While waiting for my daughter’s swim lesson to begin, we were sitting on a bench that has a view of the pool and the classes already in session. During a moment of distraction, I suddenly clapped my hands together, cupping them as if holding something small and delicate. Of course, when Aitch noticed this she was quickly by my side asking breathlessly, "What is it?"
I whispered back, "It’s a spider!"
She let out a frightened squeak, pulled her hands and arms back into herself, and skittered back from me a few steps. "Throw it away!" she commanded.
"Oh, no. Why don’t you come and take a look. He won’t hurt you."
She locked one of her elbows so her hand was straight out in front of her, shielding herself from my still clasped hands. I tried coaxing some more and she only protested more, but each time taking a tiny step closer, sometimes pacing a half-circle perimeter around me, possibly in hopes of catching a safer glimpse of the non-existent spider protected in my grasp.
When she was within arm’s reach I suddenly threw open my hands as if I was throwing a ball to her. She jumped back again and let out an ear-piercing screech that could have peeled wallpaper, which she cut short when she gasped accusingly, "Mama! There’s no spider!" She giggled as I wiggled my fingers like the legs of a spider towards her face.
I told the story to Sparring Partner who simply called me mean as he laughed.
That night – actually well into the small hours of the next day – Aitch woke up crying, "Mom! Moooomm! Mom!!" I found her sitting up in her bed, positioned on her knees. "What’s wrong, hon?" "I had a bad dream about spiders!"
I fluffed her pillow, smoothed the blankets, and patted the mattress gently, "The nightmare is all over. Let’s lie back down, OK?" She shook her head with enough force to send wisps of her long hair back and forth across her face, many sticking to her sweaty brow. I smoothed them away, careful not to tangle them in her eyelashes. "Would you like me to lay down with you?" She answered with a silent nod. I borrowed her ladybug pillow and laid down on the very edge of the bed planning to peel away easily once she was settled, again patting the mattress beside me.
She shook her head, but this time more gently, her eyes drowsily half-way closed. I lifted my arms to her and she curled up on top of me, her head, now cool and dry, resting heavily in the nook of my shoulder, and the length of her body on mine. Her legs and feet resting at an angle to mine and on her bed. I pulled her blanket up over us and wrapped my arms around her, sighing with resolution and exhaustion, taking in the faint smell of chlorine, shampoo and perspiration. Her deep breaths signaling she had already fallen back asleep.
My joke earlier in the day had backfired on me. And yet it hadn’t.