I'm sound asleep, having a bizarre dream about trying to return an open box of candy, when I feel a light tap on my shoulder.
Greta is standing there, her big brown eyes wide and puffy, looking at me expectantly. "I'm scared, Momma," she says.
I glance at the clock: 5:45am. It is still dark out. I feel a flash of irritation - why does she wake me up? Why not Steve? I prop up on one elbow, try to swallow my anger, and ask her what she is afraid of.
"I don't know," she says. "I want Finn to wake up and be with me. I don't want to be alone."
Finn, I notice now, is sound asleep next to me. He must have crawled into our bed last night; I didn't even notice.
"Greta. You are seven years old. You are capable of playing in your room quietly until we wake up. Or go back to sleep. Or something. I'm tired, it's too early. Go back to your room."
Her lip quivers and one tear rolls down her cheek. "But Momma, I'm really scared."
I can't contain my anger. I clench my teeth and say, "Go. Back. To. Your. Room. NOW."
She hangs her head and shuffles back to her room. I flop back into my pillow. I hear muffled crying, soft hiccuping sobs. Don't go, I tell myself. Don't indulge her. She needs to learn to soothe herself.
I can't go back to sleep. I throw the covers back angrily, and march down the hall to her room.
"WHAT IS WRONG?" I yell.
She is lying on the floor, wrapped in her blanket, head under her pillow, surrounded by all her stuffed animals. She looks so big and so small.
"You wouldn't understand. Go back to bed. I'm fine," she says.
I'm looming in her doorway, hands on my hips, crazy with fatigue and irritation. I start to turn away, head back to bed, and I hear her say, quietly, "Just leave me alone."
I freeze, and my anger melts away. I lie down on the floor next to her, pick up her pillow and rub her head. "It's okay," I say. "Tell me what is wrong."
She sits up, sniffling. "I don't know what's wrong, I just feel scared."
We're quiet for a minute or two, and then she says, "Sometimes I start thinking about stuff. I start thinking about how I'm here, I'm alive, and I don't understand why."
My heart does a little flip-flop. I understand how she feels - oh, do I understand - and yet she needs me to be her Mom, to give her answers I don't have. So I just tell her the truth.
"I know what you mean," I say. "I think about that sometimes, too."
"You DO?" She rubs her eyes. "Did you think about it when you were seven, too?"
"Yes, I did," I reply. "Sometimes things we don't understand are scary. But when you think about it, they can be really beautiful, too."
She thinks for a moment. "Like the stars? They are beautiful, and I don't understand why they are there, either."
"Exactly like the stars," I say. "We don't really know why they are there, but we're so glad they are, aren't we? They make the world a more beautiful place. And so do you."
She yawns. "I think I'll just play with my stuffed animals, now," she says.
"I'm sorry I got frustrated," I say. "It's okay to be scared. It's okay to tell me when you're scared."
"I know," she says.
I tiptoe back to my bed, my heart in my throat. If her anxiety were a bullet, or a train, I'd gladly throw myself in front of it to keep her from fear, from pain. But, of course, that urge comes from my own fears of letting go, allowing her to figure the world out on her own and understand that anxiety and fear are a part of life: it's how we process them is that matters most.
She teaches me so much, I think. We're learning how to face our fears together.