why Uncle Todd will never again be allowed to put Mary to bed
(originally posted 4/1/2012)
“Why do people needs to sleep?” asked the eight year old girl being put to bed by her uncle. His first time being asked to do so. Quite the honor.
“Do you want the scientific reason or my opinion?” her uncle replied.
Always happy to prolong bedtime festivities she responded with an enthusiastic “Both.”
Always happy to help his niece put off going to sleep and eager to impress; he began with the scientific reason. “Science believes that people need sleep to allow their brains to recover from a long day of thinking.” He struck a very scientific pose and she giggled her appreciation. “Think think think. Sleep sleep sleep.”
“Now why do you think?” she asked.
“Well, I think that when we go to sleep we are actually just practicing dying.”
The giggling not only ended but the look on her face seemed to indicate that it might be some time before she giggled again. The stuffed animal she was holding fell from her hands.
She hopped up on the bed and looked at her uncle. Too young to articulate what she was feeling she simply stared at him like he’d just crash-landed on the planet. Sensing that perhaps more context was required he sat at the edge of her bad and pulled down the covers. He slapped the bed invitingly. “Here, jump in and I’ll explain.”
She jumped in but was not sure she wanted him to explain.
Too old to pick up on the verbal cues of children he began nonetheless.
“You see, nobody knows what happens when you die. It could be that you just wake up somewhere else… or maybe you never wake up.”
Despite his age he realized that perhaps his explanation wasn’t going well. So far it seemed like he’d not only have to leave the light on for her but perhaps invite a few of the country’s leading psychologists to undo the damage he appeared to be doing.
The girl continued to stare mutely at him. While it was certain that this would not be the last time in her life she could be described as being slack-jawed, it was certainly the first. In fact most children don’t have reason to be slack-jawed until well into their teens. He regretted that he did not have his phone with him to capture the moment.
“What we do know is that we’re all going to die. Cease to be. Poof! And the lucky ones get a few moments to savor the lights going out.” He offered a weak smile. “Don’t worry though, you’re young. You’ve got decades before you have to worry about it. But for a minute imagine you’re really old and getting into bed. Knowing that someday soon you will shut your eyes and go to sleep and never open them again.”
His niece did not shut her eyes. They were really not shut. Not only open but super open. Open in such a way that indicated it might be a very long time until they closed again. If ever.
And giggling? If you asked her she would be forced to admit that she not only had no plans in the foreseeable future to giggle, but no longer even remembered what would ever make her want to giggle in the first place.
Seeing that his niece had little interest in pretending that she was eighty he switched gears. “Do you want a glass of water? I’m not exactly sure about bedtime protocol.”
Her head moved slowly side to side. What she clearly needed was a glass of water to be thrown in her face.
“Well then” the uncle said, clapping his hands together and reviewing a job poorly done, “Just picture everyone you love gathered around your bed. Squeezing your hand, stroking your hair and telling you how much they love you. Then just drift off. Ok?” He backed away slowly, watching her pale face for signs of drowsiness. Finding none he closed with “Goodnight then.” He waved, flicked the switch on her My Little Pony light and closed the door behind him.
“Hmmmm” he said to himself and went downstairs to apologize to his sister.