Last weekend, my 4-year-old niece stayed with me while her parents spent a few quiet days in the mountains on a “babymoon.” Virginia is definitely my sister’s kid; she’s stubborn, hot-headed and funny, and she can throw some serious shade. Her best quote of the weekend came at the worst possible time — 2 a.m., to be exact. Have you ever been awake at 2 a.m. with an overly tired, pizza-jacked 4-year-old? It’s a treat.

Liz Marsh

To be fair, Auntie Liz made rookie mistakes that led us to the 2 a.m. Shade-Throwing Party. We’d spent the evening at a birthday party where Virginia was permitted to roam the fields of Lafayette with a gang of other children, so she was wound up from the start. Since it didn’t occur to me to force feed her from the nearby food stand, we were both starving when we headed home, way past our bedtimes. I ordered pizza, which arrived quickly. “Phew,” I thought, “I’ll just get some food in this child, and then she’ll surely pass out for the next 10 hours and be in a good mood in the morning.”

Spoiler alert: 4-year-olds don’t handle a blood sugar crash, disrupted sleep schedule and a late-night pizza binge very well.

After three books, two trips to the bathroom, a glass of water and an unprompted promise not to stick her finger in the box fan, the noise coming from Virginia’s room finally quieted. I tip-toed to the kitchen to grab my phone when I heard the pitter patter of tiny feet behind me. “Oh hi, Auntie,” said the wide-awake child, “maybe I can sleep in your room instead?”

It was after midnight when we made our second attempt at sleep. My many requests for civil slumber went unmet as I watched the minutes and hours tick by.

“Virginia, please stop kicking me.”

“Virginia don’t stick your finger in Auntie’s ear.”

“Virginia, now is the time for sleeping, not singing.”

“Virginia, your head goes on your pillow, and your feet go the other way.”

And then came the shade.

“Auntie, which one is your pillow?”

“The one I am sleeping on.”

“Which one is my pillow?”

“The one you’re not sleeping on.”

“Oh, OK.” She thought about this for a moment. “Auntie? Who sleeps on this pillow when I’m not here?”

“I do.”

“You sleep with all the pillows?”

“I try.”

“Auntie? Why don’t you find someone else to sleep in your bed?”

Shade level: expert.

That conversation was apparently exactly what sweet Virginia needed to fall into a deep and peaceful sleep, while on the other side of the bed, a suddenly not-tired auntie lay wide-eyed, contemplating all the life choices that lead her to that moment.

Around 4 a.m., I drifted off, having convinced myself that someday, someone would want to sleep in my bed again.

Almost as soon as I closed my eyelids, two tiny fingers pried them back open again. “Wake up, Auntie! It’s morning!”

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