When it comes to nighttime, I’ll be the first to admit that I have little patience for shenanigans from the puddinlings. I usually attribute it to my mostly German ancestry, which is to say that my mother didn’t put up with foolishness anymore than her father did.
In my experience, both were as apt to put up with tomfoolery at bedtime or afterward as the Pope is likely to allow the College of Cardinals to host a drunken, raging surprise birthday party for him in St. Peter’s Square, complete with a huge cake with a Hooters girl inside*.
As I’ve said before, the wee hours of the night are the only ones I typically consider mine. Which means that late in the evening, I want to be able to watch a movie or my handful of DVR’d shows without constantly being interrupted by responsibilities of any kind.
Which is exactly what I was attempting to do last night, until I heard Princess Puddinette up and moving around.
First she she turned on a light to use the bathroom.
A few minutes later, she got drink of water and left that light on.
Shortly after that, her little feet pattered down the hall to the master bedroom where the Puddinette was already squeezing in what precious sleep she could before I came to bed and brought the Snoring Nose of Chain Saw-like Doom with me. Little feet then shuffled back to her room.
When I made my nightly “turn-off the hall lights and close the bedroom doors” round wherein I ascertain that all is well in la casa de Puddin, I found my only daughter sniffling to herself in bed.
“What’s wrong?” I asked, already certain of her answer.
“I can’t sleep,” she replied tearfully, as if she expected me to roar, Hulk-like, into “punishment mode” because she wasn’t yet slumbering peacefully.
Lucky for her, I never got the floor votes to include that in the household bylaws. So I didn’t fly into an uncontrolled fit.
That said, I did immediately don the stern face, because when it comes to my darling Princess Puddinette, melodrama and overreaction – often of the tearful variety – are always a possibility. In other words, it’s her normal modus operandi to display a few sniffles and fat alligator tears if she thinks it might earn her a little sympathy.
But I’m hip to her game, and at 12:30 in the A. M., I’m not often long on feigned sympathy.
So I gave her a good talking to.
I told her to stop being silly.
I told her she wasn’t the first or last person to ever have trouble sleeping, and there’s no need to cry about it.
I told her to calm down, lay still, and she’d be asleep in no time.
I was firm.
I was stern.
I was, well, a huge jerk basket.
Twenty minutes later, I realized it, too, as I repeated my circuit of the second floor. She wasn’t already sleeping peaceful. Instead, she was covering her face with a sheet, and still sniffling.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” I said, my face composed of fatherly gruffness. “I thought I told you to quit that nonsense.”
“I will,” she promised, meekly.
And then a fluttery little something wiggled in the back of my mind, which is a odd sensation that I typically associate with the tequila worm forecasting a Rough Morning.
In this case, though, it was something entirely different. I’m guessing it’s partially because I knew I was being a dill bag, mostly unnecessarily, but more because the part of me that might actually be a decent person realized that continuing to be as upset as she appeared maybe wasn’t all for show.
I paused and considered. And then I asked, “What’s really wrong?”
“I’m scared,” my poor little girl nearly blubbered, terror palpable in the cracking of her voice.
My formerly steely, cold, overly-German late-night heart was instantly rent in two.
“Oh, sweetheart,” I soothed. “Of what?”
“Of what’s in the attic and under my bed.”
The attic access panel is a conspicuous rectangle that looms over her in the ceiling. Who can blame a seven year-old for conjuring terrors that might swoop down from above in the dark of night?
So that’s how I found myself, at nearly one in the morning last night, explaining how nothing could possibly come from the attic without either me or the dog hearing it. And that neither of us would ever let anything like that happen without materializing heroically in doorway in the blink of an eye.
That’s how I ended up on my hands and knees, exploring the dark depths of the Sinister Land Beneath the Bed, and finding nothing more menacing than Barbie’s dining room chair.
That’s how I remembered that being a father isn’t always just about making sure that the lights go out promptly at 9:30 and that the household trains always run on schedule. That, sometimes it’s about being a comforting voice in the dark, when the trains are all out of whack. It’s about making your little girl giggle at 1 AM by pretending to “attack” her with a silly, little plastic Barbie toy.
That’s how I learned that sometimes, you have to stop trying to teach your kids lessons long enough for them to remind you of the much more important ones.
No matter what time of day it is.
*In case anyone wonders, yeah, that’s probably the remark that punches my ticket, um, “south” when the great Merry-Go-Round of Life comes to a stop.