I slept with a night light every night until I was 12. And not one of those four-watt jobs. I mean a lamp that pumped out something like 40 – 60 watts of light into my childhood bedroom while I slept.
I was afraid of the dark until the summer of 1989. I attended a summer camp that didn’t have electricity in the bunks. And I don’t mean no overhead lights. I mean not even a single electrical outlet! I slept with my flashlight for the first four weeks of sleepaway camp. By the middle of the summer, I stopped hugging my flashlight like a stuffed animal and set it on the shelf behind my head. I didn’t like the dark for a long time, but by 1990, I stopped wasting electricity and switched over to a four-watt night light in my bedroom.
More than 25 years after I’ve gotten over my fear, I have to admit I didn’t understand what was so scary about Indian Echo Caverns, where I took Isabelle on a tour with one of her preschool friends today. After all, there are over 1,700 lights inside of the limestone cave. And I was right there, holding her hand the entire time.
Her unease turned to discomfort when the guide turned out the cavern lights (with advance warning) so we could experience true darkness. I held both of her hands just before the lights went off. Three or four seconds into the darkness she cried, “I wanna go home!”
The guide sensed her unease and tried to placate her by saying something. It didn’t work. She cried again. “I don’t like this!”
I bent over, felt her curls touch my lips, and kissed her head. “You’re going to be fine. The lights will be back on in just a minute.”
It was probably only 20 more seconds, but it felt like we were in the darkness for an eternity. As soon as the lights flooded back on, I looked down at Isabelle. Her body was leaning against my belly. She cocked her face towards the ceiling and just stared at me. She wasn’t crying, but she looked so small. And then she smiled a half-smile and said, “I didn’t like that, Mommy.”
“I know, sweetie. But you’re fine now. And it’s light again.”
She recovered quickly. She asked to leave a couple more times, but made it to the end of the tour without any real hysterics.
I don’t know if I would’ve been as brave as she was when I was her age.