Three nights ago I read Leta the Dr. Seuss Book Hop on Pop before bedtime, or perhaps I should more accurately say she read the whole thing to me. Her reading skills have exploded in the last few weeks, and through a combination of memorization and the ability to sound things out, she can whip through that book in less than five minutes. Note, this is not something we have encouraged, and in fact, do you know how inconvenient it is to live with a four-year-old who knows how to read? The other day she noticed that I was using “baby” wipes to clean off her face, and she demanded that I stop at once, find a package of “grown up” wipes, and clean her face with the respect that it deserves. I had a hard time not spitting into my palm and rubbing it on her forehead.
After reading books I turned off her light and told her it was time to talk about our day. She asked if instead I would tell her a scary story, and after careful consideration, meaning I quickly envisioned a frightened child showing up in our bed in the middle of the night, I said NO WAY. She begged, said she loved scary stories, and the sinister part of my brain suddenly clobbered the other parts of my brain that would like a peaceful night’s sleep. Again, this is a genetic malfunction I inherited from my father, a man who used to crawl out on the roof, lean over the gutter and scratch the window when my mother was in the room quietly reading a book. Because apparently he loved it when she wouldn’t talk to him for three days.
So I told her the only scary story I know, the one about the golden arm. Remember that story? I barely do, it had been years since I’d even thought about it, so the details were a little fuzzy. I told her that there once was a man married to a beautiful woman who had a golden arm. Why? I don’t know. Maybe she lost her arm in the war. Maybe she lost it in a freak accident involving a lawn mower. Point is, doesn’t matter. She had this golden arm worth a lot of money, and when she died the man stole the golden arm out of her casket and kept it in his closet. BECAUSE HE WAS A WEIRDO.
The woman eventually found out that her golden arm was missing, as ghosts are wont to do, and she came looking for it. I made sure to tell her that if she ever found herself in such a situation to GIVE IT UP. Dude, you do not want a ghost coming into your room looking for her shit. It’s not worth the heart attack.
The man was in bed one night and heard some rustling and a faint voice coming from the closet, “Where’s my golden arm?” He ignored it, but several minutes later the whisper continued, “Where’s my golden arm? … where’s my golden arm? … where’s my golden arm?” And just when I had her where I wanted her, as nervous as a man lying in bed thinking that his dead wife is about to pounce on the bed with her brittle, embalmed torso, I yelled, “WHERE’S MY GOLDEN ARM!” And I tell you what, that kid jumped four feet into the air and wrapped her entire body around my head. Oh my God, rarely have I ever experienced something so satisfying.
She immediately started yelling that she was mad at me, why did I have to go and scare her like that, and I was all, Leta, you’re only four. Do you have an idea how many more years of this you have ahead of you? I calmed her down, talked about princesses for a few more minutes and then said good night. And surprisingly, she never made a late night trip to our bedroom. She never even mentioned the scary story the next day, and so last night when she asked me again to tell her a scary story before bed, I COULD NOT WAIT. I almost suggested that we also make some popcorn and gossip about boys.
Again, I started with the details of the woman who had a golden arm, except this time she’d had a nasty encounter with a tractor. And just as I got to the first “where’s my golden arm?” Leta sat straight up, covered my mouth with her right hand and said, “Actually, you know what? How about you tell me a different story. Maybe one about a princess.”
“But I thought you wanted a scary story?” I pointed out.
“No,” she said. “I… I want to hear about a princess who has all her arms.”