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TITLE: Lights-Out Time
By Ennis Smith

Fictional tale of a Dad coming to grips with his son growing older.
Taking a quick glance around the room, Zeek clutches his wubbie ever so close to his chest; while burying his chin into the soft, plush fabric of the powder blue baby-blanket. I glance down at my son, simultaneously amused and saddened. Some things in life, you never forget, and I remember this rite of passage all too well. Tonight, big boy is going to sleep alone in his own room like he’s done hundreds of nights before. But this time…the night light goes out.

'Courage, little buddy,' I try to mentally will to him, as his head slowly scans the room from left to right.

“You OK, buddy? Mommy and I are gonna be right next door to you. Jordynn, and Dominique will be right across the hallway,” I say to him softly. I think I’m speaking for both his benefit and my own, at this point. His big brown eyes look up to me, and he nods slowly.

“OK, Daddy. Here we go,” he says. He takes a deep breath…my 3 –year old son actually pulls in a deep breath, then steps through the doorway toward the bed, releasing my hand as he goes. I feel a tremendous surge of pride as I watch his little feet step lively through the room.
He hops up into the bed and buries himself under the Disney comforter for a moment, wubbie and all. Then his tiny head pops up, exposing those trademark “Smith” dark-brown eyes and his nose. He scans the room one more time, then starts to bark orders at me.

“Daddy, put Spongebob in the toy box. Manny needs to go in his truck. That’s not my balloon over there. That one is Jordynn’s. She needs to get it out of my room.”
I follow orders willingly. I know he’s just stalling for time, now.

“OK, buddy. Spongebob: toy box; check. Manny: truck; right on. Balloon: outta here. Anything else?”

“Big squeeze, please,” he says as he flings the comforter away, exposing his outstretched arms. I snatch him from the bed, in a bear hug, and shake him vigorously from left to right while planting kisses across his forehead. He wails in laughter. Next I slam him back down onto the mattress and yank the covers back over his head. A loose foot flies out from underneath the comforter and lands against my thigh.

“OHHH! He got me,” I yell as I collapse limply to the carpet, in my best 'Dad’s Dead' act. I’m peeking through my partially closed left eye, when I see him poke his head from the comforter.

“Zeek wins again” he yells. His voice muffled under the wubbie and comforter. I spring to my feet suddenly.

“Yup, Zeek wins again. MAN!! You’re good" I reply. OK…are we ready?”

I tuck him into the covers, making sure to snug the edges tight against the wooden railing. He feels somehow safer that way.

“Daddy, I’m a big boy now, so I can sleep with the lights off. Did you sleep with the lights off when you were a big boy, Daddy? Did Poppa turn off your night light,” he rambles.

“Yep. Poppa sure did turn out my lights, when I was your age buddy. And you are a big boy now. Are you gonna be afraid in here tonight?”

He stares into my eyes with this look of total confidence and, I swear to you, I catch a glimpse of this perfect little boy years from now, as a confident man, in that one solitary look.

“Nope. Nuttin’s gonna get me, because my Daddy will beat up all monsters. And I’m not scare of no monsters anyway, ‘cause I’m Zeek. Zeek’s a big boy! Right, Dad?”

I kiss my son on the forehead once more, then turn to walk toward the door.

“That’s right son. You’re Zeek; Zeek’s a big boy. OK…Lights Out-time, buddy.”

As I stand before the doorway, I flip the first switch on the wall, to the left of the door jam. Zeek’s bedroom light shuts off. I peak over my shoulder in time to see my little boy, bury himself nose-deep under the comforter; bracing himself for the bravery I can only hope he has tonight.

“G’ Nite, son. I love you,” I say as I flip the second switch on the wall.

The soft glow, of the white light in Zeek’s night-stand lamp dies. The room falls black. Somewhere in the darkness, I hear a quick gasp of air, and a ruffle of covers. He’s hunkered in now; ready for whatever the night may bring.

“Nite, daddy. Love you too,” he whispers.
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