long shadows.

I’m not afraid of the dark when the sun goes down
And the dreams grow teeth and the beasts come out and cast their long shadows
Every time they start I’ll be right here with you, I’m not afraid of the dark.
-Josh Ritter

Atticus has been waking between 4:00 and 5:00 am and needing one of us (okay, he needs Daddy) to come and stay with him. He’s been sick and he’s had a lot of change in his routine, so we have tried several things from sleeping on a yoga mat on his floor (I was not enough and he still needed Daddy) to bringing him in to bed with us to try to lure him back to sleep (he kicks). There was a sweet morning of cuddles last week when I stayed home with him for a sick day, and I think he is starting to feel more secure.

On Friday night, as we were putting him to bed, he asked for a blueberry cereal bar (his current favorite). We said something about how he should not get up in the morning until it was light outside and then he could have the blueberry cereal bar. If it’s still dark outside, we said, you should go back to sleep.

I don’t know what it was about that that distressed him, but he turned to us and said, “Dark, no!” and when I asked him what was wrong with the dark, he said, “Bad.”

It was a different kind of conversation than we’ve ever had with him. Normally, when we talk to him, he is parroting words we’ve taught him and connecting them, often in ways that we say things. But we’ve never told him that the dark is bad, and the way he said it sounded like a genuine expression of something he was feeling, not just something he remembered. We don’t use the word bad very often, at least that I can think of. Did someone tell him that the dark is bad? Did it come from a book we have read? Was he just being dramatic because he was tired and sick? Or is he starting to actually be afraid of the dark? What was he trying to tell us?

Sometimes I am afraid of the dark, too. Before Atticus was born, I would sleep with the light on when Mike was out of town. There are bugs and strange noises and odd shadows. As a parent, I have stumbled through the dark of Atticus’s room to comfort him, and I have stumbled through the dark of not having answers on this new path.

As we read a couple more stories, I thought about who I want to be as a parent. After the doxology, I pulled him in my lap and said the truest thing I could think to say, as much for myself as for him. “The dark isn’t bad, buddy. We see different things in the dark. We learn to see things differently.”

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  1. I’ve often wondered, too, where children learn to be afraid of the dark. Andra has a little of this too. Sometimes I think it’s because at night parents leave their children alone and then it gets dark and children associate darkness with being alone. I don’t know, just some musings of my own, but I know that when I explore times that I have been afraid of the dark, it’s really fear of loneliness, which somehow seems easier to see in the dark.

    Posted 9/10/2012 at | Permalink
  2. _steve

    Great post as always, Kari. As for the question of where we learn fear of the dark…I don’t think we do. I think it’s genetic, instinctual. The concept of “monsters” being in the dark is clearly acquired, but fear of the dark itself is, I suspect, built-in.

    I guess a Christian would consider that to be an effect of the Fall.

    Posted 9/10/2012 at | Permalink
  3. Mark Allman

    The best book I ever read on helping children overcome their fears is “Things the Go Bump in the Night” by Warren and Minirth. It is an excellent book and I learned alot from it. One of the first things they say is “fears never spring from a base of logic. And fears never ever respond to logic.” They suggest that as parents we are our children’s journeymate who comes along side and tells the child you understand their fears and you will be with them as they work through those fears and guiding them as necessary. The book also helps understand some of our fears as an adult as well.

    Posted 9/11/2012 at | Permalink
  4. I love how reading your blog takes me back to my early days of parenting, when my girls were little. Thank you for capturing and sharing these poignant moments.

    Posted 9/11/2012 at | Permalink

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