Last night, I think something subtle changed for Emily, my nearly three (3!) year old daughter. She has been a great sleeper for the last year or so, often sleeping through the night with maybe one or two or four quick wakings for the obligatory daddy-delivered sip of water, hug, tucking in, pacifier finding, pacifier swapping (color matters!), diaper change, sheet change (if I'm too late), comforting from apparent nightmares and bugs and bees and everything else she wakes up screaming about.
"Daddy! I want some water!"
"Daddy! I'm scared!"
"Daddy! I want a hug!"
"Daddy! Daaaaaaddy! Daaaaaaaaaadddddyyyyy!" (if I'm taking too long)
"Daddy! Where's my paci?"
"I don't know honey, I can't find it."
Emily begins to whimper
"Ok, hold on, I found purple paci."
"No, I want pink paci!"
Desperate, I lower the rejected paci out of sight, cover the colored part with my hand, and move quickly
"Ok, here's pink paci."
It's a good thing dads don't ever need to fill out a resume - there's no way you can fit everything on a page or two. If moms ever had to fill out a resume, the world's paper supply would be in jeopardy. But this is what parents deal with, oftentimes on a nightly basis, oftentimes multiple times per night. Or at least that's what I tell myself when I'm staggering from room to room in a broken stride that is not dissimilar to that of a bow-legged zombie.
So last night, Emily cries out saying that she's scared. I stumble into her room unaware of the time. All I know is I feel disoriented from being awoken suddenly (nope non-parents, you do not get used to this), and it takes a great amount of effort to focus my thoughts on being comforting and trying to understand what she is scared about. And her fear is a familiar subject: bugs. She has never been able to show me any of these phantom bugs, so I assume that maybe the fan blows her hair across her face and the feeling scares her awake, and the only explanation she can come up with is "bugs". Or maybe she's having nightmares about bugs. Or she's discovered that Daddy will come into her room if she complains about bugs.
I tell her there are no bugs, give her a sip of water, tuck her back in, and go back to bed. A minute later she cries out for me again. I march back in, comfort her again, and go back to bed. A minute later, she cries out for me again. I begin to sense a pattern emerging at this point. If I don't figure out a solution quickly, it could be a very long night. This time, when I come up to her
I look at her bed, see no bugs, and try to talk her into lying back down. She cries out again and refuses. I tell her the bugs are safe (it's easy for me to say!) and look at the sheet again. And then I see what she's talking about.
Her bed sheet's pattern, surely made by a good-natured and well-meaning individual, is of flowers and *gasp* butterflies. Yes, my daughter is scared of the inanimate butterflies printed on her bed sheet.
I have to stop my brain from selfishly storming out of the room and jumping back into bed, and convince it to try to look at the situation from the perspective of an impressionable nearly-three-year old. If you've ever tried to rationalize with a two-year old, you know it's nearly impossible if they have their mind set on whatever irrational thing they choose to latch onto. You have to give into their irrationality, treat it as if it's perfectly reasonable to cry because their Ariel doll is wearing the WRONG DRESS, and then approach the subject through the lens of toddler rationality. This is even harder when you are half-asleep.
I explain that the butterflies are pictures, just like the pictures she draws with crayons and paper, or the pictures of Mommy and Daddy downstairs that she likes to look at. To me, this seems like a perfectly reasonable explanation, and I half-expect her to be so utterly convinced by my logic alone that she would choose to lie down and sleep until 9 AM the next morning. Instead, she remains perched on her pillow, refusing to make contact with the butterfly sheet. It is at this point that I look over and realize her comforter has butterflies on it too! I can just imagine the thought process that went through our adult minds when buying this bedding. In our eyes, she has cute little bedsheets with cute little designs on them, and they will be her friends and they will comfort her and lull her peacefully to sleep. In her eyes, she's completely surrounded by a ton of scary bugs. I'm about to throw in the proverbial towel when inspiration hits me.
I decide to turn the comforter over and cover the sheet with it, effectively blocking all butterflies from sight. The moment I do that, she scoots off of her pillow and lies down on top of the turned-over comforter. Amazed, I rub her shoulder in what I hope comes across as a reassuring manner rather than an "I-love-you-but-you'd-better-not-wake-up-again" manner, kiss her on the head, and leave the room.
I come back into the bedroom of sanity, the bastion of rationality, the sanctuary of reason, the apex of adulthood, and see Erica stir. I relate the whole story to her, because I just can't keep it to myself. As I'm talking, I hear Emily over the monitor begin to scream about something I can't quite decipher. I ask my wife to join me for moral support, as at this point I'm half-convinced the butterflies are out to get me too. I get to the closed door of Emily's room, and stop as I hear her cry out again. And this time I hear exactly what she's saying.
"Daddy, I want a new blanket!"
I exchange a knowing parental glance with Erica, the kind that non-verbally reminisces about the carefree married life we enjoyed for 10 1/2 months before we had children while also subtly suggesting that these are the times in our life that we'll look back on and smile about sometime when we are old and well-rested. It's a very complicated glance. Lots of eyebrow raising. And then we enter Emily's room.
Erica looks Emily in her eyes and tells her the bugs are safe (and, I notice, still completely covered by the comforter). The reassuring voice of a mother works wonders, as Emily immediately withdraws her request for a new blanket and lies down. Erica, being the caring mother that she is, finds a new blanket and covers Emily with it. If it were me, I wouldn't have taken any chances; I would have taken off running as soon her head hit the pillow. However, we both leave her in a decidedly more dignified fashion, presumably to continue her dreams of toddler-eating butterflies that lie in wait within the bedsheets until the unsuspecting child falls asleep, at which point this ravenous pack of flesh-eating murderflies descends on its helpless victim.
This just shows how impressionable young children are to what seems to us to be a normal world. A world in which poorer children sleep on dirt floors and dream of one day being able to recline on a floral butterfly cloth regardless of how dangerous its sewn-inhabitants might be. I'm just glad we didn't go with the Vicious Killers of the Jungle bedding set (now with 50% more gore injected into every thread count!).
Part of me wonders whether I should actively do something to help reverse this new fear of hers, or if I should just let this phase pass naturally like all the others, maybe in favor of something actually worth fearing, like sibling rivalry or whether or not we have apple juice.
At the very least, I think I'm going to burn our copy of The Very Hungry Caterpillar. I don't see how that book's message is helpful for kids in the least. Stuff yourself all week, sleep it off instead of going to church on Sunday, and then you become all pretty. I'm almost positive this book alone is the cause of most of our nation's skyrocketing pre-teen obesity and eating disorder rates.
That, and gluttony. But it's easier to blame something on a scapegoat rather than solve the actual problem. In which case, I completely blame the ravenous pack of murderflies.