Last night Dylan woke me up with his typical grousing sort of complaint and I did my sleepwalk-stumble into his room, re-arranged his blankets, gave him a kiss, and zombie’d my way back to bed. Not 20 minutes later, he woke me up again, this time with an escalating scream of pure fear. I tossed back the covers so I wouldn’t get tangled during my rapid exit (a practiced, fluid movement at this point, I’m sorry to say) and rushed to his side.

“What’s the matter, Pookie?” I asked, wiping tears off his face. He sobbed that there was a bug trying to get him. A butterfly, and it wanted to bite him, and he was scared.

I sighed. Not again. He’d just had this exact nightmare a week or so ago, screaming about a bug biting him and scaring him. Do we really have to add night terrors to our wee-hour issues with small Dylan?

I patted him, smoothed the hair on his head, whispered that there was no bug. He’d been dreaming, that’s all. There’s no bug, I promise, Boo. I crouched next to his little toddler bed, ignoring the creaks and complaints in my knees, and rubbed his hands. I was just about to get up and tiptoe out of the room when he opened his eyes and fixated on the ceiling.

“Dere’s anudder one,” he said, wonderingly.

I looked up to see an enormous black moth flitting around the dimmed lamp high on the wall. As I stared, it performed a bumbling, jerky circle midair, swooping startlingly close to my face, before landing back on the wall, wings outspread.

“Dat’s a scary butterfly,” Dylan said.

“Motherfucker,” I said.

The moth was eventually dispatched to the Great Round File in the sky, Dylan was re-settled, and I was back in my own bed. I couldn’t fall asleep, though. I kept thinking about the lies we tell our kids. Boogeymen in the closets. Promises we can’t keep.

Everything’s going to be okay.

I won’t let anything hurt you.

Mommy and Daddy will keep you safe.

I know: just a moth. But someday it won’t be.


40 Responses to “Monster under the bed”

  1. Lisa B on September 30th, 2010 8:48 am

    Ouch. How do parents wrap their minds around this? I’m not a parent and the idea that something could happen to your baby – anyone’s baby – horrifies me. I can’t imagine.

  2. agirlandaboy on September 30th, 2010 8:55 am

    Man, that just guts me.

  3. Life of a Doctor's Wife on September 30th, 2010 9:04 am

    Oh man, this makes my heart hurt.

  4. Tia on September 30th, 2010 9:12 am

    A good momma, yes you are.

  5. samantha jo campen on September 30th, 2010 9:14 am

    Oh poor muffin! Dude, that WOULD be scary but seriously, I’m glad he pointed it out so you could take care of it.

    And yes, we do lie to our children. I tell Theo all the time that we will always keep him safe but. . .it’s the ‘but’ part that makes me want to throw up.

  6. Maura on September 30th, 2010 9:26 am

    My 17 year old now drives and is applying to college, I no longer can “really” keep him safe. I wish I could.

  7. Jess on September 30th, 2010 9:26 am

    wow, you really know how to make a momma’s heart hurt! you are an amazing writer.

  8. Eric's Mommy on September 30th, 2010 9:33 am

    I was just thinking about stuff like that the other day. Eric had to go to the Dr. to have a suspicious mole removed from his arm. I wanted to tell him about what was going to happen, since I had the same thing done years ago. I was going to tell him, it won’t hurt etc. etc. but I told him how it is. He was worried about the novocaine so I told him, yes it will hurt a bit but then you will be numb and I promise you won’t feel a thing. The novocaine did hurt him but after that I was right he didn’t feel a thing. I think it would have been way worse if I had lied and told him that it wouldn’t hurt at all, and then he wouldn’t expect it to hurt and it would.

  9. Anne on September 30th, 2010 9:37 am

    Aghh, I think about this all the time…it’s especially bad now because two months ago one of my daughter’s friends from daycare drowned, and so I was faced with trying to explain death to a 3 year old who doesn’t really understand the concept of “permanence.” What I have come up with is that I tell her, “We will do everything we possibly can to keep you safe,” and “Most people live till they’re really old,” and “Mom and Dad are doing everything we can to stay healthy and keep you healthy too, so we will all live to be very old,” and “Even if something happens to us, there will always, ALWAYS be someone to take care of you who loves you.”

    And, “No matter what, we will always love you, forever.”

  10. maggie on September 30th, 2010 9:46 am

    I think about this too, but what is the alternative? Think about the nightmares they would have if they knew about all the big, bad, scary stuff in the real world.

