Originally published in Working Mother Magazine (May 1988).
Bedtime Monsters: They Didn’t Stand a Chance
For the third time in as many hours I emerged from the warm cocoon of my bedcovers to allay Joshua’s fears.
“There are no crabs in this room,” I announced, flipping on the light.
At the foot of his bed stood Joshua, wide-eyed and clutching a pillow. He shook his head violently and pointed toward his toy box. “The crab’s in there. He wants to poke my eyes out.”
“You’re being silly. You know there is no such thing as a giant crab.” I began to remove the toys from the box. “And even if there was a giant crab, it couldn’t survive here. Crabs need to be near water.”
“Move, Mommy!” Joshua shrieked. “The crab will get you, too!”
I ignored him and emptied the box. “See? No crabs!”
Joshua crept cautiously toward me and peeked into the box. “It must have snuck into the closet!”
“Go to sleep!”
Joshua climbed into bed. “You’ll be sorry you didn’t listen to me, Mommy, when that crab crawls into your room.”
With minor variations, Joshua’s nightmare and my efforts to reassure him repeated themselves throughout the next three nights. On the fourth night, however, a new and more sinister element emerged—an enormous black, boy-eating spider.”
“He’s this big,” wailed Joshua, stretching his chubby arms wide, “and he won’t be happy until he eats me all up.”
“Spiders don’t grow that big,” I said, vowing never to read Little Miss Muffet again. “And they don’t eat people.”
“Yes, they do, Mommy. ‘Member once I gotted a spider bite?” He cried even louder.
“That’s different,” I said lamely and hugged him. “There’s no such thing as a giant spider. You’re just imagining it.”
“His home is in the kitchen garbage,” Joshua sobbed.
Emptying the contents of the garbage appealed not at all. Too tired to argue, I simply said, “Would you feel better if I got into bed with you?”
Nestled close together, Joshua and I soon feel asleep.
My dream patterned itself after Joshua’s nightmare. An enormous black spider scrambled over my chest and onto my face. As it covered my mouth and crushed my nose, I awoke with heart pounding and adrenaline surging. Joshua, hysterical, was perched on my face. “The spider’s crawling up the blanket and the crab’s right behind him,” he cried.
Disgusted, I awakened Joshua’s father. “It’s your turn,” I said.
The next morning, I called Joshua’s nurse practitioner. In a desperate voice I outlined my son’s fears and asked for advice.
“Pretend the spider and crab exist and deal with them,” she replied.
“But that’s lying!” I countered.
“Yes,” she agreed, “but Joshua believes the crab and spider exist. You have been unable to dissuade him. You have nothing to lose”
After I hung up the phone, I grabbed a broom from the closet and stormed into the kitchen, where Joshua was eating breakfast with his daddy.
“Stand back!” I roared and ripped the lid off the garbage can. “Get out of here you horrible spider!” I shrieked, and hit the imaginary creature with my broom. “Never come back! You aren’t welcome here.” Then I sought out the crab.
Joshua and my husband, who obviously thought I had lost my mind, followed me to the toy box. There, I quickly dispatched the crab through the bedroom window.
“All gone!” I said to my ecstatic son.
Joshua jumped up and down with glee. His joy abruptly changed to worry. “Mommy, what will keep them from coming back?”
I dashed to my husband’s top bureau drawer and whipped out an orange-and brown paisley handkerchief. “This is a crab-and-spider protector. If we place it under your pillow, it will keep spiders and crabs away from our house forever.”
Satisfied, Joshua solemnly took the protector from my hand and placed it under his pillow. The nightmares stopped. For several months, the protector remained beneath the pillow until one day it slipped under the bed. Shortly afterward it was removed and returned to the top bureau drawer. Its magical powers, however, remain unaffected. Neither crabs nor spiders ever disturbed us again.