Tucking in the Boys
But bedtime is when kids say the best things. When they believe in the most outlandish dreams and plan the most elaborate futures. They'll be scubadiving scientists who live in houses made of shells! They'll make movies! They'll catch bad guys! They'll fly!
Richie, for instance, thinks that if he steps outside and yells, "Justice Leak!" Superman, Wonder Woman, Flash and Johnny Jones (I don't know who that is either) will descend from the skies and ask him to come with them to ward off an international crisis.
He gets a far off look in his eyes and says, "I but. I but. I but. I but Iceman will come and Batman and Robin will save the day!"
He throws his head back on his pillow and looks up at the ceiling with a big smile.
"Ha. Ha," he says. "Batman and Robin save the day!"
To Richie, Batman and Robin are the most amazing superheros ever, despite the fact that Johnny tries to convince him that Batman doesn't fly. He just glides. Richie denies that unequivocally.
While laughing at Richie's gullability, Johnny hopes that if he keeps his eyes open long enough, he'll catch a glimpse of the small people living under his seashell table. He made a tiny room for this family in a shoebox and awaits a chance meeting at night. Their intense shyness keeps them hiding in the basement by day.
In contrast, grownups face a sea of worries at bedtime. "I forgot to call so and so. Is it too late to call? Oh shoot. Where is the envelope I have to mail? Is it late? How will my meeting go at work? Will so and so get better? How can I get everything done tomorrow? What if this? What if that?" Etc. Etc. Sleep experts say people should face each worry by inhaling and exhaling, "Not now." Or they can list all their worries and sign off on them, meaning they can't think about them or add to them until morning.
Kids do not have this luxury. Their worries at bedtime are more pressing. They think a monster is going to eat them. Or a bat is going to bite them and turn them into a vampire. Or a tiger is going to escape the zoo and wind up, where else? in their bedroom.
For every farfetched dream of revolutionizing superherodom by making a movie about Anything Man and Nothing Boy, there is an outlandish nightmare about a crumbling bridge and snapping alligators.
Johnny sometimes pulls his sheet over his head to avoid seeing monsters. He has nightmares before he even falls asleep. Richie refuses to sleep on the left side of the bed, believing bad guys lurk between the matress and wall.
I've read that these dreams and fears express the struggle against the badness within. But I just don't think people are that bad. Not as kids, anyway. I think the dreams warn kid about the badness outside. It clues them in so that if they ever see a wild growling alligator, they sense the danger and run instead of saying, "Aw. Look at the cute lizard. What a pretty smile!"
When the boys wind down, we say prayers. Johnny prays for every person, place and thing in the whole world, thus saving the time it would take to name people individually.
Richie alternates between praying for others and himself.
He says, "I hope Aunt Kathy feels better and finds her necklace." (He mixes her up with his Great Aunt Mary, whose jewelry was stolen.) Then he names various PG-13 superhero movies that he prays he'll be allowed to watch.
These movies used to scare him. But the other day, Richie smiled as he watched Penguin growl his evil plans.
"That's okay, mommy," he said. "Batman will save the day."
If only all dreams had such happy endings. We would have to believe that the world worked the same way.