I read a terrifying Flannery O’Connor story last night. Then I had a nightmare, except I was awake.

In “A View From The Woods”, a doting grandfather (of only one of his nine grand kids- the rest have too much of his son-in laws blood in them), who happens to be a spiteful father and even meaner father in-law, sees his relationship sour with his headstrong granddaughter when he announces that he’s going to sell off a plot of his land in the name of progress. That plot of land happens to the front yard and despite the protestations of his family he pushes ahead with the sale. The explosive twist in the story is that his formerly beloved 9 year old granddaughter attacks him with fists flying when she realizes that he’s gone through with it. Despite a challenged heart he fights back with all that’s left of his strength. Fans of O’Connor can guess the droll tragedy that flows from her dark fingers over the following two paragraphs.

A couple of hours later my own headstrong child lay stiffly in her bed, pointed a crooked finger at my bedroom and moaned. She wanted to go in our bed, but I had already told her in no uncertain terms that this was not going to happen.

We go through periods of several days at a time where both of our daughters sleep through the night. This had not been the case the previous couple of nights and my exhausted wife had told me in her own version of “no uncertain terms” that if they woke up, I was going in. When H cried out at about 7 minutes past midnight I rolled out of bed and stumbled into her room. I first tried to turn her over and pat her back. This often sends her back to the world of dreams. On this night it only made her mad. At nearly 4 years old H is a competent speaker, but when frustrated she relies on cries, screams, and rigidity. She started with some muted whines. As I tried a variety of patient and caring calming measures she began to raise her volume. When I pointed out that she didn’t want to wake her sister, she let me know that in fact, she did want to wake her sister, by upping her volume significantly.

I didn’t consciously think of O’Connor’s tale till later but undoubtedly ideas of firmness in the face of challenge were spinning around in my subconscious. H is an extremely sweet and easy child, but over the last few months she has been getting more headstrong and we’ve been giving in more and more. When H decided to escalate her demands I drew an imaginary line in the sand and vowed to myself that she was staying in her bed.

Her volume increase was effective in it’s goal of waking her sister. I knew that her mother was now standing up, waiting in the wings so to speak, and H had entered the circular breathing-shouting phase of her passion play. I stayed calm but also laid down the law. If H didn’t calm down and try to communicate with words instead of shouts, I was out of there. The volume increased even more when I headed to talk to her mother, so our conversation was brief, and ineffective.

I told my wife not to come in. I knew that if we gave in at that moment we’d have a hard time in the future. My wife was upset but I didn’t have time to chat because H had really started letting loose.

I thought that my older daughter had gone to the bathroom and then headed to our bedroom, but in fact she had just pulled the covers over herself. I picked up H, who resisted me, and tried to rock her in the rocking chair. She calmed a small amount but her circular wailing was unceasing. As I put her back in her bed, she wriggled and squirmed with all her might and I couldn’t help but flash on the tragic conflict between grandfather and granddaughter in “A View From The Woods.” Even as I focused on staying calm I was rocked by the chaos of her screams. I left her in her bed, alive and well, and went to discuss options with my wife. However, her decibel busting screams freaked out my older daughter even further and she started to scream in panic as well. Before I could reach my wife she reached me and she was mad.

I was sent to our bedroom to cool off as she tried to calm the brood and I tried to calm myself. My heart didn’t burst like the grandfather’s of O’Connor’s story, but it was beating pretty hard. I laid in bed and tried to sort through my decision making process in the storm of H’s chaotic pleas. I wasn’t too happy when H came in triumphantly on my wife’s arm a half an hour later. I hadn’t had time to be discuss things with my wife and the miscommunication pained me.

We figured things out a bit the next day. Parenting ain’t easy.

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