Lately, every night it’s the same thing:
“Mommy, close the door,” Jack whines, “So the monsters can’t get in.”
I don’t know where this new fear has come from. I can’t put my finger on exactly when it started, or what it is that sparked it. All I know is that now it has become routine to make a show of closing the door securely so that Jack feels secure enough to relax into sleep.
I was lying in my own bed, watching the shadows of the passing cars drift across the ceiling, contemplating Jack’s new fear and whether or not it was worth being concerned about, when in a flash,
I recalled The Big Ooh.
I can still see Zeke laying in our bed, his little hands clutching the blanket tightly, where it was tucked beneath his chin, eyes wide and staring.
“Mommy,” he would say, in a whisper. “I saw The Big Ooh again.”
We live in a building that is right off of Flatbush Avenue, a busy street in Brooklyn, where it is never truly dark or completely quiet. Aaron’s bicycle hangs on a hook near the ceiling and and as the cars rush endlessly by, headlights shine over handlebars and through the spokes of the wheel, creating patterns of light and shadow, which ebb and flow endlessly past.
Zeke watched the shadowy shapes roll across the ceiling night after night, and to him they became something alive:
The Big Ooh.
He was vague on the details of The Big Ooh. He seemed less frightened by her than intrigued. He told us that she had red eyes and that he only saw her at night because during the day she was busy “taking care of her children”.
And, with a jolt, I remembered something else too.
When I was a little girl, there were these “people” that lived under my bed. I wasn’t exactly afraid of them, but I was always very aware of their presence and that awareness made me a little uneasy. I’m not sure if I ever mentioned them to anyone, but I have very vivid memories of lying awake in bed thinking about them and being almost paralyzed by my profound awareness of their presence. I remember taking deep breaths and resolving to be brave enough to hang my head over the side of my bed and peek down at them. It would take me a while to summon the courage, and my glances were always brief and breathless.
They would lie with their backs to me, their stomachs on the floor, heads propped up on their elbows. They were fuzzy and gray; shadowy. They looked as if they were made of fog and hairballs and dust. And I knew they were under there, but I also knew that they would never come out.
My memory of them is as vague as their lazy silhouettes were, but they remain one of the oddest and most exhilarating memories that I have, because my rational adult mind tells me that they couldn’t possibly have been under there. But I still remember them.
I saw them.
And I never had an “Aha” moment where I realized that my overactive imagination was spinning dust bunnies or lost socks into mysterious lethargic beings. Their presence was never explained away, and I can still remember the way they looked, the way I saw them as a child.
I have since asked Zeke about The Big Ooh and he has no memory of her at all. I suppose that whatever Jack imagines is lurking behind the door will fade away too.
And as they grow and their childhood fears disappear, so too will the world where magic is possible. Danger will be all too unavoidably real and even a door that is firmly shut will not make them feel safe.
As their mom, I desperately want to protect them from any and all danger, and to keep them safe within my tight and reassuring grasp.
But there is a part of me that wants them to hold on to the indistinct creatures of the night, somewhere deep inside, even if they can’t really believe in them anymore.
To remember that once, you believed.
That is a gift.
I am suddenly awakened from deepest sleep by someone yanking on my arm.
“Appoo! Appoo! Come Mama!”
As my sleepy haze begins to dissipate, Jack’s fuzzy little head comes into focus. It is still dark outside, and as I glance at Aaron’s body peacefully rising and falling, bitterness at his ability to sleep through anything begins to bubble up inside me. Along with this bitterness is a pompous mental noting of my status as the “good parent”, the one who dutifully and without complaint gets up each morning, no matter how profound my exhaustion, to feed our children. I head for the kitchen in a cantankerous mood. Each quiet snuffle emerging from the bedroom makes me clench my jaws tighter.
“At least I,” I grumble to myself, “care about whether or not our children go hungry!”
Moments later Zeke is up. I hear his bare feet slap-slapping on the hardwood floor as I slice Jack’s apple in the yellow light of our kitchen. I bring Jack’s apple slices into the living room and find Zeke lost in thought at the table. He is illuminated only by the half-light of the street-lamps, elbows on the table, head resting in his hands, like a troubled soul in a Hopper painting. When I wish him a good morning, he flashes a cherubic smile in my direction and informs me of his urgent need for raisin toast with peanut-butter on it, and also “Milk in a cup with a top and a lot of milk too.”
I head back to the kitchen to make Zeke’s toast. Jack, as soon he sees what his brother is getting, insists on toast of his own. When I place Jack’s toast next to his apple, he commands, “Bow! Bow!” The toast apparently must be served in its own separate bowl to please my not-quite-two-year-old son. Soon the morning quiets. There is just the sound of my two munching sons and the harmonica hum of our tea kettle, to which the three of us all sing “Hot tea-eeeeeeeeeee” and giggle as is our private little custom.
The boys were being so sweet with each other– telling each other incomprehensible jokes and laughing. As they finished their food, I watched them push trucks back and forth and babble happily on the kitchen floor, and I just basked in the warmth of our cozy, contented family. As I became more and more alert, it struck me what a perfect morning we were in the middle of, the sort of easy, tranquil morning that invariably signals a smooth and peaceful day. A day where the two little beings that Aaron and I created coexist harmoniously and prove that we were right in pursuing this crazy familial experiment.
How could I mind missing out on a little sleep, I wondered, when I am so blessed?
And THAT was when I caught sight of the time glaring at me from the microwave: