CJ woke crying in the night. I went into her room and picked her up. “Did you have a bad dream?” I asked her.
She nodded and pointed at her floor. “Alligator hippopatamuses were swimming around. Mean alligator hippopatamuses. And they wanted to bite me.”
“Go to sleep, sweetie.” I set her down and started to leave.
“But daddy!” she called. “I can’t stop thinking about the alligator hippopatamuses.”
I picked her up again. “Let’s count to four,” I said. “One two three four. One two three four….” It’s a simple mind-clearing technique that comes from the first two pages of a book I once started on meditation. I never finished the book; in fact, I never read to page three. Who’s got time to meditate? 😉 But counting to four is simple enough does help me get back to sleep some nights.
It might have helped CJ, too. She said again that she couldn’t stop thinking about the alligator hippopatamuses, but before long she was quiet and she didn’t wake again that night.
A few mornings later I came in after her mother had finished dressing her. She was holding a little blonde-girl doll that I’d never seen before. I don’t know where half her stuff comes from.
“What’s that?” I asked. “Who gave you that little baby?”
She told me, “The alligator hippopatamuses sizzled up through the pipes and appeared to me in the bathtub drain. And then they spat out this new toy.”
“They spat it out for you?” I asked.
“Yes, and they spat new books into my closet.”
“So they’re nice now?”
“No,” CJ said. “They’re still mean. They try to bite me sometime. But now they’re my pets.”
I thought of a quote that I saw on the wall of the Jewish Community Center, from a text called the Avot de-Rabbi Nathan. It said,