Some bedtime stories are courtesy of long-distance service
The window was open, and a warm breeze was drifting into the bedroom.
Lightning flickered on the horizon, and thunder rumbled in the distance.
I sat on the bed, leaning back on a pillow I’d propped up against the wall.
The book in my lap had been our bedtime storybook for the past month. We’d received it from friends when Steven was born – a jumbo-sized book filled with stories short enough to hold the attention of a sleepy child, but long enough to include a lesson.
The stories were about bear cubs and kittens and the animals who lived on Windytop Farm.
In each story, the animals— they were clearly meant to be children — were faced with some kind of problem, but ultimately found a solution and learned something about themselves along the way.
"I’m ready for my story," Steven said.
I opened the book to the page I’d marked the night before with a corner torn off an old envelope.
Outside, the thunder was a little more insistent.
"This story is called ‘The Christmas Kittens,’" I explained.
I read about how Mama Cat wanted to invite some less-fortunate kittens to spend Christmas with her family, and how her five kittens were convinced that unwanted guests would ruin their holiday.
"Strange kittens might break my new toys," said Mopsy. I read it in a whiny, high-pitched voice.
Steven interrupted: "I don’t think they’d break the toys," he said. "If they don’t have toys of their own, they might be extra careful with someone else’s."
I kept reading: "It’s fun with just us here," said a kitten named Honeybun. I read it with a tone of defiance.
There’s a lot of give-and-take in our bedtime stories, and Steven stopped me again: "But if they invite the other kittens for Christmas, they might make some new friends."
In the end, Mama Cat convinced her family to open its home to six kittens who might not have had a Christmas otherwise.
Predictably, they all had the best Christmas ever, and Mama Cat’s five kittens learned an important lesson about sharing.
"Can we read one more?" Steven asked.
I’m a sucker for stories with happy endings. I read one more.
It turned out Aunt Flo wasn’t the grumpy old cat the kittens had thought she was; Steven explained that the story was about how we shouldn’t judge people before we really get to know them.
I finished the story and glanced at the clock.
It was 9:10 p.m., well past Steven’s bedtime, even for a Sunday night.
I moved my bookmark to the next page, closed the book and laid it on the floor next to the bed.
The breeze blew the smell of rain into the room.
"We’ll read a couple more stories tomorrow night," I told him.
There was a moment of staticky silence.
"I miss you," he said.
"I miss you, too," I answered.
There was another reluctant pause. We’d reached that moment when the day has to end.
"I love you."
"I love you, too."
"Well," he said. "See you tomorrow." There was the sound of a blown kiss, and then a dial tone.
I waited a moment, then hung up the phone.
Bedtime stories aren’t the same when you’re not in the same bed, and Grandpa’s house suddenly seemed a long way away.
I turned off my reading light and slid under the covers just as a flash of lightning lit up the room.
With rain drumming on the roof, I fell asleep thinking about kittens who share their toys with strangers and little boys who still want bedtime stories, even when they’re 100 miles away.
I guess that’s why they’re called "sweet dreams."