Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Bad Dreams of Friendly Spiders

“Dad… dad…”

Her voice isn't quite an echo in the subtle haze of 2:30 AM. The twilight, the ether in-between sleep and awake has grown thin these last few years. I am easily stirred now. Had she approached me in college and whispered in my ear, I would have integrated her words into whatever dream I was currently having, rolled over and continued my undervalued slumber, unencumbered by parental responsibility. But no more. I know without opening my eyes that my daughter is standing next to my bed. I know that she is inches from my face. And I know, from just the slow, quiet repetition of my name, my new name, that she is scared. 

“What’s wrong honey?”

Before the words have left my dry lips she's reached out for me, and I for her, and she's been pulled into bed with us. She buries her face in my chest, tucks away in the crook of my arm, much like she once did on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. Back then she had peeked up out of the darkness and half whispered, half cried, “Don’t let the pirates grab me, daddy.” 

Tonight it is a spider – a friendly spider. 

“I saw a spider. He talked to me.”

My first instinct is to ask what the spider said, or to explain that spiders don’t talk, but this isn't like the talking to poop episode of a few months ago. She's clearly shaken up. I don’t want to scare her more. I just hold her and listen. 

“He was nice, but I’m scared. Spiders don’t talk, dad. Huh?”

Spiders don’t talk. Spiders don’t talk. Nope. 

When I was younger, probably around my daughter’s age, I had a blue, plastic Cookie Monster chair. It wasn't just a picture of Cookie Monster on a chair. It was Cookie Monster. You sat in his lap. 

I remember this clearly. One night I sat up in my bed and he was looking at me with his wide, white eyes. I rubbed my eyes. I attempted to focus in on the reality that Cookie Monster was a chair. I tried to look “harder,” as if that were a thing one could do. I tried to look into him, to see the reality of his plastic nature. But no matter how my tiny eyes tried to connect what I was seeing, to what my brain was telling me, I kept coming to the same conclusion. My Cookie Monster chair was real. Not only was he real, but he was quiet, still, and terrifyingly patient.  

Cookie Monster isn't real. Cookie Monster isn't real. Nope. 

This is where my head travels at 2:30 AM in Sandy, Utah 2014. At 2:30 what is and what is not real matters not a bit. Not to me, not to her. The fear is real regardless. The feeling of her tiny hands clenched up against her chest as she tries to become as small and unnoticeable as possible – is real. The pirates aren't going to grab her. Spiders don’t talk. But tonight she can stay with us regardless - because I’m 32 years old, and sometimes on stranger nights than this, I can still close my eyes and see Cookie Monster staring at me from the foot of my bed. 

“No honey. Spiders don’t talk.”

“Can I sleep with you and mom?”

“Yes, for a little while.”

She is asleep before she gets the permission she seeks. I look around the room for talking spiders, determine all is well, and feel my wife squeeze my hand. She’s been awake too. With a combination hug/roll, I gently place our daughter between us. 

We don’t talk, but we know. We are an impenetrable, spider proof fortress. Just for tonight.

- Dad (John)

Thoughts? Comments? Put them below or come play on the Ask Your Dad Facebook Page


  1. I find that after having a child, I'm more emotional - your post just made my eyes water up (not a single mote in there either, my usual standby excuse) and I don't even know why. As my 9 month old daughter sits beside me doing her "Gregorian Chanting" (her way of analyzing something very interesting... in this case, my toque), I look at her and hope I can protect her from talking spiders, Cookie Monster chairs, and any other supernatural being she needs to convince herself doesn't exist. Now she's smiling at me. It seems that she has the confidence that I can do this.

    From Guelph, Ontario, Canada - thank you for writing John. Please keep sharing, so that we all might gain the confidence required to tackle the things that go bump in the night.

    1. Don't worry, they're not real. Well they might be... but you are more real. Thank you so much for the kind comment. I promise to keep sharing if you'll keep reading.

  2. When my son was 6-8 years old and had a bad dream, he would come into our room, walk past me, around the bed to mom's side. He had these pale PJs, pale skin, and almost white hair. He would start in slow "Mmmooom, mmmmmooom, MMMMOOOOOOMMMM! My wife would awaken to this pale, moaning apparition inches from her face, and start screaming, so he would start screaming, and the dog would start scrambling out from under the bed, bouncing us up and down in his haste to exit. Usually the screaming and lurching of the bed would wake me up to my wife and son's screaming chorus at each others fears. After order was restored, he would lie down next to mom for the night, he always brought his pillow with him.

    1. My dad used to startle like that when I woke him up. Those few seconds while he recognized what was going on were the only times I was ever truly afraid of my dad. It would only be a second, but it felt like forever!

  3. What a lovely scene, John. I felt like I was right there next to you in bed...hell, maybe I really was there, sitting on the cookie monster chair and preparing my army of talking spiders. Hah. Seriously though, this is quite beautiful and so true of those middle of night moments when you and she want nothing more than to communicate in hushes tones, minimal words, and welcoming arms outstretched.

    1. Thanks Jeff! Both for the kind comment, and the image of you sitting at the foot of my bed in my childhood Cookie Monster chair. While I will cherish them both, I will only talk to my therapist about one.

  4. Thanks, what a beautiful post. Nothing like the safety of a dad. Thank you for the reminder of how we can respect our kids - not always easy to do at 2:30am.

    1. Nothing is easy to do at 2:30 AM. Well sleeping. Sleeping is easy.

  5. When I was nine, my family spent the night at my aunt's house for a holiday and the room where I slept had a poster of the Mona Lisa with a monkey's face where the woman's should have been. In daylight it was a funny poster but I remember being terrified of it when I was lying in bed trying to fall asleep because I could have sworn it was watching me.

    Really enjoyed the post. Fantastic imagery and it definitely resonated with me, as well.

  6. Lovely story. When I was a kid, we almost always went to my aunt and uncle's house for Thanksgiving. My parents would stay in one bedroom and my aunt and uncle would set a bed for me up in their study. I loved the study because it was covered in bookshelves - I'm such a nerd. But there was a large cardboard stand-up of Elvira in the corner that always freaked me out. I knew perfectly well that it was just a cardboard cutout, but it was really startling to wake up and see it looking at me.

  7. This is such a beautiful post. My son is 16 months, so i look forward to that kind of stories :-) and i am in bed, it's 1:40am in the uk, and i hope my son has gone back to sleep after having some calpol as he is teething and sometimes wakes up in the night

  8. Great post John! The concept of "real" is very interesting when it comes to little kids.

    I had hell of a time explaining to my daughter that the life-sized grim reaper inside cvs that scared the living shit out of her wasn't real.

    She was so confused. That thing was obviously real. Again great post.