep.
This is why I never get mad when Mikey comes in at 1:30, 2:30, 4:30 in the morning. I don’t see it as a nuisance or as manipulation. In fact, I love it. I love the feel of his small, smooth arm as he pulls me in for a tight hug. I love the way he burrows his toes in the hem of my pajamas, and the way he rests his cheek on my shoulder. I love when he says wants snuggles more than stars.
So my heart did a little flip-flop in my chest when I opened my bedroom door late Wednesday night and found him and Big Bunny asleep under the tidal wave of our blankets. He was sleeping in the middle and surrounded by pillows, like I always tell him to, so he wouldn’t fall out of the bed. He just couldn’t wait for us to come to bed, and instead found comfort in the sheets and pillows that smelled faintly of us.
I stood there watching him for a very long time as the moon light turned his skin a milkly iridescent and the floor boards creaked softly under my feet.