“Good night, Mom.” Delainey kissed her mom as she headed toward the bedroom.
Mom watched her daughter walk down the hall; thoughts of the days when she tucked Delainey in and read her a story flooded her thoughts. Fighting back tears she called out, “Sleep tight; don't let the el-e-phants bite.”
Delainey spun around and rolled her eyes. “Seriously, Mom, I’m seventeen.”
Mom smiled. “I’m waiting…”
Shrugging her shoulders, Delainey walked over and held Mom’s hand. “It’s bedbuggies, not elephants.” Shaking her head she looked down at her mom. “How’d that tradition start anyway?”
Mom patted the couch and made room for Delainey to join her as she swallowed back tears. “It’s silly really. Until you had your surgeries to fix your cleft palate, there were many people who would stop and stare at you. For some reason they couldn't see past the deformity to see your beautiful hazel eyes or your sweet heart.”
Delainey snuggled closer to her mom. “Well, even you have to admit. I was a pretty scary-looking kid.”
“No, you weren't, you were beautiful. You had a glow about you that I've never seen in any other child.
"The first time we took you out among strangers was really heart-wrenching for your dad and me. A blanket of tension covered the room. People averted their gaze and turned their backs on us. There were a few kids who would point and whisper to their parents, but they were quickly hushed.
“Actually, I think I would have preferred if they had asked what was wrong. I could have explained it to them and tell them that even though your face looked different, you were just like them. You played with dolls and delighted in books. You even loved to sing along with Barney.”
Delainey snorted. “I never watched Barney!”
Mom brushed her hair out of her daughter’s eyes. “Oh, yes, you did. Maybe you sang off-key and danced off-beat, but you had a ball. You’ve always been like that–you enjoy life to its fullest.”
“Well, that still doesn't explain the biting elephants.” Delainey leaned in and her finger traced a tear flowing down Mom’s cheek. “Are you crying?”
Mom wiped the stray tears away. “I just don't know where the time went. You had so many health problems when you were born; I was terrified how it would affect you. Until they were able to get your heart condition under control, they couldn't operate to fix the cleft palate. I knew how cruel people could be.
"We only stayed at that first party for an hour. It was horrible. People would clear their throats, then make an excuse and busy themselves elsewhere. One Mom even yanked her daughter away when the little girl stopped to play with you. That was the final straw.
“Dad and I made our excuses and high-tailed it to the car. As soon as we were gone, I started to cry. I just didn't understand how people could be so dense. Not one person talked about it or asked me any questions. Your dad made a comment about the elephant in the room.
“That night when I tucked you in, after singing 'Angels Watching Over Me,' I kissed you and whispered, 'Sleep tight, don't let the elephants bite.' It was my way of protecting you against the so-called elephant in the room. I prayed that you wouldn’t let the way people treated you affect your big heart. So every night when I tucked you in, I said that. I think it was to remind me as much as it was to make you giggle and think I was silly.”
Delainey laid her head on Mom’s shoulder. “Well, I think you and Dad did a great job of protecting me. Not once have you ever let an elephant bite me.” Tears glistened in Riley’s eyes. “Thanks Mom. I love you. Sleep tight; don't let the el-e-phants bite.”
Mom kissed Delainey on her head. “It’s bedbuggies.”
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