From time to time I am surprised at how deep parental instincts go. I am not speaking of maternal instincts, nor feminine insight. I mean that parental discernment that somehow crosses the genders; the ability to know when a child lies, that sense when you know someone is missing, and the judgment to not kick at the small warm lump at the foot of the bed. So, when I shifted in my sleep and my foot touched a warm body, something told me it was not a pile of blankets.
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.
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.
At times, God seeks to improve one’s virtues; and apparently I need to improve the virtue of patience. I think of God like a blacksmith. He gathers materials, mixes the ratios, heats it to an unbearable temperature, and then strikes it repeatedly with a very large hammer until it either bends or breaks. #7 is my hammer.
The little year and a half old boy had a bottle, warm pajamas, and was sleeping with his eldest sister who would cradle him in her arms all night, provided he would stop spinning. Apparently that only meets his standards for half of the night. Usually sometime after midnight he wakes up and begins to cry. His banshee like wailing rings through the house like a lost soul. #1 tried to comfort him, but he was as soothed as a cat in a cold shower.
When Wife stumbles down the hall to attend him, she most often rocks him back to sleep or lies down with him; at the same time putting herself to sleep. A mother’s instincts I suppose. But she always puts #7 back to sleep and silences to house.
On the other hand, when Wife is busy with the #8 I get up to put #7 back down, I have to battle with my own disposition of looking for a short-cut. When I lay the boy in bed, I tend to do it in a hurry. Slap a bottle in his mouth and tuck him under the blankets. At that point I find myself of listening to his cry between sucks sounding like an old-fashioned air-raid siren.
You see, he would cry in between sucks on his bottle, just to make certain that we all understand his discontent. His siblings, and I do mean all six, that sleep in the same room, have learned to tune him out. He has quite literally cried wolf too many times. While he cries and kicks and rolls, the rest of our brood roll over and ignore him.
In defense of my quick and ill conceived actions, it all happens at about one thirty in the morning; and unlike the child, I have to go to work before the sun shines. I am not only frustrated at an apparently unsatisfied little boy, but also at the clock which had no concern for how fast it was spinning while I can’t sleep because of the wailing.
I watched the minutes turn into hours, and every time I thought I had #7 asleep, I was wrong. At last, I gave in and held him until he was certainly sound asleep. And after he was in bed and I could crawl into my own, I saw I had only one hour before my alarm clock went off.
I could have been angry. I could have despaired. I have simply been frustrated. But I was too tired. So I patiently waited for the coffee pot to fill.
I had a nightmare the other night to rival any modern horror film, complete with psychopaths, remote cabin, and no cell service. For once I was pleased to be wakened at three thirty in the morning by the shrieking of a cheap alarm clock. I shook my head, relieved to be out of that one.
In the predawn I prepared for work, stomping through the house in my heavy boots. While I was brewing a pot of coffee I heard the soft sound of bare feet and muffled whimpers. #3 wandered into the kitchen with her face buried in her hands.
When I inquired what was wrong, she responded in her quiet way, “I had a bad dweam.”
Oh dear, it seemed that my nightmare had not finished its course and had jumped to another unsuspecting victim. I scooped up the poor girl knowing full well just how bad the dream had been. I asked her to tell it to me; for I understood that my children faced their fears easily when a parent is able to share it with them.
She stammered into my shoulder, “I was being eaten by a…” there her words faded off into inaudible sounds.
“You were being eaten by what?” I asked.
“By a…” and again I was unable to make out her words despite the closeness of her mouth to my ear, for her head was resting on my shoulder.
I pushed again. “What was that?”
“I was being eaten by a snake,” she moaned.
“It’s ok little one,” I said, and it was too. Snakes are much easier to handle than psychopaths. Given the choice, I would always choose the former. So I sat down with #3 and counseled her. After a little time I asked if she wanted to go back to bed. She shook her head. Well, I had to leave, so I pulled out my weapon of last resort, the one that always calmed the children down no matter how worried or scared they might get. “Do you want to sleep with Momma?” To that she nodded.
I laid her down on my side of the bed, a sanctuary for the children. After all, bad dreams are more scared of Momma, than she is of snakes.
In the dead of night I rolled over with a dry throat, groping in the dark for my glass of water. I grabbed a hand full of air several times before realizing it was not there. My bedside lamp was switched on and my suspicions were verified; the glass was missing. So I walked to my bathroom sink under the impression that I left my glass there at bedtime. I found the sink conspicuously clean. I was forced to get a new glass.
As I walked by the girls’ bedrooms I turned a bleary eye onto the first pair of sleeping girls, and then the second; they were the cause of my missing glass of water. Those little innocent sleeping faces hidden under tangles of blonde hair did not fool me. I knew what they really were, highly trained operatives of their mother; skilled in the arts of house cleaning with a specialty in cleaning up behind their father.
