Defending Darkness…

When my four year old refuses to go to sleep, because he’s afraid of the darkness, what do I say? Do I turn on the lights for him? Of course not. “Go to sleep,” I tell him.  ”There’s nothing to be afraid of. Dream bright dreams.”

What does he say to that? “Stay with me. It isn’t scary when you’re here.”

And because I’m a huge sucker, I do stay. I sit beside him in the dark room. In about thirty-seven seconds, he’s snoring.  Of course he is. Because the scary thing isn’t the darkness at all. The scary thing is that it makes him feel alone.

Kids are people, and people are messed up sometimes. Not just kids who’ve been traumatized, but all kids end up a mess of one sort or another. Don’t you remember high school?

Dark books can be a mirror in that mess. They can decode and demystify. They can undercut the aloneness. Sometimes, I suppose, they can also amplify it. But puzzling out what the dark mess means (or doesn’t) is important. Figuring out how to be a person even when there’s darkness within or around you—that takes a willingness to stare the shadows down.  Leaving the lights on won’t teach a kid to handle the shadows.

We don’t need to do away with dark books. We need to write better ones. And we also need to be honest with ourselves about our children. We need to believe that in the end, they’ll be okay. Naturally, we need to pay attention when they’re not, but we need to accept that if there’s a real problem, it’s not a book that caused it.

And when there is darkness (which there will be), I think it is a good thing to keep our kids company. To sit with them, keeping the aloneness at bay, so that they can learn to sleep. So that they can be ready when we trust ourselves to slip quietly down the stairs.

So that we can be ready too.


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