Silent night

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My daughter finds it hard to get to sleep. Long out of babyhood and an admirer of Hillary Duff and Harry Potter, she still demands the company of a parent for the interminable, final half-hour of her night when she falls asleep.

She tosses and turns, kicks, thrashes and grabs my hand and often seems to want to curl up in my lap, as though it were years ago and she were still small enough to cuddle in a rocking chair. She hates to go to sleep; she itches and wakes if she gets too hot, but if she gets too cold, she'll wake, too, and both events will leave her with a nightmare.

I have never had the heart to deny her those last long minutes of contact. Walking out is my chief response to bad behavior, but she knows, and I know, that eventually I or her mother will be back to admonish and comfort her, when even the worst gale of misbehavior, tantrum, and tears is done.

Everybody tells me this is wrong.

Kids are supposed to be hardened to sleeping alone in their infancy; the parents' failure to do this is bad for the child and bad for the parents themselves [the advoce is correct, I'm sure]. Yet there I sit, staring out her half-curtained window at the pool of color the security lights make on the lawn, with her small, sweaty hand gripping mine, waiting for her to go to sleep and thinking -- too much.

Tonight I am thinking about the adults grieving for friends and children in Russia, the ones killed in an exceptionally cruel act of madness at, for God's sake, a middle school. I am thinking about the explosives that kill children in Iraq, Israel and the West Bank, and about the cruelty of adults who can dismiss their loss as the price of making a point. I can't help thinking that no one can guarantee something horrific won't happen again in the United States.

My sense of perspective, which says Cleveland might get a free pass from some horrors on the grounds that if someone blew up this long-disrespected city, people would make jokes about it, is a thin shield. Fears enough haunt the city. Home-invasion robberies. Hundreds of sex offenders, newly released. A couple of girls disappearing every year. Shaky schools, bravely doing their best. Poverty and a threadbare social fabric. At night, when I am tired, it is easy to remember everything that is ominous. My daughter can laugh at bogeymen, but they're out there, driving around, eating hamburgers and breathing -- just like her father, but different.

And it's MY duty to try to make her feel safe in this last dark span before sleep carries her off.

I don't know how much she learns of the news. We don't go out of our way to tell her; she was young at the time of 9/11, but she had nightmares about it with the rest of us. We lock the doors; we pay for the lights; we din into her a multitude of things to avoid (Maybe there should be Grimm fairy tales for an urban setting). And then again, there needs to be a time to find peace, to set aside fear, to face -- either inward or outward, I'm not sure it matters -- with calm, and to try to create at least the appearance of safe place, for her, if not for myself.

And so I don't begrudge her a hand, if she must hold one. Sometimes we both benefit.


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