The Sleeping Beauty Sleep Solution
It’s that fuzzy, foggy time of the day that falls somewhere between awareness and sleep. Not awake, not asleep, somewhere in between. If you catch it just right, words and sounds enter your ears while awake, and are received in the recesses of the mind when asleep. This often results in muddled messaging, a wandering, creative maze of interpretations. It is the stuff dreams are made of.
Eight year old Sarah and her mom had been abandoned by Sarah’s father years ago. He left them with nothing. Sarah’s mom, Marcia, heartbroken and destitute, worked as many hours as she could, but it was always a struggle. They had each other, and usually that was enough. On days when their mutual support seemed to fall short, Sarah would keep their ship afloat by singing to her Mother, the lyrics “Fairy Tales Can Come True” being the go-to tune. They would tell each other, only half jokingly, that a modern day Prince Charming would someday show up and rescue them from their dismal economic circumstances while at the same time mending Marcia’s broken heart and giving Sarah a good dad. All the wishing and dreaming had brought nothing.
Every night, Marcia would tuck Sarah in bed and read a bedtime story to her. Fairy tales were the favorite as they allowed for thinking, seeing, dreaming, outside their present circumstance. Marcia never missed a night, and it was unlikely that Sarah could ever attain sleep without the routine. The only problem was that Marcia’s voice was so loving, so soothing, that Sarah would almost always fall asleep early in the story. Sarah would then create her own ending in her dreams. Marcia would hear Sarah’s version, actually her recollection, of the end of the story at breakfast the next morning. The dream endings were always better than the original, save one.
Marcia sat on the old rocking chair next to Sarah’s bed. Stacks of children’s books were piled high on the small table next to her.
“What will it be tonight, sweetheart?”
“How about ‘Little Red Riding Hood’, Mother? We haven’t had that one for quite some time.”
Sarah was a precocious child, and her tone and word choice were always above her age.
Sarah was drifting in and out of consciousness at about the time the wolf met Little Red Riding Hood in the woods.
“What have you got in your apron?”
Marcia loved reading the stories as much as Sarah liked hearing them. Her voice would change with the character, and Sarah enjoyed her mother speaking in a gruff voice that any self-respecting wolf would be proud of.
“Cake and wine. Yesterday was baking-day, so poor sick grandmother is to have something good, to make her stronger.”
“Where does your grandmother live, Little Red Riding Hood?”
Sarah was sound asleep even before the wolf hatched his evil plan. Marcia left the room wondering just how the story would end this time. As usual, she got the full report the next morning at breakfast.
“Mother, when Little Red Riding Hood met the wolf in the woods, she got angry, I mean really angry. She told the wolf that she knew what he was up to, and that if he kept going around eating people, someone would come after him and shoot him. Little Red Riding Hood was so tough, mother! You should have seen it! So they made an agreement.”
“Really? And what was the agreement?”
“Little Red Riding Hood told the wolf that if he stopped eating people, every time she would take cake and wine to her grandmother, he could have a big piece of cake and a glass of wine. The wolf said they had a deal if every once in awhile it would be chocolate cake with chocolate frosting. Little Red Riding Hood agreed, they shook on it, and everyone lived happily ever after.”
“That’s a very nice ending.”
“I think so.”
And so it went. Sometimes Sarah had some basic, childlike, perhaps even predictable, endings- Humpty Dumpty’s mother saw him trying to climb up on top of that wall and stopped him before he ever had a chance to fall. But she also came up with some rather imaginative conclusions that you would not expect from an eight year old. Marcia wasn’t sure how Sarah came up with these stories, but she enjoyed them thoroughly.
According to Sarah, Hansel and Gretel convinced the old woman she didn’t need to be eating children by hooking her up with the people at Meals on Wheels. The Three Little Pigs managed to persuade the Big Bad Wolf that he was Jewish and couldn’t eat pork. The Giant quickly changed his tune when Jack told him he could make a lot of money playing basketball if he were to enroll in an anger management program. Everyone, good guys and bad guys alike, faired so much better in the morning than they did the previous evening. Well, almost everyone.
“What would you like to hear tonight, sweetheart?”
The response was slower that usual.
“How about the story of Sleeping Beauty?”
Another slower than usual response.
“Oh, sweetheart, are you sure?”
“Yes, Mother. I want to try again.”
With some hesitation, Marcia picked up the book. She had barely started to read when Sarah’s eyes began to flicker open and closed.
“But scarcely had she touched the spindle when the magic decree was fulfilled, and she pricked her finger with it. And in the very moment when she felt the prick, she fell down upon the bed that stood there, and lay in a deep sleep.”
There was little optimism or enthusiasm at the breakfast table the next morning. Sarah’s expression spoke only sadness.
“The prince never showed up…again. I’m sorry, Mother.”
Marcia did her best to conceal her own disappointment. You see, she too had become affected by the hopes and dreams told in fairy tales.
“Don’t be silly. You have nothing to be sorry about. It’s only a dream.”
Only a dream. The problem was that Marcia had inserted herself into that dream. Hope, dream, fantasize, happy ending. If only life was as simple and happy as a fairy tale.
The routine went on and on and on. The beginning of a fairy tale at night with a new, improved ending in the morning, except for that darn prince who never showed up. Losing hope doesn’t happen at one particular moment. Hope is taken bit by bit, piece by piece, over time, until there is none. Marcia didn’t have many bits and pieces left for the taking.