At one moment I am finishing my meal, and the next my plate has been whisked away before I have a chance to dish up a second helping. I am (by necessity) very possessive of my dishes, shooing off the girls from my place while Wife has them loading the dishwasher. Unfortunately I rarely watch out for my glass of water at my bedside.
Wife is a stern commander of our children who puts up with absolutely no excuses; as evidence of the girls near perfect execution of their expected tasks. Her highly effective regiment produces only the finest of young ladies. These miniature homemakers make the seemingly impossible task of seven children a remarkably light load. I speak from experience, “many hands make for light work.”
Anyway, #4 was uncovered, and so was #1 in the next room. I pulled their blankets back over them before turning to the kitchen for a clean glass. I refreshed myself and placed the empty glass on my headboard with the hopes that they miss it on their next dish sweeping exercise.
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.
We’ve visited this before, but considering the circumstances I figured it might not be redundant. However, considering the multiple children growing within my house, duplicate events are bound to pop every up now and again.
Several nights ago, when I stayed up far too late, I ventured out of the silence and relative safety of my bedroom. I had set myself to the long walk through the house turning off every single light bulb that we own. (Mind you, this does not include the bulbs that have been burned out.) I suspect my children fear an invasion of vampires, or perhaps some other night-dwelling miscreant whose only weakness is the incandescent light bulb. While I understand I might be putting their lives in danger by casting the house into the black embrace of night, I am willing to take that risk.
So the lights were turned off one by one, and as I passed darkness followed. Down the hall I went. I poked my head into the first bedroom. #3 and #4 were fast asleep and #4 had stolen all the blankets off of her older sister. I evened out the blankets and flicked off the light.
To the next room, the two little blonde heads of #2 and #1 poke out from under their quilt. At least some of my children have learned to share their blankets. Click and the lights went out.
In the last bedroom #6 was fast asleep in his crib with his bottle dangling off his lip like a cigarette in the classic Humphrey Bogart style. In the bed across the room there was nobody. Huh, #5 was missing again. I flicked off the light switch.
After checking the laundry room for good measure, I looked into all the bedrooms again. When the second search turned up empty I poked my head into my bedroom to get backup, “Wife, do you know where our son is?”
Wife got out of bed and together we searched the bedrooms again. On the second go-through we found the little boy fast asleep under the bed of his sisters #1 and #2.
“What the devil,” I said. “What’s he doing under there?”
Upon a closer scrutiny I discovered the reason for his cave-like accommodations. A ring of chocolate circled the little boy’s mouth. The pint-sized thief had gotten into the Christmas candy, and squirreled under the bed to avoid detection.
If it had not been so late, he would have been in a lot of trouble. But as it was, with the entire household sound asleep, a pardon was in order.
Some nights back, when I was sound asleep and Wife was not, I was awakened by her desperate cry, “I can’t find our son!” It seemed she was unable to locate #5 when she was checking on the sleeping children.
I rolled over to face the digital clock, the red digits glowed 11:45. While I sat up in bed I said, “I am sure he just curled up under the bed or a chair or the like. We’ll find him.” I began to search for the child, clad in my underwear.
I staggered down the hall to the boys’ room and stretched in my head. All was quiet and dark, I needed light, light might wake up the boys, I had to risk it.
While holding my breath I peered into the crib. #6 was still soundly asleep. I let out my breath. Then I was able to look under the bed for #5 with confidence. The two year-old was not curled under the bed.
I turned off the light and proceeded to the living room.
The couch was lacking a little boy, as was the vacant space under the table. The dining chairs were as empty as my head was at that late hour. Just to prove it, I also looked under the couch. Needless to say, he was not there either.
While I was stupidly looking under the couch, Wife was darting up and down the hallway looking in every room two or three times. He was not in the older girls’ room, nor was he in the younger girls’ room.
About then I was poking my head into the laundry room just for good measure. I found the dryer was empty. The washing machine on the other hand was full, and the clothes were starting to smell sour. I restarted the wash.
I believe Wife was starting to hyperventilate about then. I somehow found myself in the front yard. I thought to myself, Why in the world would a two year-old be out here?
On making my way through the door I was confronted by wife. “Why did you think he would even be out there?”
All I could do was move past her as fast as I could and go back to the laundry room.
While I was looking under my bed, I don’t know why, it was midnight OK; Wife yelled out, “Found him!”
I rushed into the boys’ room to see her fondly looking down on her little boy in his bed. “Where was he?”
“Oh, he was here under the blankets the whole time.”
In her defence, can you find him?