Sunday nights when I have novels critique group, I usually don’t sleep well anyway. But when the tornado sirens begin wailing at 10:50 p.m., Christian launches from bed and into motion. I am a complete wimp about tornadoes, and as I’m scrambling for my glasses in the darkness I’m also thinking how grateful I am that he woke up at all. My husband has been known to sleep through the sirens.
Our marital ESP seems to be back online: without discussion we head for opposite bedrooms: him to the front and me to the back. “Alex–Nicholas–up. Now. Basement. Tornado.”
They’re old enough now to know the drill. We meet Christian in the hallway carrying one child on each hip. I take Michael and we hurry to the basement. Michael and Nicholas cling to me in the corner by the deep freeze while Christian comforts Julianna on the couch beside it and Alex pretends not to be scared. I’m pretending too, sweetheart. But I always pretend better when I have someone to take care of.
“You guys did a good job,” I say. “We all got down here in less than a minute.”
We listen to the sirens for a couple minutes, waiting for the long fall to silence that tells us it’s safe to venture upstairs for the iPad and check the weather report. Usually I turn the radio on upstairs and crank the volume before I go down, but tonight we just reacted.
As Christian navigates the weather sites, I ask, “Shall I tell a walking in the woods story?”
The response isn’t enthusiastic, but I can feel the lift in my children’s emotions.
“Once upon a time, there were four children named Alex, Julianna, Nicholas and Michael who decided they wanted to take a walk in the woods.” The story always starts the same. “So they ran down the steep hill and waded through the tall grass to the edge of the woods. And there they found…” Now I stumble. I don’t know which story to tell. I’m not in a popcorn-with-Stanley-the-deer kind of mood, truth be told. “They found a pond. And as they stood looking down into the pond, they saw a goldfish named….”
“Jack!” yells Alex. Of course. Every animal and character in this house has been named Jack since Alex met a boy in preschool by that name.
Julianna clambers down from the couch and comes to sit next to me.
“So Jack the goldfish says, ‘Would you guys like to come swim with me?’ And Julianna says, ‘Yes! I love to swim!’
“So they all jump into the pool, and something magical happens as soon as they touch the water–they all turn into fish! And there’s one green fish with gold fins…”
I look at Julianna, preparing to make her a Tinker Bell fish, but she interrupts me with a loud yell: “SHARK!”
“Shark?” I repeat, puzzled. “Julianna turns into a shark?”
“No! Mommy shark!”
“Mommy’s a shark?”
“O…kay then…this story’s going somewhere different. Mommy is a shark who wants to eat all of you!” I nibble a couple of cheeks as illustration. “And Jack the goldfish says, ‘Stop that!’ and leads them to the bottom of the pond, where they swim through a tiny crack too small for the mommy shark to follow them, and on the other side they find a cave that’s full of beautiful crystals.”
“I think we can go upstairs,” Christian says from the depths of the radar screen on the iPad. “The storm’s moved on to the east.”
“Okay, so….so they swim back out and flip up on land, where they find themselves magically transformed back into children again. And they are tired, so they go upstairs and their mommy tucks them into bed.”
I forgot the standard ending: And they had pasta and brownies and ice cream. But that’s all right. I’m tired. And I’ll be up for another half hour with Michael curled against my chest because the thunder is still rumbling low and the wind is still whistling around the second story of the house, and a half hour after that because my head is full of words crying out to be tapped out before they’re lost–words to form yet another new opening for my novel, but which quickly morph into a blog post.
Soon, though, it won’t be a dark and stormy Sunday night anymore, but Monday morning. And as the sky has purged itself of thunder and wind, I have purged my brain of words, and I sleep at last.