I love living in an old house. I love the old brass door handles and the decades of paint layered on the window moldings. The sound of the floor boards creaking is comforting to me, like a wise word of advice from a trusted uncle.
“Sonny, when you’re as old as I am, your bones will creak like this too.”
I was raised in an old house just like the one we live in now. It’s got personality. It’s got history. I especially love the sound of the cast-iron radiators wheezing to life on a cold winter’s night in a hissing cacophony of whistles and clickety-clacks.
But not all the Hennesseys see it my way. Paddy, my three-year old, is positively unnerved by the sound of the radiators. The slow, steady crescendo of steam coursing through those turn-of-the-century pipes gives him the darndest fright. He wakes in fear and begs to be allowed into our bed.
“Dat heater,” he says, “is really scary for me.” It’s enough to melt the hardest of hearts. I slowly rise. With a reassuring word, I walk him back to his room, where “dat heater” is waiting once again to whisper and whistle at him in the dark.
“Radiators aren’t alive. Noises can’t hurt you,” I say as I gently tuck him back in his bed. He believes me, but it’s a belief born more out of hope than true conviction.
“I promise you Paddy, that heater only wants to keep you warm. Don’t be scared. I won’t let anything hurt you.” Before leaving the room, I scrunch up my nose, wag my finger, and give the radiator a proper scolding.
“How dare you wake up my best little boy? You let him sleep, do you hear me?” He likes that.
One recent night Paddy took the advice of his older sister Clara and brought his plastic dinosaur into bed. It’s good to have a Daddy on your side in the middle of the dark night. Better to have a Tyrannosaurus Rex.
“When the heater comes on, the dinosaur will roar right back at it,” Clara told him. “Then you won’t have anything to be afraid of.” She’s one-in-a-million. He’d walk to California and back if she asked him to.
We woke that night to the sound of distant and insistent whispering. “Who’s that talking? Do you hear it?” my wife asked. “Is it coming from outside?” I sat up in bed. There it was again. “I think it’s Paddy.” It was Paddy. He was stage-whispering to the T-Rex.
“Roar, dinosaur, roar!” he urged. The heater was hissing, but the dinosaur wasn’t roaring. “Roar, dinosaur, roar!” he tried again. “Roar, dinosaur, roar!”
My wife and I giggled together in the darkness. Should we get up and go to his aid? He seemed to be handling it. Eventually the rattling radiator died down on its own. The boy fell back to sleep. I presume the dinosaur did too.
It’s been a while since I was afraid of the dark. But there are plenty of scary things to keep big boys up at night, too. How are we going to pay the bills? What surprises does the future hold? Am I good father? A good husband? A good Christian?
I don’t get as worked up as Paddy does, but my mind sure wanders to some pretty frightening places. I ask God to quiet my mind, to banish my fears. I ask God to give me the strength to roar right back at those scary thoughts. So far, so good.
It surely won’t be long till Paddy outgrows his terror of “dat heater.” I’ll be happy for him, and for us, because we’ll finally get a full night’s sleep. But I know it’s only the beginning. Soon we’ll have a whole new set of anxieties to keep us up in the middle of night. “Where is he? What he is doing? Who is he with? Is he safe?”
Who knows? Maybe I’ll keep that dinosaur handy.