Don’t You Dare

In some dark hour of the night, I woke to the creepy sensation of fingers gently stroking the hairs on my forearm. I twitched and weakly pushed the hand away while whining a four note, “Nnnnhhh.”

This four-note phrase is a secret marital passkey code meaning, “you are doing something very irritating that is waking me up, and I insist on returning the favor.” I use it mostly for those times when my sleeping wife manages to dig her big toenails into my plantar fascia. Involuntarily, of course, or so she insists.

“Papa?”

Ah. Not the wife. Rose, the sleep walking child. The wife must be deeply asleep because normally Rose wakes her first.

Now her brother Samuel, he can wake the whole house just opening a door. I don’t know what it is about that boy, but he manages to do just about everything louder than his sister – talking, walking, hugging, eating. He makes more noise just breathing than she does, and she has asthma. About the only thing she does louder is drinking. She gulps water with a rhythmic, gulping and sucking sound, like large stones dropping into a pond, like a malfunctioning suction pump, like Gollum clearing his throat.

“Papa?”

Ah. Still there. Did I fall asleep again? I must be having trouble waking up. If she would only remember to pee before going to bed this wouldn’t happen.

“Papa,” and she brushed my arm hairs again. Did I mention that’s really annoying when you’re trying to sleep? I must not have to her, because she keeps doing it. “Papa, I had a really, really bad dream.”

Wait a minute.

That was a complete, grammatically-correct sentence. Perhaps she is not sleep walking after all?

“And … and I don’t feel so good.”

Nothing says, “Wake up, now!” to a parent like a sick child hovering over your unprotected face.¬†Suddenly I was bolt upright in bed. So was Dawn (the faker).

“Uh, how’s your tummy, sweetie?”

“Fine. But my head hurts. And I feel cold.”

Soon she was in bed, nestled up against her Mama, or “Mama Llama” when she’s playful, or “Emmy” when she is feeling loving , which then branched off into “Your Emmynence,” when she has been asked to fetch something. At first, we were all drifting back to sleep, but Dawn decided Rose felt warm. I got the thermometer.

A hundred point eight.

“Congratulations, Rose. No school tomorrow. Er … I mean, today. Whatever.”

“But Papa,” and her lament was a sleepy drawl. “We have dance practice tomorrow, and I was told I can’t miss any between now and competition. It’s only a week away.”

“I’m pretty sure they’ll give you an exception. But I’ll call the studio in the morning and leave a message.”

In the morning, Rose slept in while Samuel grumbled about the unfairness of having to go to school when “she” got to stay home. We all knew which “she” he was referring to. When Rose woke up, she made a nest of fleece blankets, pillows, and library books on her floor and then spent nine of the next ten hours there.

I called the dance studio and left a message.

“Hello, this is Rose’s father calling. She has a sore throat and a 100.8 fever, but she’s worried that if she misses practice she won’t get to compete next week. Can you give us a call back and reassure her?”

They don’t open until 3:00 PM. At 3:05 PM, my phone rang.

“Mr. Rose’s Dad? This is Darcy at the studio. Look, don’t take this the wrong way, but we have a hundred girls getting ready for dance competition next week. Don’t you dare bring Rose to class tonight.”

“What? You don’t want us driving through the tornado watch zone so she can infect the entire studio?”

“Bless her heart and tell her we hope she gets better soon.”

I tell Rose she’s officially blessed, at least her heart is, and she should just focus on getting well.

She smiles. “Papa, can you wake me when its time for dinner?” But even though she grunts at me when I shake her arm, Rose doesn’t appear at dinner until it is almost over, and then she doesn’t eat much. More tylenol, a cool bath for her fever, some reading out loud (“Harry Potter”) and cuddling in bed with Emmy. She is not a teenager quite yet.