The Night Shift

sometimes i think hot pants and i grew up in entirely different households. she is the baby of the bunch, a much adored and thoroughly adorable little girl who’d go prancing through a pile of autumn leaves and emerge with only one shoe or regularly end her supper by crawling under the kitchen table and enjoying make believe play among the legs of her family.

hot pants and my younger brother, the little stinker, were dubbed “the pishes,” as in, babies who pee in their pants, a nickname that stuck well into their toilet trained years. while sweet little hot pants was basking in stephen foster singing tutorials from our father, my older brothers and i were on k.p. duty. after one of mah’s more severe mini nervous breakdowns, daddy broke the clean up news to the older three with the creation of 1, 2, and 3 – divvied up kitchen chores that rotated on sunday nights. this allowed mother to have her e.l.d. – emergency lie down – on the den sofa in peace and quiet.

mah truly loved having a houseful of kids, but she could have done without feeding, cleaning up after or generally managing us. when little h.p. was done with her nightly bath, invariably drawn by either  me or mr. pupcake, my irish twin brother and personal leader, she’d called out “i’m alll waaashed uuuuup,” whereupon pupcake or i would remove her from the tub, dry her off and get her into her jammies. soon she’d be off to dreamland. (why she could step into, but not out of, the tub remains a mystery.)

and that’s when my night was just beginning. i have a long history of bad dreams, rooms three feet deep in heaps of spiders, that sort of thing. and nothing could rouse mah once her head hit the pillow. this left me no choice but to sprint to daddy’s side of the connubial bed, where he would provide two inches of sheet and one inch of blanket for an all too brief cuddle. then he’d tell me, “you’re fine. go back to your room.” and i’d have to race back there all by my lonesome. after a while, even those few minutes at his side weren’t worth the trek, so i took to cowering under my covers, invoking the one being whose relentlessly cheerful demeanor could calm me down – mickey mouse. i’d lie there and wonder, “what would mickey do?” i figured he tell himself how dandy life is and what fun the day would bring and i’d will myself back to sleep.

that was my more or less successful nightime m.o. until i read a particularly horrifying life magazine article about the kidnapping of a group of schoolchildren who were kept in a cave until their eventual rescue. that’s all the grisly details i needed to pretty much eliminate sleep from my life. now, not only did i have my bad dreams to contend with, but i felt a sisterly obligation to protect both hot pants and the little stinker. the way i figured, they were too young to understand what being kidnapped was, so it was my duty to be vigilant, listen for the signs of a break in and be prepared to offer myself in their places as a more mature kidnap victim. to facilitate my program, i began sleeping with a flashlight, one ear cocked for the sound of footsteps on the roof or windows being cracked open. i’d force myself out of bed and creep into their rooms, ready to make the sacrifice. honestly, i didn’t sleep for years.

i suppose this was all excellent preparation for parenthood. sassafrass could barely bleat before i had rushed to her crib side. by the time polly klaas was snatched out of her bedroom with her sleepover girlfriends as eyewitnesses, i had sassy snuggled up right next to me. at least i knew where she was. no goddam perv was going to best me. i declare it proudly: i’m a professional night watchman.

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