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Disappointing Elmo


He looks so innocent; he makes you want to protect him. Last night, I failed him. I had the bucket as close to my little guy as it could get, but he still managed to throw up all over Elmo.

Now, I can hear him (Elmo, not my little guy), the *thunk, thunk, thunk* of his hard, plastic eyeballs clanking against the inside of the dryer.

The kiddo is better today. He just high-fived his own foot, because he’s four and weird, like a four year old. Thought the day was filled with bland food, there were lots of giggles, goofiness and smiles. But if I feel like I failed Elmo last night, it’s nothing to how I failed my kiddo.

Nobody ever warns you about how terrifying it is to be a parent. Maybe they know that doing so would result in the end of the human race. Or maybe they do tell you, but there are just no words convincing enough to convey the straight-frigid panicky terror that accompanies having a kid.

There is science behind that terror, the love hormone oxytocin, the genetic drive to carry on the lineage, the chemical reactions that lead to this ferocious protective fear. But I can’t really accept that this is science. It is magic, possibly dark sorcery, and it feels too good and bad to care or even try to understand it. Those little chubby cheeks and those trusting eyes, that laugh, those hugs… they have me under a soul-deep spell.

When something bypasses my vigilance, no matter how minor, it feels like failing. That threatening terror when it mixes with thick, late darkness, can make any parent crazy. The deep chill night makes even a cold or a tummy ache seem treacherous. Last night was no big deal (knock wood — and you know I did). By two it had worked itself out, and he was sleeping soundly.

The time before that, it was a virus that caused a breathing problem; it was a trip to the emergency room, then all night watching, and putting medicine in his nebulizer and gripping his hand maybe too firmly. It was being too tired to think and to terrified to sleep. It was a night of constantly checking, bargaining and fighting blackness. That night was a month long. Never has the sun been so slow to arrive or so welcome.

That night gave birth to this paragraph which made its way into my work in progress:

“It usually happened after dark, during a night that decided to be bleak and relentless. Some nights were like that. They were greedy and parasitic. They clawed at the hands of clocks dragging them backward, devouring minutes or even hours that belonged to the daytime. She had been trapped in some acrid, poisonous, predawn hours for so long that when the morning finally broke, she was sure it was just part of another cruel dream.”

My character and I understood each other so well after that night. Neither of us was thrilled to.

Tonight (knock wood — and you know I did), my son sleeps soundly, and once Elmo stops clanking around the dryer, he will be none the worse for the wear. And tonight I say a prayer, whisper a spell, and send a bright light to any parent who is trapped in a terrible night. May dawn be prompt and bring joyous relief.

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