Last night I babysat my little friend D, who is almost four. (Last March I took care of D for three days while her parents were in the hospital having her little brother, W. You can read about my great pseudo-parenting skills here and my less-great, thoroughly-exhausted pseudo-parenting skills here.)
In the middle of an edge-of-your-seat game of “hall ball” (a.k.a. rolling a ball back and forth in the hallway), D stopped and said, “I have a story in my backpack!” Then she trotted off to get it.
The “story” consisted of D’s words, written in the handwriting of her daycare teacher. It was more of a poem than a story, if you want to nit-pick. It touched on the idea of ducks, briefly mentioned the dinosaur museum, and had a persistent refrain of “I want my mommy”. It was very good. The story-poem ended with, “These are all the thinks I had in the middle of the night.”
How beautiful is that? The thinks I had in the middle of the night.
When D’s parents came home, after she was asleep, I showed them the story and they were able to fill in some of the blanks. D recently went to the dinosaur museum; she had a lot of questions there about what happens when you die; she often remembers when her mommy and W went on a trip and D missed them. And, most relevant of all, D’s dad told me that the night before I babysat, D woke up several times, unexplainably inconsolable.
Well, no wonder. She had all these thinks, some of them pretty hefty ones, and no way to deal with them at two o’clock in the morning.
I also have a lot of thinks in the middle of the night. Some are brilliant, some are bothersome, some are just plain weird. Most of my thinks happen in those small moments just before sleep arrives, when my brain is powering off and shutting down all the applications still running. During this process, it finds things that haven’t been properly dealt with and sends out alert notifications. This thought has not been saved. Discard it? I think for a moment, then often rouse myself to scribble the idea on the notepad by my bed before allowing my brain to power down completely. Sometimes the alert is more urgent. You’ve placed a large amount of information on the clipboard. Are you sure you want to delete it? These are the nights when I either have to get up and write—really write, not just scribble—or else toss and turn for the next few hours as I try to convince myself that I don’t need to write those thinks down.
When I don’t want any notifications, when I just want to sleep and not have any thinks about anything, I upload a meaningless task for my brain to do instead. Last night, to keep myself from writing this blog post in my head, I tried to think of a kind of bird that started with every letter of the alphabet. Albatross, Blue jay, Cardinal, Duck… I skipped Q and fell asleep somewhere around T, but I do remember thinking Turtledove just before I drifted off.
I am an adult (for the most part) and I have adapted coping mechanisms for dealing with the thinks in the middle of the night—I have a pad and pen on my nightstand, and an unending list of nouns to alphabetize—but even I still struggle sometimes. I can’t imagine what it must be like to be three years old and awake in the middle of the night, with all the thinks of your whole world bearing down on you and no way to adequately communicate them.
I’m happy D’s teacher helped her put her thinks to paper. That girl’s going to be a writer someday.