By Tim LeBeau, Therapeutic Childcare Specialist, Emergency Sanctuary Program
Being an overnight staff member at one of Amara’s Emergency Sanctuaries means I frequently never meet the children we have in care. When I do, they are often not having the best of times. They might arrive at the Sanctuary at some horridly early hour in the morning, they may not want to go to bed no matter how tired they are, they may not be able to sleep, or they might be scared, hungry, or mad. Quite often I only see a child for a few minutes and I am never sure how awake they are when they meet me. I am always astounded that most pretty quickly trust this person they have never met before, in this strange house they have only recently arrived in.
This is to say, I think a lot about my time with the children we work with—and my interactions with most of the children are pretty fragmented. Do I want to tell you about the child who arrived at 5 in the morning after having just arrived in the city only to have his parents taken from him? Or the child with the absolute best ‘cranky face’ I have ever seen, who seems to have decided I was his best friend after the first time I changed his diaper?
No, I have a story about a monster and a little girl who stayed with us a few weeks ago.
I met her at about 4:30am when she woke up scared. She said she couldn’t sleep and would not go back to sleep because of the monster in her room. I had been told she was afraid of the dark and of monsters. But what no one knew was that there was a very specific monster she was scared of—and it was at the Sanctuary, waiting there for anyone to see if only we just looked.
She showed it to me there in the window, looking in at her as she lay in bed. A floodlight on the house next door was on, throwing light into the room. After weeks of construction work on that house, and the days of falling ash from forest fires, the window was pretty dirty. But it looked like someone had made a half-hearted attempt to wipe down the outside of the window.
In the glow of that floodlight, however, what was revealed was this creepy, Cthulhu-looking tentacle-shaped horror of a clean spot.
While I was looking at this thing and assuring the girl that the Sanctuary was a safe place and that dust monsters couldn’t get inside (and anyway, if they did, dust monsters were perfectly safe monsters who were easily scared off) the flood light flicked off. There, I thought, monster taken care of!
But no, she knew it was still there, waiting. Watching.
Now, the four o’clock hour is not always my finest moment, but an idea popped into my head worthy of the Ghostbusters. I told the girl I would be right back and left her with a flashlight. I dashed into the kitchen and grabbed some paper towels. Back in the room, I opened the window (I don’t think she was too thrilled with this turn of events – just whose side was I on, anyway?) and reached my hand, and the wad of paper towels, as high up as I could and started wiping. A few moments later, the dust monster was vanquished and the window was slightly cleaner.
We talked for a little after this and she fell asleep face first on her pillow, I assume feeling safe again.
When I saw her the following day, it was because she woke up fairly early. She was wearing sparkly Wonder Woman pajamas and had a huge smile on her face.
Learning about the histories of many of the children we work with, it is pretty easy to be dismayed. There are so many things we cannot change, cannot make better. But then there are all these other moments: where a monster can be defeated by a paper towel and there is a little bit more joy in the world.