  11. KKF on September 30th, 2010 9:53 am

    My folks never promised to keep me safe. They always said “We work very hard to keep you safe, it’s what we want most.” and that was cool because when things went funky, it wasn’t like they failed, it was like… whoa, that was REALLY funky if it beat all their hard work against it. It helped me get a pretty balanced view about tragedy and crisis situations pretty early on – where instead of accidents being someone’s fault, they were more about how people just can’t get it right sometimes even though they want to.
    Bear in mind, I was a REALLY unusual kid.

  12. Nolita Morgan on September 30th, 2010 10:06 am

    [Note to self: check to be sure there are NO spiders before saying so when Emi has one of her spider nightmares (she’s them periodically since she was Dylan’s age). It’s good to know that he wasn’t just imagining the scary butterflies and how awesome was it that mommy was able to protect him from the moth? Good mommy!

  13. Christine on September 30th, 2010 10:16 am

    Something very similar happened to my daughter the other day. She woke up claiming there was a bee in the room. I assumed it was a dream, and eventually soothed her back to sleep. The next night, I realised it must have been a mosquito, and I can’t hear them any more. Poor girl.

  14. MRW on September 30th, 2010 10:22 am

    A few years ago, my son and I were playing hide and seek and I couldn’t find him for a bit. When I finally did, he was actually a little worried so I told him “I’ll always find you!” And then my brain did one of those unwelcome flashes and thought about the kids that go missing and aren’t found and thanks for THAT brain! The holding close/keeping safe/letting go/becoming independent struggle just gets harder the older the kids get. Ugh.

  15. simon on September 30th, 2010 10:24 am

    I always try to tell Wombat that we will take care of him as best we can, but that someday, some rotten girl will reach into his chest cavity, yank out his heart, take a bite out of it, light the rest of it on fire, and then piss on the remaining ashes before she stomps it into dust. But he should enjoy everything that leads up to that moment, and we’ll help to soothe him when it happens.

    I think that it’s good to create realistic expectations.

  16. Lawyerish on September 30th, 2010 10:49 am

    Oh, this made me gasp, then cry. My heart hurts.

    Felicity is little enough that I still have that urge sometimes (driven by hormones, no doubt) to whisk her away to some remote place where we could live safely forever, all by ourselves.

    Or does that feeling ever go away?

  17. Sunny on September 30th, 2010 11:03 am

    You showed him how fast you’ll be there for him and when you saw the problem you kicked ass. Don’t beat yourself up. I highly doubt he’s going to swap you for any other mama in the whole, wide, mother-f’ing world.

  18. Sarah on September 30th, 2010 11:54 am

    My hubby tries to soothe our 2 year old with “everything is okay, you are fine.” I prefer, “what’s wrong baby, can mama fix it?” Sometimes I can, sometimes I can’t. Like this morning when he asked me repeatedly to stay home instead of mama going to work. Yeah, that’ll kick my ass any day of the week.

  19. Marie Green on September 30th, 2010 12:05 pm

    Dude, I’m totally freaked out by moths. I don’t know why, but I do remember one swooping at me while trying to sleep once too. I so feel Dylan’s pain. I think I continue to be creeped out by them because they DO flutter so disturbingly CLOSE and I just HATE THAT.

    I hate thinking about not being able to keep my kids safe, too. My anxious daughter makes the lying about it all the more difficult. She needs constant reassurance, often for things I’m not sure I can promise her.

  20. Jen on September 30th, 2010 12:08 pm

    So beautifully written. I’ve forwarded this to 10 friends. I have the same feelings in my heart when I look at my 3 little boys.

  21. angelica on September 30th, 2010 12:38 pm

    fantastically well written. a simple, straight stab to the heart.

  22. Marolyn on September 30th, 2010 1:01 pm

    I feel his pain, poor little guy. I HATE moths… they seriously scare the shit outta me. Hold ’em tight before they are old enough to wiggle away.

  23. Sarah Lena on September 30th, 2010 3:45 pm

    May all the nightmares be as easily caught, you know?

    And yes, cause it’s all about me, WHEN DO THEY START LEARNING TO USE A FREAKING BLANKET? I can’t take the “MOMMA? I’M SO COOOOOLD” anymore when he has TWO FREAKING BLANKETS.

  24. Amy on September 30th, 2010 5:12 pm

    that is hysterical!! Especially given our recent episode with the baby rat that our kitty brought into the house….the LIVE baby rat. Yikes.

    By the way…I made the applesauce bread recipe you posted awhile back and took it for snack at my son’s kindergarten. I’ve already gotten two emails asking for the recipe. I provided it but also pointed them to your blog because I think they will like the laughs and tears as much as their kids liked the applesauce bread!

  25. Linda on September 30th, 2010 7:12 pm

    Amy: I’m glad to hear that! I make that bread all the freaking time around here, Dylan eats about five enormous slices a DAY.

