It’s not a good idea to tell scary stories to your grandchildren when you want them to go to sleep. Last night, Al and I were babysitting at my daughter Alli’s house for Ben, 8, Will, 6, and Sammy, 14 months — otherwise known as the terrifying trio.
So, after working all day, I had little interest in taking care of three kids, but had promised Alli that she could take her husband Jeremy out for a birthday dinner without the boys.
The evening started out rough with Ben and Will hysterically laughing over nothing at all, climbing all over their beleaguered “Bubby” (Al), and periodically emitting glass-shattering screams. How noises like that can come from the vocal chords of two small boys is beyond me.
And while all of this was going on, the youngest and most tractable of the trio – sweet, cherubic, strawberry blond Sam decides he’s going to pull an all-nighter. That’s right, there will be no bedtime for Samuel on this hellish evening while Nunny is babysitting him. Even though my daughter said, “Just give Sam a bottle and he’ll go right to sleep.”
“If he starts crying, just let him cry it out, he’ll be out like a light by 8:00,” added Jeremy as he headed out with his wife for a pleasant dinner on the waterfront.
Around 7:30, I gave Sam his bottle while rocking him in the brown living room glider. Sucking the milk down voraciously, his eyelids finally fluttered and then closed. His body slackened as I carefully carried him to his room and with the caution of dismantling a bomb, laid him in his crib, while the calming sounds of a lullaby played on a computer near him. The minute his head hit the sheet, he stiffened and stood up holding onto the bars of the portacrib and wailing at full throttle.
So, as his father had advised, I let him cry. He cried while I served the boys their dinner, cried while I watched the Red Sox get rained out at Fenway Park, and cried harder when I opened the door to check on him.
I went back in the bedroom, picked his sweaty, sleep-sacked body up and held him on my lap as I swiveled in the computer chair in front of a Baby Einstein video. He stopped crying immediately and stared transfixed at the screen for a matter of seconds. Blue, red, and purple streaks of paint were swirling and blending on the monitor as bubbles mingled with puffy white clouds. Within minutes, Sam’s blue eyes were covered by soft wet lashes as he laid his head against my shoulder and drifted into lullaby land. Okay, this is good, I thought. I’ll wait until he’s in a deep sleep, maybe 20 minutes or so, and then ease him back into the crib.
When the allotted time had passed, I carried his limp body back to the dimly lit area of his parent’s bedroom occupied by his white crib. I slowly, painstakingly, lowered him onto the mattress and history repeated itself like Groundhog Day. The moment his back hit the crib sheet, the hysteria resumed, as he pulled himself to his feet and sobbed into the crib rail, arms outstretched.
Time check: 9:30 p.m. What happened to the 8 p.m. bedtime I was promised?
Piercing screams and the sound of a fight in the living room caused me to leave Sammy to “cry it out” as his father had advised. Ben and Will were wrapped around each other like two boa constrictors so it was hard to see where one boy ended and the other began. Al and I pried arms and legs apart and I headed up the stairs to put both of them to bed.
Time check: 9:45 p.m.
“I want Nunny to lay with me,” yelled Ben. “No, you had her last time, it’s my turn for her to lay with me, protested Will with tears brimming in his blue saucer eyes.
“Okay, let’s make a deal,” said Ben. “We all lay down in my bed until we fall asleep.”
“Just for a few minutes,” I said, clinging to the edge of Ben’s twin bed. I decided to tell them a bedtime story that might make them drowsy. “My tale ended with saying good night to all the woodland creatures – ‘Good night, Mr. Squirrel, good night Mr. Chipmunk, good night Mrs. Owl.”
I got up to leave, but both boys begged me to stay.
And then the bell rang. I heard Al go to the door and he yelled up the stairs a few minutes later, “Hey, Nunny, Alli and Jeremy must have sent us some calzones. The delivery guy said they were all paid for. I just gave him a tip.”
This scenario seemed highly unlikely since my daughter had cooked us a dinner of pork and rice before she left. A quick call to her confirmed the fact that she had not ordered any calzones.
The pizza box the food came in was unmarked, so we had no place to call and report the mistake. Ben immediately put his hand in to grab one of the steaming, aromatic sausage and cheese calzones but I wouldn’t let him. “We don’t know who sent these, and the man may come back to get them,” I said. “He might even be like the guy in the scary campfire story who comes looking for his golden arm and says, ‘Where’s… my… calzone?”” I said with a smile.
But my grandsons weren’t smiling. I had just told them that a stranger might be coming to their house to get what he left behind. The “Calzone Man” suddenly took on the fearful persona of Freddy in Nightmare on Elm Street, as Will clung to my leg while we climbed back the stairs to the bedroom. He peered nervously out his window, his beautiful, wide-eyed face reflected in the light of a full moon.
“Will the Calzone Man come when we’re sleeping, Nunny?” he asked. “Will he come into my room?”
“Of course not, Will. There is no Calzone Man. I was just kidding.”
“Yeah, there’s no such thing as a Calzone Man, Will,” added Ben trying to appear unperturbed, but refusing to sleep in his bed alone.
After a while it was obvious these two kids were not going to sleep on my watch, so I gave in and said, “Do you want to go downstairs and lay on the couch?”
“Yes,” they screamed in unison and flew down to the living room just as the door opened and they froze in place, one in the middle of the floor and the other with one foot on the coffee table about to run for his life.
Alli and Jeremy had returned, not to the comforting scene of two grandparents watching TV while three boys slept peacefully in their beds, but to a crying baby (yes, Sammy had wept through it all) and an 8- and 6-year-old watching Family Feud at 10:30.
We could hear Jeremy yelling and boys scrambling up stairs as Al and I pulled out of the driveway toward the solace of our quiet home. As I straightened the steering wheel of my white Nissan Rogue, I glanced back at the house and thought I saw a shadow flit across the driveway.
Good night, Mr. Calzone Man.