“I can’t sleep.”
This often-heard delay-of-game came from our 9-year-old son, Luke, just minutes after I tucked him in bed, assured him of my love and alluded heavily to the fact that I would see him in the morning, many hours after watching the season premiere of “Dexter.” And not one minute sooner.
“You haven’t been in bed long enough to sleep,” I pointed out to him. “Why don’t you put your head on your pillow, start counting backwards from 300 and see what happens?”
His bottom lip quivered. This was not going to be an easy fix.
“What’s on your mind?” I sighed. “Dexter” was going to have to wait. I spent all summer trying to rid myself of nightmares thanks to John Lithgow’s nauseating performance last season as Miami’s newest serial killer and desperately needed some closure to the story line so I could once again be home alone without fearing Lithgow’s creepy face.
He took a breath and wiped tears from his eyes. “It’s just … being a grown-up looks hard,” he (correctly) stated. “You have to work, you have to make dinner, you have to clean your house.” Overwhelmed with looming responsibilities, he bit his bottom lip. The stress of adulthood was simply too much for the boy to bear.
This was not at all what I expected. Weird noises, robbers, mean sisters — I am a professional at this point in dealing with most childhood fears. I have single-handedly eliminated the monsters under his bed by removing the bed frame and squashing them with his box spring; I have safeguarded the entire neighborhood against ghosts by casting a spell guaranteed to keep would-be haunters away until August 14, 2054.
But I was not prepared for the very real fear of finding and maintaining employment, especially for one whose résumé currently consists of Scout badges and Mario Kart.
“Yeah, being a grown-up isn’t easy,” I started, validating his fears. “I cry about it all the time. There’s work, laundry, cooking, mortgage, car repairs, health insurance …”
He laid his head down.
“… the economy, global warming, terrorism, poverty, disease, genocide …”
My mouth would not stop moving.
“And just wait until you become a parent, trying to keep your kids healthy, safe and educated, loved and self-assured, off drugs and YouTube. You will always wonder if you are doing the right thing, if your next decision is going to be the one that irreversibly changes the course of their lives for better or for worse …”
I was depressing myself. I needed to refocus before (more) gray hairs and wrinkles appeared. More importantly, the suddenly not-so-scary anymore “Dexter” was waiting.
“But right now, you are 9 years old, and the only thing you have to worry about is being 9,” I reminded us both as I looked down to find my little man-child asleep. It seemed his concern had turned to boredom. “You can deal with being a grown-up when you get there.”
— Julie Dunlap can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.