“Maxieee. Where are you?” There was a pause, and then a shushing sound.” I listened carefully, trying to decipher where the “shh” had come from. It was only a matter of two more heartbeats, “I’m right here!” It wasn’t fair, I suppose. No, it wasn’t at all. Four-year-old Max could often be counted on to answer, to the chagrin of whoever had been paired up with him for that night’s hiding game. We were playing a version of hide-and-go-seek with the kids, nine-year-old Maggie, seven-year-old Serrah, six-year-old Emily (our daughter with down’s), and four-year-old twins Ben and Max. The entire house, with the exception of the bathroom, was darkened. The person doing the finding was the alligator. The three youngest were paired up with one of the older two girls, my husband Lyle, and I. The alligator would count to twenty in the bathroom with the door shut and then come hunting through the darkness of the house for the rest.
At this point, Emily and I were the alligator, and Max was too easy to bait. Lyle, who had been hiding with Max, responded as I expected he would, “Awe! Come on, man! Max, what did I say about being quiet?” I heard the giggling of Maggie, Serrah, and Ben twinkling through the darkness from different parts of the house. Fair or not, it was funny. Lyle would do the same to me if it had been I who was Max’s partner. So, I laughed, apologized, admonished Max to try really hard to be quiet, and headed back to the bathroom. I held Emily’s hand as we headed up the stairs. Her hand was so soft and sweet. Blue eyes would meet mine through her little glasses as she tried to count with me, sometimes making it to five or more, as I continued on to twenty. I opened the door as light poured out into the darkened house, “Ready or not! Let’s get em, Emily.” She grinned up at me, “OK, Mama, let’s go.”
Of course, the one person who didn’t have a little partner found the best spots and was rarely ever found. Maggie and Serrah took turns being on their own, and each insisted that they had the best secret hiding place. I often imagine that when either one was alone, she climbed up into the big cubby in the twins’ room and curled up behind the turtle aquarium for the duration of the game. Sometimes, on the verge of being caught when the anticipation was just too much, they would jump out and yell, “Roar!”
I look back and see them, out of breath with the excitement, faces tomato stained from the lasagna, spaghetti, or pizza we would have on Saturday nights, faces filled with joy. Was it completely safe? I don’t know. It was safer than some of the things the kids did when they had an unattentive babysitter when we weren’t around, like riding down the stairs in laundry baskets or stuffing each other into suitcases. Alligator in the dark was cheap entertainment and taught certain skills to the kids, to all of us, cooperation, counting, patience, self-restraint (being quiet). We weren’t thinking about any of that, though. We were a family having great fun on a Saturday night!