Mouse’s Bedtime Story
It was almost bedtime for the children; and Mary and one of the newer community members, Christy, had them all to themselves because of the Winterfest preparations that were intensely in progress. Looking around the nursery, the smaller children’s dormitory, and taking a count to be sure their young charges were all corralled in one place, the two women laughed and congratulated themselves that they had made that much progress. Mary left Christy to watch the young ones and walked down the passageway to the older children’s dormitory chambers to be sure they had all returned, and to enlist the help of the ones who were on bath time duty with the little ones.
Reaching the first chamber and looking in, she saw that Mouse was there helping about half a dozen pre-teens with a project. They were just finishing a very basic experiment in creating electrical current when Mary walked in and heard Mouse saying, "Wire thingy here, and boom. Light comes on." He looked very pleased with himself when the children were solidly impressed. When he saw Mary, past experimental sins came to mind, and he immediately began defending himself. "Only helping. Little project. No fire. No explosion. Just light bulb."
Mary smiled and patted his shoulder. "I’m simply here for the ones on bath duty. You’re doing fine, dear. I’m sure the children appreciated your help. And thank you for being careful. They need you to teach them to be careful."
Mouse beamed back at Mary. She was a master at reinforcing good behavior, and it had once again paid off. Mouse, who now obviously felt like a fine example to the children, actually remembered that they needed to clean up the mess they had made with their experiment and led them in the effort. While that small miracle took place, Mary went next door to round up the rest of the bath time help.
Gathering her troops, Mary led them back to the nursery, with Mouse following along on the way back to his chamber. Expecting Christy to have the little ones ready to take to their bathing chamber, she led the older children into the room, where they found the younger ones still playing on the worn carpet. Christy was sitting on a bench beside them, looking far less than well.
"Are you all right?" Mary asked, instinctively putting her hand on Christy’s forehead to check for fever.
"No. I don’t know what hit me. I feel like I might be sick any minute."
"Then go," Mary told her. "We’ll take care of the little ones." She helped Christy up and walked her to the doorway. "Go and take care of yourself. And it wouldn’t hurt to see Father. I’ll check in on you later."
A weak, "Thanks, Mary. I’m sorry to leave you short-handed," drifted behind her as Christy left the room.
"Short-handed? Mouse can help."
Mary’s mind travelled in several directions at that offer. She was simultaneously proud of his desire to help, fearful of the results, and hesitant to discourage the sense of responsibility he seemed to be feeling at the moment…the latter, especially in Mouse’s case, something not to be discouraged. Quickly weighing and balancing the most important elements of her decision, she came to the conclusion that, no matter what was distracting him, Mouse never took chances with the children’s safety. The worst prospect would be a huge mess in the bathing chamber. Taking a resigned breath, she accepted his offer.
Each member of the bath patrol was assigned a child to assist. They proceeded to gather pajamas and toothbrushes for the youngsters, and then they walked with them to the nearby bathing chamber.
The children enjoyed Mouse. He was a basically a grown-up, but he still thought enough like they did to be fun. And they liked his enthusiasm for whatever he was doing. The older children were practiced in helping bathe the younger ones, and they enjoyed feeling superior as they watched Mouse learning – talking to Ethan, his present assignment, being splashed with water, and commenting on the slipperiness of wet, soapy kids.
A little damper than he was when he entered the room, Mouse dried little Ethan, maneuvered him into his pajamas, and saw that his teeth were brushed. "There!" Mouse announced triumphantly, grinning at Geoffrey as he picked Ethan up. "Easier when they’re dry."
"Sure is. Good job, Mouse," Geoffrey answered, and returned the grin.
When they reached the nursery, the younger children, following their favorite part of the bedtime routine, went to sit around the story chair; and the older ones headed back to their own chambers for the extra time they were given when they graduated from the nursery.
Mouse was about to leave, too, when one of the little girls, Phoebe, started to cry. She had dropped the doll she carried everywhere, and nothing would make her happy except to have Mary help her find it.
"Mouse can stay. Mary find doll," he volunteered.
Again weighing and balancing, and knowing it couldn’t take long to find the doll, Mary once more accepted Mouse’s help. She took Phoebe by the hand, and they went off on their search.
One of the waiting children insisted that Mouse read them their bedtime story; and one of the four year olds, sounding very wise, answered, "Mouse can’t do bedtime stories."
"Can, too." Mouse retorted, looking a little put out. "Mouse knows stories."
"What stories?" another child asked.
Mouse thought briefly, and said, "Three bears," a touch defiantly.
That being one of their favorites, a cheer went up, encouraging Mouse to follow through.
"You have to sit in the chair," Ethan told him, so Mouse proudly settled himself in the story-telling chair. Using every Mouse-like gesture and expression from his big grin to his shrugs to his lowered brows when something seemed amiss, and adding his hands in the air and a stern look when he mentioned the big Papa Bear, he looked at the children and launched into the story.
"Once upon a time… Three bears. Lived in a house. Strange, huh? Bears in a house. Silly. Big Papa Bear. Mama Bear. Little Baby Bear. Porridge too hot. Went for walk. Goldilocks come. Bad manners. Walked right in! Didn’t even call out first. Sat in chairs. Big chair first. Too hard. Middle chair second. Too soft. Little chair last. Just right. Saw porridge. Manners worse than bad. Tasted everybody’s. Left Goldilocks germs. Yuck! Big bowl first. Too hot. Middle bowl second. Too cold. Little bowl last. Just right. Manners worse than worse. Ate it all. Every bit. Went upstairs. Found beds. Tried them all. Big bed first. Wiggled around. Too hard. Middle bed second. Wiggled around again. Too soft. Little bed last. Just right. Goldilocks not smart. Should have started with little bed. Little stuff always just right. Fell asleep. Woke up. Three bears looking at her. Goldilocks scared. Screams loud! Serves her right. Run away fast. Never come back. Baby bear sad. Hungry. No porridge. Mamma bear make more. Fix bed covers. Everybody happy. The end."
The children giggled in delight throughout the performance and applauded at the end after this new and different telling of the story, and Mouse flashed them his best smile.
Mary and Phoebe had found the doll and were standing, unnoticed, at the edge of the doorway. They had heard most of the story, and Mary was working hard not to laugh out loud at the sight and sound of it. It was so Mouse. A priceless moment.
After the applause, the four year old who had questioned Mouse’s story-telling skills seemed to have changed his mind. "That was too short, Mouse. Tell another one," he insisted.
"Tell Cinderella," one of the little girls pleaded as Mary gave Phoebe a gentle push, encouraging her to go and sit with the others.
Then Mouse launched into the Cinderella story. "Everybody make Cinderella work. Not nice. Prince needs a wife…"
Mary smiled, and thought as she watched and listened, that she had to tell Father and Vincent, and probably Jamie, about this; then she realized she could never describe it. It would just have to be tucked away as one of her cherished memories of Mouse’s evening of responsibility.