In the middle of the night, sometime between too late and far too early, Wife woke to the sound of #9 fussing. He stood in the hallway in near total darkness. When Wife clicked on the light, he simply stood where he was, rubbing an eye and waited for his mother to come to him and put him back to bed.
The night was dark and encompassing. The moon felt it was necessary to hide herself, causing the shadows to seem deeper. In the stillness, the sounds of the night were hushed, and the household rested without trouble. I was lost somewhere in a dreamless sleep, until I was yanked back into the night by the blood chilling cries of #7.
The evidence is piling up. No one believes me, but it has to be true. Despite all the reasoning, despite all the skepticism, there can be no other explanation. Even though Wife firmly disagrees, I must say it… there is a ghost in our house.
We have a poltergeist whose soul purpose is to torment first Wife, and then me. And it finds the most devilish ways to do it. Primarily, it wakes up the small children late at night. Under the guise of a nightmare, or a wet diaper, or cold feet, our phantom prods a baby or two awake, which in turn keeps Wife or myself awake. At times the fiend is so successful that it can ruin a night’s sleep for the both of us.
Yet, we have not been idle, no not in the least. We have continued to have children so to eventually overwhelm our phantom. And the fruit is beginning to ripen. Our older girls already calm down and put back to sleep the toddlers most of the time. #1 especially, takes care of her younger siblings; changing diapers and refilling bottles, she and #2 are a great help in securing their parents’ sleep. More and more often, we can sleep through the night, only disturbed by the new baby still growing within Wife.
But the phantom is not defeated. If it cannot keep us up with normal methods, it ushers in the flu, a most unkind trick. Wife, with all her motherly instincts, can not help but bring our sick, suffering children into our room. Normally, she mothers the child to sleep a couple of times a night, and always puts him to bed with us. He then, almost immediately turns and kicks me. The other night #7 fell prey to not only the flu, but also our fiend, who kept waking him up every hour, on the hour. It is not right for a father to have evil thoughts about his own son… but yes, I did. Oh so evil thoughts.
Luckily, flus and colds are seasonal. So our poltergeist has large parts of the year in which it has neither viruses nor bacteria in its bag of tricks. It then works overtime causing nightmares for our girls, especially #3. She has the unique disposition to get night-terrors after watching a lot of movies, due to her overactive imagination and I’m sure a little prodding from our fiend. There are few things that will get me out of bed quicker than her soft stumbling and shrill whimpers. Among its tricks, I find this one the cruelest.
Then the sun rises. In the bright, early rays our fiend retreats to whatever dark hole it dwells in, for it seems that even poltergeists need their sleep. Once the oppression of the phantom has lifted, spirits in our household also rise, and I am met with joyful children as if the night had never happened. Even when the children are sick, the morning brings them a special kind of rejuvenation. So as the happy noises of playing children steadily increases, I have a spiteful thought. I hope the phantom sleeps under the floorboards so our children can keep it awake, returning the favor.
Why do messy items always seem to be stored in glass jars, but the sticky stuff is kept in soft plastic tubes? These are disasters waiting to happen, believe me, as I have watched them happen with now all of my children. A dropped jar of pickles, and exploded bottles of mustard, a plastic jar of coconut oil which was dropped perfectly to crack it right down the middle, as well as other culinary losses. But the damage was limited to the children who could carry in the groceries… at least I thought so.
The other night the children were preparing for bed while I was still up. That does not happen often as I have always been “early to bed, early to rise.” Wife on the other hand, still struggles with her old habits which are the opposite of my nature. The children, on a third hand, have quite completely hit the extremes of both their parents, and I phrase them as “late to bed, early to rise; though it grieves their mother so.” That night I decided to put the children to bed at my bedtime, to help Wife get some extra sleep that night.
The girls were busy cleaning the dinner dishes, so the boys, #5, #6, and #7, were sent to brush their teeth. The usual brushing-teeth-question was produced that night by #5, “Can we use toothpaste?”
You might think it is a strange question, and you would be right, except in this case, where you are wrong. The two younger children, and there are always two younger children, who forget from time to time that toothpaste is not to be eaten. Therefore, when a younger child is caught sucking on their brush rather than brushing with it, toothpaste gets banded from all children under a certain age of reason, and at the moment that is all the boys.
Once I assented to their request, #5 trotted out with his toothbrush in one hand and toothpaste in the other. Behind him the other too boys lined up. #8 rolled on the floor as he is too young for either toothbrush or toothpaste. I took the tube of child-toothpaste and squeezed it with the expectation of a little paste squishing out onto #5’s toothbrush. To my surprise the toothpaste did not come out of the open end of the tube, but rather out of a hole on the side of the tube, almost dead center.
I looked up to #5 and exclaimed, “What happened here?” I pointed to the undesired hole.
#5 shrugged. “It always does that.”
Really? To get to the bottom of it, I call for the one person in the house who was sure to know how long the tube had been broken. #1 trotted up to me and I extended out the toothpaste. #1 also shrugged. She said, “It’s been like that for a long while. I don’t know who did it.” #1 went back to finish loading the dishwasher with her sisters.
