slice of life

Afraid of the Dark in a Cavern

IMG_6933I 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.

Crystal Lake is one of the three lakes inside of Indian Echo Caverns. #nofilter
Crystal Lake is one of the three lakes inside of Indian Echo Caverns. #nofilter
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17 thoughts on “Afraid of the Dark in a Cavern

  1. I’m with Isabelle on this one. I could sit under the stars and moon by the ocean for hours. But, just the thought of being in a cavern with all the lights off makes me feel breathless. I’d be saying, “I want to go home, too.” How articulate and precious at the same time. That she was able to express herself so clearly in those moments of fear is wonderful. And those words, “I want to go home,” are as profound as they are simple. That just says it all!

  2. I love that vivid little image of curly haired one staring up at you! I’m not a spelunker and have more anxiousness about being underground than the dark, but holding hands with Mommy makes everything a little bit better. 🙂

  3. I love that line “and not one of those 4 watt jobs.” (Ha!) Funny how we try so hard to help our kids be brave and strong and want them to not have to face the worries we ourselves faced. Isabelle was very brave with your reassuring presence!

  4. I would have liked a night light, but they did not exist in my home country. Perhaps it was a good thing |I slept in the same room with my parents for the first 10 years!

  5. Oh my gosh Stacey… From your slice I can just feel the tension and the balancing act you were experiencing as you guided Isabelle though this uncomfortable moment.

  6. I love how at the end you said that you don’t know if you could have been as brave as she had been, having experienced that fear when you were smaller too. Nice slice.

  7. There is the dark of night and then there is the total blackness of subterranean dark. I’m with Isabelle. I don’t mind the dark of night, but being immersed in total blackness makes me uncomfortable.

  8. Your story of Isabelle in the caves (which os a very cool trip!!!) brought back a memory form first grade. we were studying dinosaurs and was totally into it. I was thrilled to learn we had a field trip to the Royal Ontario Museum to see the dinosaur skeletons. I could hardly contain my excitement not he bus. And then we walked into the exhibit hall and I was overwhelmed. A giant skeleton dominated the center of the hall and I froze. Awed and terrified, I felt I might faint. I wanted to leave and go on at the same time. That was over 40 years ago and I remember it as though it was yesterday. Maybe Isabelle will still remember the Indian Echo Caverns in 40 years, too.

  9. I guess they always turn out the lights on cave tours, don’t they? For those afraid of the dark, not a good thing. It is so dark! I’m glad Isabelle got through it so well, & you showed her how to be calm. We do remember those childhood fears, don’t we?

  10. Stacey,
    Loved your beginning description of your night light (what it was and wasn’t) and the fact that you ended by going full circle back to a “what if” type of response for yourself! Great story telling!!!

    And great job, Isabella! She used sentences every time . . . and under total stress. How great that she can have a variety of experiences NOW with a trusted mom!!!

    1. That is what I’m MOST proud of, Fran. My Dad read this slice this morning and he, too, was so impressed she communicated her fears in words. That was so hard for her to do even a year ago because of her CAS. It’s amazing to witness that kind of growth. (Even if we had to go way underground to do it.)

  11. I think she was brave — I always get scared in caves, but I am thinking about bats… you might not mention that to her. I have to tell you Isabelle is one of my favorites characters -I love her stories and being a part of her life. Thank you for sharing her with me.

  12. She is brave. I’m glad she survived the experience. I’m glad you survived the experience. I get scared in the dark, dark sometimes too and all of our rooms upstairs have nightlights. It creeped me out how dark it was last summer at boyscout camp. Another recent dark story-I was in the no-longer-used school building. The main electrical lighting has now been cut off. I had to go to the restroom and there were no lights and no windows. I was shaking the whole time-I had to use the flashlight on my iphone to make sure I could make it. SCARED!

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