  26. Shawna on September 30th, 2010 8:54 pm

    You mean you don’t keep a giant butterfly net handy to catch and release large fluttery things should they get in your house in the wee hours? Amateur.

    Just kidding of course. Well, with the snide-ness. I really do keep a net like that around, but I grew up in an old house where bats and birds would routinely get in.

  27. Sarah on September 30th, 2010 9:28 pm

    If only all monsters were so easy to dispatch of. I completely agree…some monsters are so much easier than others. Just like not every boo-boo can be kissed away. I hate it. I hate it ever so much.

  28. Laura on September 30th, 2010 9:46 pm

    Ugh, I’m going through this with my 5 year old. He’s at the stage where he realizes that death is permanent which has brought on another round of separation anxiety (not as bad as when he was younger though!) – and to compund that, I am a single parent so whenever he goes to spend time with his dad, he always tells me that he’s afraid that he’s never going to see me again and I tell him “oh of course we will see each other again in a few days…I promise” That’s the hardest part because I know I shouldn’t promise something that I don’t have that much control over – it’s a very tough thing.

  29. Victoria on September 30th, 2010 9:51 pm

    Hugs all round

  30. Cheryl S. on October 1st, 2010 6:21 am

    Ugh. My daughter is 5 and has started asking about death. I keep telling her she doesn’t have to worry, that mommy and daddy and Jessica will be together forever. I know it’s a lie. It hurts me to say it, but it hurts worse to think what her reaction would be if I told her the truth. She’s not ready for it (and neither am I).

  31. Leandra on October 1st, 2010 6:39 am

    My daughter always wakes up with nightmares about flies (horrible, right?) but the other night it was butterflies. She was convinced there was one in her room and kept staring at the ceiling as I put her back to bed. I looked all over, fully expecting to find a moth as you did, but nothing. She is terrified of the moths that love to hang out in their bathroom for some reason. I have to go on a moth killing mission (or sometimes it’s a rescue) before she’ll even go in there.

  32. babelbabe on October 1st, 2010 6:51 am

    this post is terrific. parenthood summed up in a few paragraphs.

    wait, what? applesauce bread. link to recipe, since i can’t find it, please? Thankyousoverymuch.

  33. joaaanna on October 1st, 2010 7:10 am

    Great post.

    You painted such a vivid picture, in my head a little movie was created. I can just see the trailer… a mommy walking towards her child, soothing him gently, then a close-up of his face as he stares at the ceiling… “Dere’s anudder one,”


  34. Amanda on October 1st, 2010 8:43 am

    Like a sucker punch to the gut, this one. Sigh.

  35. Lena on October 1st, 2010 11:45 am

    Oh no you didn’t just go *there*! Yep, you did. They way I look at it, its our job to make them feel safe, even if its a paper thin truth.

    I recently wrote about my own Monster under the bed

  36. Juliet on October 1st, 2010 12:44 pm

    Please, please, please add sharing buttons to your blog. Most of your posts I’d like to share on facebook. I love your blog!

  37. Accidents on October 1st, 2010 5:56 pm

    Gah. I hate it when I think the kid is just spouting imaginative nonsense or repeating words for the hell of it, then I am racked with guilt a minute later by the proverbial giant motherfucking moth. Recently my partner picked me up from work and we were both grumbling after a long day, and poor H was in the backseat of the car saying “Help, help, help” softly. My partner was like “He probably took off his shoes” and I was like “Everyone just stop talking for a minute” and then when I looked back he was trying to buckle the remaining, unbuckled, portion of his car seat harness. Not finishing buckling him was on my partner, but ignoring his quiet pleas is on me. Sigh.

  38. Josefina on October 2nd, 2010 7:44 am

    Yes, I am crying now. This is a horrible truth. Maybe also wonderful in ways I don’t want to acknowledge.

  39. Jenna on October 4th, 2010 7:13 pm

    If it makes you feel any better, I don’t think that falls under “night terrors”. My middle child was having them, and just stopped a few weeks ago, thank you Jesus. It was really freaky, because they don’t ever really WAKE up, they just start screaming in the middle of the night, and they won’t talk to you. But the good thing is, whatever was scaring them so bad, they don’t remember when they do wake up. So. Not night terrors. Just your kid on a mission for you to never be able to sleep a full night again :)

  40. Rory Boyer on October 25th, 2010 3:22 pm

    I just found your blog while searching google for “Monsters under the bed”.

    I just released an iPhone app called “Monster Meter”, that is designed to help reassure kids that there are no monsters in the room. Although it does not currently search for Moths =)

    for more info check out

    PS Sorry for the spam, I really am just trying to help parents and kids.

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