I looked closer at the tube. There were tooth marks! Yes, tooth marks on the toothpaste tube. Then I knew, the culprit was rolling on the carpet before me. Someone left the toothpaste down so that the little devil got hold of it… or the fiend has wings. I bent down to take a closer look.
A certain law of physics dictates that only one object can occupy a given space at any given time; and it does so by pushing away all other objects. Now picture in your mind seven little objects, all attempting to occupy the same sink at once, they are our children brushing their teeth… with all the excitement of an undertaker.
I wish I could state that my children rush to the sink in giddy anticipation for the clean feeling of clean teeth. I wish I could tell you how they line up, youngest to oldest and the older ones help their younger siblings with great-big smiles. I also wish I could show you the clean and dry sink after they were through, free of puddles and toothpaste. However, as Wife feels it would be a sin for me to tell my readers complete lies, so I will leave the above as the unfulfilled wish that it is.
Consequently, for the health of my soul, the truth is that our children dislike brushing their teeth, though I am sure by now you gathered as much. I understand that they dislike it because, unlike their father, they hate going to bed; and brushing teeth is the first step toward their dreaded mattresses. Yet since they are obedient children, I get no fight as they slump into the bathroom.
The children gather around the sink like sparrows in a birdbath, splashing around and generally making a mess. And like sparrows, there is always one who simply has to stand in the middle, getting in everyone’s way; that would be #7. Quite often, Wife has walked into the bathroom to find the two year-old standing on top of the sink looking down on his siblings like some kind of Olympian god. He’s been dethroned enough times now that he has given up his elevated position, now he would rather clean his teeth in solitude… at the bathtub. The rest of the children simply fill the void of #7 by squeezing together tighter.
Wife’s second in command, #1 does her utmost to take charge of the bathroom sink, shouting out orders and berating her siblings. I often hear her dealing out to each child their ration of toothpaste (much to the irritation of her sisters) and requesting a sister to help the youngest brother… who was already at the bathtub. While #3 and #4 squabble over the footstool, #2 dawdles about trying to be invisible. Finally #1 ends up helping #7.
In the end, everyone has brushed their teeth and the boys are mostly dry, which is more than can be said for the bathroom floor. I find the oddest part about the nightly ritual is that we have a second bathroom, which is completely ignored.
We never had a nursery. Wife wouldn’t have been able to stomach putting the baby in another room anyway. The night #1 was born; she cradled her baby throughout the night, never letting her so much as brush the bed. I don’t think the baby learned what bed sheets were for about a week. As #2 and #3 came into the bed, they stayed in the bed; and I found myself creeping ever closer to the edge. I might have begun to wonder if Wife was pushing me out, but I was sure that “nurseries” were fables out of England and Disney films. So I happily hugged the edge of the bed while #2 kicked me in the back.
When #4 arrived our housing had changed and the two eldest moved into their own room, where #3 would visit on occasion. Suddenly I had all kinds of room on my side of the bed. I was able to stretch out; then #4 turned sideways.
We slowly converted rooms into bedrooms. We thought that that the best rooming arrangement was to bed them in pairs. The older girls were in one room with their younger sisters next door. Then we tried a trial with one older and a younger per room, but they all seemed to end up in one room. I take that back, they almost always seem to leave one behind, often soaking her pillow with tears. For our children, who are practically one right on top of another, solitude is frightening.
By the time Wife had #7 we had added another bedroom. That was unfortunately my office; the sacrifices of a growing family. #5 and #6 were set together in the new room. It was an unmitigated disaster. They were too young to put alone together. Either they slept with #1, or wandered into our bed, or split forces, or simply cried until a parent slept with them. All the while the girls kept up their game of “guess who’s sleeping where.”
It took awhile, but we finally figured it out, or to be more precise, Wife had had enough! The bed-swapping and children left behind had to stop. When #8 was about six months old, I came home and was surprised to see that Wife had followed through with her threats. She had moved them all into one bedroom. The smaller dresser was in the hall, and the boys’ bedroom was carpeted with a pair of double mattresses beside the boys’ bed. Problem fixed! All I had to do was set up the bunk beds; no small task, but hey, if she can birth them then the least I can do is give them proper beds.
We’ve discovered an unintended consequence though. When mixing children together, be careful of the ratios, and more importantly the quantity… there will be a reaction. Unfortunately not the reaction I wanted. I hoped for fumes that would render the children sleepy for twelve hours. Instead they were stimulated. Feeding energy directly into one another, I now have a room full of active children captured under blankets. As a side effect, I have less energy than ever.
And as the saying goes, “When the cat’s away, the mice will…” oh never mind. I’m going to bed.
There are two phrases I hope to never again hear. The first is, “The dog pooped on the carpet.” The second is, “There is a snake in the house!”
In the early hours of the morning, about two thirty, I was wakened out of a dead sleep by the shrill cry of #1 proclaiming the second phrase. I don’t remember sitting up. I think rather that I jumped from a laying position straight up in the air, landed on my feet, and made it all the way to the door before my eyes caught up with me and opened. Once the bedroom door was open, I could see down the hall to where a scared little girl’s eyes were fixed.