The story telling continued for many months- a little girl and three bears, tuffets, trolls under bridges, lost sheep, pumpkins turning into carriages, peas under mattresses, and all things make believe, except for the girl waiting for the kiss that would give her life. For the sake of avoiding further disappointment, they finally decided to give the story of Sleeping Beauty a rest.
Life trudged on for Marcia, working two jobs, caring for a child, cooking, cleaning, dealing with the crushing anxiety of financial stress. It was a harder row to hoe without the tailwind of a hopeful, positive attitude. Marcia had pretty well given up on anything magical in her future. But she still had those happy moments reading to her little girl at night and listening to the replay the next morning.
“What would you like to hear tonight, sweetheart?”
There was no answer.
“Sweetheart? What story would you like me to read?”
Sarah slowly raised her eyes and replied, “The story of Sleeping Beauty”.
“Oh, sweetheart. I thought we gave up on that a long time ago. It never comes out right.”
Now the voice was stern, serious.
“The story of Sleeping Beauty.”
“Are you sure?”
“Mother, I don’t know why, but I feel something. I feel like there will be a different ending tonight. Please, Mother. Read the story of Sleeping Beauty to me.”
It took Marcia a couple of minutes to find the previously banished book.
“And in the very moment when she felt the prick, she fell down upon the bed that stood there, and lay in a deep sleep.”
Sarah conked out right on cue.
Maybe Marcia was just too tired to get up. Maybe she only wanted to watch her daughter for a little while longer before yet another disappointing dream stole her spirit. Or maybe, just maybe, she wanted to study the face of her sleeping child as a dream might carry her off to a happy place. Marcia slowly got up, put the book on the table, and took one more look at her daughter. She thought she detected the hint of a smile.
Marcia was in the kitchen scrambling a few eggs when she heard Sarah’ shrieking voice and her footsteps as she flew down the stairs.
“Mother! Mother! He showed up! The Prince showed up! I knew he would!”
Sarah bolted into the kitchen as Marcia stood in a near state of shock.
“He walked right over to Sleeping Beauty, and he kissed her! He kissed her, Mother! And Sleeping Beauty got right up! I saw the whole thing!”
“That’s wonderful, sweetheart. I can hardly believe it!”
Sarah calmed down just a little.
“And, mother, when Sleeping Beauty got up, I could see her face for the first time. Mother, Sleeping Beauty was you.”
It might have been seeing her daughter so happy, or was it the hint of hope being rekindled? One or the other, or both, could claim credit for the tears welling up in Marcia’s eyes.
Marcia and Sarah smiled, laughed, and hugged. They took each other’s hands and danced around the kitchen until…
The doorbell rang.
Marcia and Sarah stared at each other.
“You better get that, Mother. It might be him.”
“Do you really think so?”
“We’ll find out.”
Mother and daughter walked to the front door. Marcia opened the door to see a nice looking man, about her age, standing on the porch. Sarah’s smile was beyond description.
“Hello. I’m Jack Larson. My son and I are moving in just down the street, and we thought we should introduce ourselves to some of our new neighbors. It was actually my son Charlie’s idea. He wanted to see if there were any kids in the neighborhood.”
“Hi, nice to meet you. I’m Marcia Bennet, and this is my daughter Sarah. It’s just the two of us here.”
Jack turned to his side and pulled Charlie, looking to be about five or six years old, toward the doorway. When Charlie saw Marcia, his eyes lit up, and he threw his finger at her like a dart.
“There she is! Dad! It’s her! I told you! It’s the Fairy Princess! I knew it! I just knew it! I told you that you would meet her, and there she is!”
A very embarrassed Jack tried to quiet his excited child, and then turned back to Marcia and Sarah.
“I’m sorry. After he lost his mother a couple of years ago, Charlie keeps talking about how a pretty lady will show up someday to take care of us. In fact…he told me just this morning that he dreamed last night I would be meeting a Fairy Princess. That’s what that was all about.”
“That…that is pretty amazing.”
“Yeah, I know, he has a wild imagination.”
“No, not that. The amazing thing is my daughter had the same dream last night, well, that I was a Fairy Princess and would soon be rescued by a Prince.”
Sarah’s smile was frozen in place.
“She’s not kidding.”
A few moments of silence followed as neither Marcia nor Jack knew quite what to say.
“Say, you look a little familiar. I wonder if our kids go to the same school. Charlie’s in the first grade at Jefferson.”
“Yes, Sarah goes to Jefferson. She’s in the third grade. Sarah, have you ever seen Charlie around school?”
“No, mother, I haven’t.”
Jack and Marcia looked at one another. It wasn’t the normal look you’d expect from people who had just met. It was the look of two people stunned by coincidence and captured by fate.
“Listen, I may not be a Fairy Princess, but I make a pretty good cup of coffee. Would you like to come in.”?
“Yes, yes I would.”
“Sarah, why don’t you take Charlie outside and show him the tire swing? We’ll be in the kitchen.”
As Marcia and Jack walked to the kitchen, Sarah turned toward Charlie who was grinning from ear to ear. Sarah smiled, gave him a quick wink, and spoke in a barely audible whisper.
“Good job, Charlie.”