Every night Violet’s dad reads “Go, Dog. Go!” at bedtime. Over time the story has grown, nearly doubling in length with the addition of words and lines that Violet has come up with and then memorized along with the printed text, building up her arsenal of tools and tricks intended to stretch out the nighttime routine.
In her 6.3 years of life, Violet has added lots of new words to our household lexicon; first through toddler mispronunciations that stuck, and more recently through silliness and inside jokes. Her longest standing nonsense word is “be-yo,” which Violet added to “Go, Dog. Go!” one night while her dad was at Costco. I was getting her to bed late and hoping to tidy the kitchen before he returned with a truckload of groceries, so I was trying to rush her to sleep.
Not a chance, Mom.
In my hurry, when the dogs “Go by boat,” I blurted out “Go by be-yo” and Violet squealed, dissolving into a fit of giggles so intense I had a hard time snapping her out of it. Maybe I was just too tired to function at the end of that long day or maybe I was reading so fast the word jumped out of my mouth wrong. But Violet thought it was hilarious that I, a grown-up who reads books as big as bricks, had messed up.
Ever since, she’s insisted the dogs go by “be-yo” rather than by boat. At the end, they arrive at a treetop dog party where recitation of every detail in the illustration is required, including “be-yo,” of course. “There’s presents and cakes and frosting and candles and fireworks and be-yo and they can all go there!”
After bedtime books comes “Mama Hug.” That’s when the big guns come out, Violet’s powerhouse stall tactics, like detailed reports of her day at kindergarten and questions too deep for her small age. On the last school night before Christmas break, we peered out her fingerprint-covered window and wished on stars.
“What’s your wish tonight?” I asked, expecting to hear about the golden stuffed dog she’d requested from Santa, a visit from the neighbor cat she calls Bella, or waffles with extra syrup for breakfast.
“My wish is for my school to always be safe.”
A lump formed in my throat, so real it made me cough.
“Your school is safe,” I said.
Violet stared into my eyes and said nothing, her silence eerie for a kid who never stops talking.
Only hours prior, her school district had sent out a safety notice about a trending TikTok post, a viral video about a threat to school safety the following day “for every school in the USA, even elementary.”
I’d been glued to my phone all evening. I don’t use TikTok and Violet is my only child, so parenting a kid in school is new to me. Processing that message felt like trying to decode a puzzle designed as a torture device.
“Your school is safe,” I repeated, believing the words while feeling a piece of a lie stick in my throat. Photos of the four students killed at Oxford High two weeks earlier were still flooding into everyone’s phones, our TVs, our endless screens.
“Why is that your wish tonight?” I asked Violet, trying to sound calm.
“I had a dream that evil wizards were trying to destroy my school but it was actually real and me and my friends have to stop them.”
For a moment, her bedtime wish had felt like a psychic connection, or covert information gleaned on the playground in whispers from kids whose parents watch TV news. More likely it was the result of watching animated kids save the world, stories where villains get destroyed or turn nice, where everyone who is good gets a happy ending.
I reminded Violet cartoons aren’t real and reassured her that school is a safe place to learn and have fun, to be a good friend. She smiled, nodded, and asked for another hug.
If it was a stall tactic, she got me.
Ten minutes later, I closed her bedroom door and pulled out my phone. A quick internet search pulled up a cacophony of reassurances from school districts and police departments across the nation that there was no credible threat. But the internet is also full of photos of children who were murdered at school, even elementary.
It feels impossible to assess risk these days.
The morning after Violet’s unsettling bedtime wish, I woke up feeling anxious and she woke up saying she felt too tired to go to school.
“Can I have waffles for breakfast?” she asked. “Extra syrup, please!”
I tried to read her face, to figure out whether she was truly exhausted or trying to scheme her way into a day of TV and sugary treats, or whether I was looking for any excuse to keep her home.
“I’m tired and my throat’s scratchy.”
Currently, Violet’s school district asks students experiencing symptoms associated with COVID-19, including a sore throat, to stay home.
I was relieved.
Krisa Bruemmer is an award-winning writer. She lives in Vaughn.
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