I quickly scanned the hall for the rattler in the dim light, but instead of the familiar dark diamond pattern, I saw white stripes? At first my mind was unwilling to believe it, so I just stood there, drowsy in the hallway. Wife shouted from behind me, inquiring where the snake was, and all I thought to answer was, “Let my eyes adjust!”
After another minute, I was able to declare, to everyone’s relief, that it was not a rattlesnake. To which Wife quickly demanded, “Then what is it?”
“I think it’s a Kingsnake.” After turning on the lights I could properly see the black and white ringed reptile hugging the wall. Sure enough, it was a Kingsnake. Now what?
A rattlesnake I would have killed, no matter what, no matter the mess. But a Kingsnake, well that’s just a horse of a different color. A person just doesn’t kill a Kingsnake. Kingsnakes are nice snakes. They’re good luck to have around your house. And on top of everything, they eat rattlesnakes! That meant I had only one choice, I needed to catch it. And like any man with only half a nights sleep under his belt, I just dove right in.
Be aware, at that point Wife shut the bedroom door, just in case it got away from me and continued to slither in the direction it was pointed in. It was kinda giving her the evil eye.
Looking back, I think I did pretty good. I only got bit once, and the snake was safely let loose in the trees outside. Good luck for my house.
So now I have one problem, how did it get into the house? Wife wore boots indoors for the next day, certain the Kingsnake was just the forerunner of a snake invasion. While I reject that assertion; I am never the less baffled as to how it made its entry.
One thing is for sure; when visiting the bathroom in our house at night, step lightly and carry a big stick.
I rolled over in bed, still half dreaming as the sounds of my children penetrated through the solid bedroom door. They were at play it seemed, though I was not awake enough to tell. Their happy sounds gave life to the still house, waking the walls to greet the sun that was just then rising. I could hear the puppy dash around somewhere, no doubt tormenting #7. I closed my eyes.
The screen door slammed, which sent vibrations through the house. Actually, it slammed several times as all the children rushed outside to see the pink sky that #1 told them about. The house again became quiet, and the early morning doze returned. If I had opened the window I am sure I would have heard them playing on the swing set, chasing one another in a game of improvised tag, or listening to their eldest sister tell stories on the trampoline.
As the house steadily drifted back into the deep morning sleep of Saturday, so did I. As I waited for sleep to again find me, a smile stretched the corners of my mouth. I was in one of those moods when I felt proud of my children just on account that they were playing nicely. I had all the confidence that the older ones would take care of the younger ones. I was sure that they would be fair to each other. And moderately certain that nothing was happening that would require my immediate interference or moderation. Somewhere between dreams and reality, I thought to myself that they were good kids.
With a jolt, as if some malicious little goblin had attached a pair of electric wires to my feet and flipped the switch, I was awake. It took me a moment to realize why. #4 was steadily tapping at the door and asking if they could watch TV. Wife was waking up, but more importantly the baby was starting to stir. “Be quiet!” I hissed as quietly as possible.
“What?” came the little girl’s small voice through the door.
“I said be quiet and go back outside and play.”
Wife had rolled over with thin slits for eyes.
“What?” the little girl repeated. “Can we watch TV?”
“NO” Wife and I shout at the same time. “Go play outside!”
Now the baby was awake. And as #8 began to fuss, all the nice feelings I was having toward my children vanished.
Ever since the children got old enough to disagree, bedtime has been difficult. Somebody always wants different pajamas. Another wants to sleep with her older sister, while the first doesn’t want the younger sister to sleep with her. There is the usual pleading for a book to be read (never mind if one was just read to them). And the whole thing ends with numerous cries for “a cup of water.”
Now the reader may take this statement as a complaint on my part. It is not. I am only painting a picture, illustrating the details to lead into the story. After all, the children always end up in beds. The question is, whose, where, and when?
The girls all share beds, two and two. While #5 moves from his own bed into his oldest sister’s bed. #6 is still caged in a crib until he gets moved to make room for #7. This tale follows #3.
#3 sleeps with #4, except when she’s not. Not very long ago I found her when I was just about to leave for work. She was sleeping on the couch under a cushion. I’m unsure what drove her from her bed, however I am sure she did not have the frame of mind to get a blanket judging by the way she just crawled under the pillow. I almost did not see her.
The other night I went through the house turning off the lights before turning in myself. All the children were asleep in the boys’ room and in the older girls’ room. In the younger girls’ room I found #3 wide awake and playing with her toy in a sleeping bag in the box full of their costumes. After I informed her that it was time for bed and I was about to turn off the light she responded with a simple “K, Dad,” and began bailing toys out of the box. The toys came out, and kept coming, and made a nice little pile beside the box.
“O.K. it’s time to get in bed and under the covers,” I said.
“I know,” she said as she pulled the sleeping bag up around her shoulders.
Suddenly I caught on. “Are you sleeping in the costume box?”
“Some time, some time Mom, she let me sleep in the costume box. Some time, she says it’s O.K.”
And like a good father, I let her sleep in the costume box. It was probably a softer bed anyway.