I Got a Rock

I’ve always been a Halloween girl. My birthday is Oct. 28, so I guess that’s not a surprise. I couldn’t wait to dress up and trick or treat as a kid. I never missed “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” and could even recite more than a few of the lines. Now, as a 45-year-old mom, I love to experience all the ghoulish glories of my favorite holiday vicariously through my children.

Or at least I used to.

I made their costumes by hand (well, I did one year anyway). I covered my shrubs in cobwebs and planted tombstones and skulls in my flowerbeds. Mummies, skeletons and giant spiders welcomed visitors on our porch. The living room looked as if Frankenstein had vomited pumpkins, ghosts and witches all over it. Not a spot in the house went undecorated. Halloween was everywhere.

My little Indian chief, age 3, in his handmade (by Mom) costume

My little princess, age 2 (did I mention I made her costume?)

But this year was different.

I only dug out one bin of decorations from the basement (I have at least five). The porch featured three Pottery Barn-esque clay jack-o’-lanterns and a tasteful copper skeleton. I left the cobwebs to nature, and Frankenstein never even made it out of the crawlspace.

It’s hard to feel, well, Halloween-y when your kids reach the tween and teen years. They want to trick or treat alone or at least at a distance. First you are relegated to the end of the block; eventually you aren’t even asked to tag along.

This year my 13-year-old wandered the neighborhood with his horde of fellow hoodlums, I mean, teenagers. My 11-year-old trick-or-treated and partied with her best friend’s family. And my husband and I stayed at home to hand out candy.

I have to admit that I was more than a little bummed to be left out of the holiday revelry. I wore my hot pink skull T-shirt. I stocked my cauldron with fun-size chocolate bars. But I just wasn’t feeling it.

Until 15 teenage girls and boys descended upon our house.

Don’t worry. They were invited. My husband and I skipped the Halloween fun this year so our son could host an after-party. Chaperoning is far less exciting than partying, but it was a great group of kids and we didn’t have any problems. The kids exchanged candy and ate pizza. I think there may even have been a game of Truth or Dare in the basement. But of course I can’t be certain because I never, ever spied on them.

Who am I kidding? Of course I did a little spying. I was thrilled to overhear more than one of the kids say they had a great time, and someone actually told my son his parents were cool.

It was a very different Halloween this year. It wasn’t all about me. In fact, it wasn’t at all about me. But my teenager and his friends had an awesome night.

You know what, Charlie Brown? I’ll take that rock.

Do Not Disturb

I kicked off my slippers and melted onto the queen-size bed in a pool of new-mother exhaustion. It was mid-afternoon, and I had just laid down my six-week-old after nursing him for the fourth time since dawn.

Or was it the fifth time?

The only thing I tracked accurately without pencil and paper in those early weeks was the number of hours until my husband would return from work. I longed desperately for some time to myself, adult conversation and, more than anything, undisturbed sleep.

I’ll just lie down for a few minutes while he naps.

I had never been very good at napping, but the more experienced moms I knew told me to try to sleep when the baby slept. The chores can wait, they said.

As I sprawled out guiltily on top of the peach-flowered comforter, I thought of all the things I should be doing: scrubbing dishes, folding laundry, writing thank-you notes.

This is a waste of time. I should get up and accomplish something while he sleeps…

But the whir of the air-conditioning unit in the window was a soothing lullaby, even for a Type A mother with countless chores to cross off her list. I drifted into a deep sleep, bobbing in and out of consciousness with the occasional sighs and rustlings coming from the nearby baby monitor. Upon each brief awakening, my head felt heavier, the room seemed darker.

Is it dusk already? How long have I been asleep?

I looked for the clock on the bedside table, but it wasn’t there. I lay there in my haze, searching the room for a buoy of wakefulness. I needed to get myself together and check on the baby. The pale mocha walls seemed fuzzy as I watched the ceiling fan spin round and round overhead. Suddenly, a large shadow in the doorway appeared in my peripheral vision. My eyes darted in its direction, but it was gone.

What the hell was that? Is someone in the house?

Panicking, I tried to sit up. But something was holding me down, a weight so heavy I struggled for breath. The dark, giant mass covered my entire body, and I was completely immobile. I could see nothing through the blackness that enveloped me, gripping me with terror. I felt the insurmountable pressure of it bearing down on me, pushing me further into the pillow-top mattress. This thing, whatever it was, was trying to suffocate me.

I screamed again and again, but my constricted throat couldn’t expel the sound. I strained to move my limbs, to push the thing off me. My breath grew shallow; my body felt limp.

And then, as abruptly as it had appeared, it was gone; the weight, the darkness, lifted.

I rolled slowly onto my side, panting with fear, my muscles still flaccid and weak. I looked through the doorway and down the hall to my son’s room.

Nothing was there.

As I dragged my sluggish body from the bed, I noticed bright light streaming through the cracks of the blinds. I scanned the bedside table for the missing clock and found it right next to the baby monitor, where it always was. It was 3:02 p.m., just 20 or so minutes after I had put the baby in his crib, and nowhere near dusk.

I crept into my son’s room and found him fast asleep. I shut his door and wandered foggily through the house checking the doors and windows. They remained locked, the house quiet and untouched.

I didn’t sleep well that night. And it wasn’t because of the baby.

"The Nightmare" by John Henry Fuseli