Ross Murray's Border Report
Ross Murray
Ross Murray
is a freelance writer living in Stanstead, Quebec. You can reach him at
Posted 09.22.06
Stanstead, Quebec


Nothing scary in the dark except grumpy dad

At some point, somehow, Abby became afraid of the dark. She's five years old and can't go to sleep in her room alone.

Usually, one of us stays with her, reading a book by flashlight, until she falls asleep. Later, she'll awaken in the dark, pad down the hall into our room and crawl into bed between us.

She's a big girl now. She takes up a lot of space in our bed. It's like sleeping with luggage. With thrashing arms and legs.

"Abby," I say. "Why don't you sleep in your own bed?"

"Because I love Mama."

"Well, so do I, but not with you around."

She may say it's love but I know it's the dark. It doesn't matter that her sister is in her room with her and that the streetlight shines gently through the window.

All she really wants is the security of her parents. All I really want is to sleep.

I could point out to Abby that the hallway between her room and ours is just as dark as her room and, oh, didn't you know? There are monsters in the hall. Better stay in bed.

But I wouldn't do that. Not even at four in the morning when I've been awakened from a particularly pleasing dream involving me, Imelda Marcos, and a catapult.

I would, however, like to understand what exactly Abby fears in the dark. Really, what does a 5-year-old have to be afraid of? Cooties: that's about as bad as things get.

Besides, she should be used to it; she spent a whole nine months in the dark, and that was only five years ago.

So I ask her, "Why don't you like the dark?"

"I do like the dark but I like the light."

"Yes, but why are you afraid of the dark?"

"Well, when it's dark, I might have bad dreams."

"But when you close your eyes to sleep, it's dark behind your eyes even when the light is on."

"But I love Mama."

It's like dialogue from one of the Matrix movies; you're helpless against the circular logic.

Fear of the dark is called "nyctophobia" from the Greek for "night" or "scotophobia" from the Greek for "darkness."

According to Wikipedia, its symptoms include "breathlessness, excessive sweating, nausea, dry mouth, feeling sick, shaking, heart palpitations, inability to speak or think clearly or sensation of detachment from reality." In other words, pretty much how I feel on a daily basis.

The 'Net is also full of sensitive and compassionate ideas to deal with little ones who are afraid of the dark, none of which were likely thought up by someone who has been rolled on at four in the morning.

But perhaps we shouldn't thwart a child's fear of darkness. What is it, after all, but imagination? And isn't imagination something to be nurtured?

It's a primal instinct to be wary of darkness, and in a child's mind this translates into imagining that the closet contains something dreadful and unthinkable, worse even than a naked Rush Limbaugh.

Next time you awaken in the night, feel the dark around you and try to revive your long-dormant imagination. Adults don't necessarily fear leeches under the bed but there is much to fear in the dark if you let your mind go. There's:

  • global warming;

  • alien invasion;

  • gingivitis;

  • the fear that you might not have set the coffeemaker timer to go off so that your coffee will be ready when you wake up (aka folgerphobia);

  • a terrorist cell in the bathroom;

  • that clicking noise that your spouse makes that isn't quite snoring but is just dreadful enough to keep you awake;

  • getting sliced up by a 5-year-old's sharp toenail.
Does this exercise make being awakened at 4 a.m. any easier? Not really. But it gives you something to do.