Once Upon a Time

Read the backstory to One Little Girl, my (unpublished) bedtime story.

One Little Girl

In the deep soft darkness of a warm summer night,
one little girl lay sleeping.

As trees rustled gently
and crickets chirped boldly
and fireflies flashed gold in the sky,
one little girl lay sleeping.

Grownups prattled, TVs rumbled, and cars swooshed hurriedly by,
but one little girl slept on.

Dishes clattered, raccoons prowled.
Laundry churned, dogs hooooowled–
all this caterwauling went on around her,
but this caterwauling was IGNORED.

Tonight she didn’t wake up and want a drink.
She didn’t wake up to use the bathroom.
She didn’t wake up needing a hug because she was scared about monsters.

Instead she lay in her bed like a lump of stone.
Now of course she was BREATHING
(a tiny steady noise: in    out    in    out).

But she didn’t move her stomach, her toes, her eyelashes, her nose, or ANYTHING else.

What makes a little girl such a strong sleeper?
How can she dream when tons of ever-so-noisy-delights
try to tickle her ears late in the night?

Is it some kind of MAGIC?

Well…if you MUST know…there is no magic involved, just a secret.
Her Strong Sleeper Secret is (are you ready?)…her secret is:
be very, very, very TIRED.

During the day she’d run through sprinklers
walked her dog
played with friends
helped with chores
read 2 books
drawn some pictures
and that was all before LUNCH.

By bedtime she was tuckered out, pooped, worn to a frazzle.
Can you believe she began acting rather beastly and cross?

This beast girl pouted and stamped quite a lot,
and said SHE wasn’t tired–not a bit, not a jot!

She was wrong.
She thunked hard into slumber,
she fell deep into dreams,
and then (listen closely)…

something MARVELOUS,
something FABULOUS,
something SPLENDIFEROUS started to happen.

Her gone-away energy came back bit by bit.
You see, while she sleeps, her body grows stronger and stronger and STRONGER from the inside out.

Tomorrow she’ll be frisky, larky, bouncy, sparkly–
or in other words, raring to go.

Yes, scampering about is de-lic-ious-ly fun.
But when it’s time to stop and fix our pillows, blankets, and animals JUST RIGHT

let’s hope
let’s cross our fingers
let’s make a wish…

that we get to sleep and sleep and sleep in OUR beds
just as strongly as this one little girl sleeps tonight.

c 1999

More Emily Dickinson than PT Barnum

In the late 90s, I accidentally scratched out a bedtime story that seemed to delight more than a few children and a surprising number of insomniacs. A few years later, a friend called in a favor and made an offer: if I wanted, I could get free spec illustrations from a local artist.

I wanted. And after meeting with the illustrator, I received his designs, designs that embodied the untamed energy I had tried to portray. He deftly added so much heart to my text that 10 years later, his images continue to melt mine:

But as I was neither That Kind of Writer nor ambitious, I shopped the story half-assedly. Eventually I shopped it again—still half-assedly. Had I done it more throughly, I’m pretty sure the additional rejections would have put me well over my oh-we-really-we-don’t-want-to-go-there RDA. [No wonder Those Kinds of Writers tend towards depression and go gaga for groupies!]

Overall, the process seemed very unseemly, with more than a whiff of S&M, for a storybook. Of course overall I probably seem very unseemly, with more than a whiff of S&M, for a storybook writer.

Occasionally, I’d rouse myself and think, “Why don’t I try going around vs through the industry’s hoops?!!” but I didn’t exactly put any effort into doing that. More specifically, I put NO effort into doing that. Unless one counts daydreaming about emailing my little creation—“Eloise meets Good Night Moon!”—to the staff of Oprah or Katie C. Though perhaps I can get points for doing a little light scheming about partnering with a mattress company.


But I did nothing. Why? With literally nothing to lose, why I couldn’t bring myself to do something mildly zany? Ridiculous. Or way f’d up.

So now I’m going to post it on the internet.

Ridiculous? Or way f’d up? More a reminder to myself that external validation doesn’t set us free from internal demons. Sure, it’s easier to endure a life that’s more pats-on-the-back than pokes-in-the-eye; I’ll trade this pirate patch for a sore vertebrae any old day.

But I’m beginning to believe that if we don’t make the space for our happy endings, they’ll go elsewhere. So I’m tossing out a lot of mental crap, sweeping the hippocampus, playing Barry White to my anterior cingulate. After all, I’ve got nothing to lose by trying to lure in a happy ending or two…and everything to gain.