[So much for solemn oaths. Oh well. The following is a piece I started two months ago, the third and final post on our second move. Here’s to better timeliness in the future.]
Since they came home from the NICU in the last few days of 2010, the twins had never been very far from us at night. In the first weeks, they were snuggled into the co-sleeper that ran along one side of our bed. When Emmeline developed her habit of making odd grunting sounds while she slept, we pulled one of the cribs into our room and planted her in it so that she would stop waking up Jack. Seemingly in protest, Emme’s nocturnal hullabaloo got even louder, so we had to send her into the nursery to sleep without her brother (though not without her father, who camped out for many weeks on an air mattress jammed between the two cribs). Eventually, Emme cut out the ruckus and the twins were reunited in their room. Even then, the nursery and our bedroom shared a wall, so we were always steps away.
So it was quite the adjustment when we moved to Fayetteville and found that our bedroom and the nursery were on completely different sides of the rental house. Lara and I were very uncomfortable with it at first. Even though we had our trusty monitor as always, it felt like anything could happen to the two of them while they were so far away. I would still be able to hear the crazed, knife-wielding intruder or conniving, soulless babynapper break the glass of their window, but it would all be over by the time I sped down the master bedroom hallway, through the kitchen, into the dining room, past the living room, and opened the two doors to the nursery.
Eventually, the unease faded as the new normal of the rental house settled in. It has always been my job to tend to the children at night, and I soon became accustomed to sprinting this mini-marathon. Poor Lara, however, has never become accustomed to the way I explode out of bed whenever I hear real urgency in the voice coming through the monitor. Thankfully, though, such incidents, such as sudden illness or a particularly bad dream, were relatively few and far between.
Until the last couple of months before our second move.
It was then that Jack developed a fear of shadows, namely the ones cast by the setting sun in the nursery. In the first, wintry months since our arrival, this had never been a problem because night fell hours before bedtime. But in the weeks following the “spring forward” of Daylight Savings Time, there was plenty of light to creep through the top and sides of the blackout curtains in the nursery to create dark bands on the walls and ceiling next to the window. Where Jack’s crib also happened to be.
“Da!” Jack would cry, frantically pointing and softly keening in a way that broke my heart.
“They’re just shadows, and shadows are your friends,” I would say, making a mental note to revise this guidance by the time Jack was old enough to be walking near alleyways by himself.
Jack would have none of it. He would continue to point at the darkness, even after we had turned out the light and the entire room was engulfed with it. It was actually kind of creepy, watching him point at invisible boogeymen.
But that was nothing compared to the creepiness of his outbursts in the middle of the night. Post-midnight fits of screaming became regular occurrences in our last weeks in the rental house. There would be no ramping up; just immediate, full-on freak outs that would scare the hell out of me. What was worse, though, was going into the nursery. The harsh shaft of light from the hallway would illuminate his small frame sitting at the foot of his crib, legs dangling through the bars, staring straight out and sobbing. No matter how quickly I ran, he would be in that position by the time I got to him, even when it took me no longer than three seconds.
As I gave him a hug and comforted him, I would ask him what was wrong. He would emphatically point at the wall above the head of his crib, and say, “Un! Un! Un!” This began to get unnerving after the first few times, and I began to wonder if he was actually seeing something that I was not.
During the move, various folks pitched in to watch the kids while Lara and I did all the backbreaking labor. Therefore, there wasn’t much shuttling of Jack and Emme between the rental house and the new house; they stayed at the former until their rooms were ready at the latter. Which is why we thought it would be a special treat to take them back to the rental house one more time before we turned in the keys. We had been in the new house a few days, but we needed to take care of a few final items. We thought they’d get a kick out of seeing the place almost completely empty, like it had been when we first came to Fayetteville six months before.
But as we pulled into the driveway of the rental house—amidst Emmeline’s jaunty chant of “Old house! Old house!”—a loud cry came from the back seat of the car. Jack had taken one look at our former home and burst into tears. He was not only upset; he was terrified. He didn’t calm down until Lara and I had explained several times that we were only visiting and would stay at the new house from now on.
We’ll never know what it was that set him off like that. But my mind instantly leapt to those nighttime sprints of the previous weeks, Jack’s strange position in his crib, and his urgent warnings about the shadowed plaster above his bed. Maybe being forced to move wasn’t such a bad thing after all.