The other night, Ollie was crying before bed.
“What’s the matter, buddy?” I asked him.
“I’m scared to go to sleep.”
“Every night a man comes into my room while I’m sleeping. He picks me up and he dumps me on the floor.”
“A man dumps you on the floor?”
“Yes. The Shadow Man. He’s hard to see in the dark, but his legs are as tall as my room. He lives in a cave behind my bookshelf. When it’s night he goes through a tunnel to the shelf above my bed. He uses his tools and he opens up the star [that hangs on the wall above my head]. That’s how he comes into my room. He picks me up in the air and drops me onto the floor. It hurts and I don’t want him to drop me anymore.”
Kids have such an amazing, vivid imagination. They tell you with utmost sincerity these crazy things that they imagine, and they have so many details, so much texture, that you can’t help but believe them, just a little bit. I’ll tell you, lots of writers can’t manage to paint a picture the way Ollie does about the Shadow Man. The more he talked about the Shadow Man, the more the hairs on the back of my neck stood up. Imagine how terrifying that would be, if you truly believed it (and he definitely does).
“Ollie, the Shadow Man’s not real. It’s just a bad dream.”
“It’s not just a bad dream! Sometimes I wake up on the floor!”
Well, it’s hard to argue with that logic, although a nebulous Shadow Man who lives in the wall is a long way to go to explain waking up on the floor. I mean, there’s a decidedly more straightforward explanation…
Regardless, I couldn’t shake him on the idea. If he slept, a 12 foot tall man made out of shadows would creep into his room and toss him from his bed. I finally got him to go to sleep by insisting that all daddies had magic songs they sang to weave an invisible blanket of protection over their children from the time they were babies. When it comes to making up stories, two can play at that game!
“Ollie, what if we turned you around so that your head was at the other end of the bed?”
“Yeah, that might work. The Shadow Man would try to pick me up and just get my feet. So he’d probably get frustrated and go away.”
He got by the next few nights by sleeping clutching a flashlight (I mean, hey, imagine how deadly a flashlight would be to a dude made out of shadows!), but I got tired of sneaking in and turning it off after he was asleep. So finally I put a nightlight in his room.
Now, so far this is pretty straightforward fare. I mean, lord knows how terrified of the dark I was, and Evie as well, so I didn’t exactly see the next turn coming.
“Ollie, how is the nightlight working? Are you sleeping better now.”
“I don’t like it.”
“No? Are you still not sleeping well? Is it not bright enough?”
“No, I’m not waking up at all…I’m lonely. It’s too bright. The Shadow Man isn’t coming anymore.”
“Wait, you want him to come? You…miss the Shadow Man?”
“It just gets lonely at night without him.”
Parenting is confusing.