"You're not seriously telling me you're afraid that cannibals are going to break into your room and eat you, are you?"
She holds up her thumb and index finger separated by a hair. "Little bit."
She allows that the fear is irrational, but that there is nevertheless no chance of her getting to sleep tonight.
I recognize that the cannibalism motif is simply the lightening rod for a generalized existential panic brought on by ridiculous amounts of homework (she is in the pre-IB program) and too much extra curricular activity (three hours of rehearsals every evening, including weekends), and the social challenges of adolescence and high school. So I sit down on the edge of her bed and start to talk her down by taking her fears seriously, and pointing out that (a) we have a good alarm system that will alert security if any cannibals attempt unauthorized entry into our house; (b) we have a large black dog that would likely eat any such cannibals first, and that (c) I will be sleeping right upstairs.
She allows how this is all true and reassuring and starts to show signs of thinking about calming down and going to sleep.
At which point the aforementioned large black dog bursts into the room, smashes into the wall, and begins tearing the shelves apart. She puts her forepaws through a wicker basket, plunges her head inside, and generally goes psycho-killer on Tigana's doll collection.
This, I think, may not be entirely helpful in improving the tone of the evening.
A moment later, a tiny jet-black mouse makes a break for it and sprints across the floor and out the door, while the dog gives murderous chase. From behind me, standing on the bed, I hear my daughter shrieking, "I knew there was something alive in here!"
"Well, it's gone now," I begin, in what I know is likely to be ineffectual damage control, but before I have even finished the sentence, the dog is back, ripping open the wicker basket once again. I pick the basket up and make to move it outside, chiding the dog that the mouse has now gone and what she is smelling is just traces of the departed mou-- But of course, I only make it two feet before I see another (this time grey) mouse racing frantically round the basket as I inadvertently tip it, and I--hero protector that I am--shriek loudly and drop the basket. The dog plunges her head back in and proceeds to smash the remnants of the basket to kindling in an attempt to get the creature. She suddenly snaps her jaws shut, and as Tigana shouts from behind me, "Don't let her kill it! It did nothing wrong!", the dog trots out of the room with the deliberate gait of an executioner. As I mumble something about mouse trespass and the death penalty to Tigana, I follow the action outside the bedroom in time to watch a bullet-fast mouse (I am unclear if this is a third individual or one of the previous two somehow escaped from the jaws of death) scuttle under the sitting room piano -- and my 60lb dog kamikaze into same nanoseconds after. As I call the dog back from battering the piano pedals, I'm thinking my little night-time pep talk could definitely have gone better...
Normally, this is where I call in Mom to take charge of hysterical children, but she's away, so the best I could do as move the kids upstairs while the dog and I slept downstairs in their (apparently mouse-infested) bedrooms. It was restful for no one that the dog persisted in patrolling the floor against further incursions for most of the night, though I suppose it did manage to draw attention away from the cannibal threat.
This is not, I am sorry to confess, the first problematic encounter with mice in the house. About a month ago I had set a few traps to catch suspected intruders in the kitchen, with reassurances to the children that it was a 'catch and release' program. This worked relatively effectively, with my actually setting a few mice loose in the coulees, until I noticed that one trap had inexplicably disappeared. Assuming I had just misremembered where I had placed it, or that the dog had nosed it away somewhere, I forgot about it. A couple of days later I'm playing with my 9 year old in her room, when she reaches behind her into her stack of stuffies to pull out--you guessed it--a dead mouse. Why the mouse dragged itself and the trap all the way across the house to my daughter's bedroom and buried itself in her stuffy collection, I will never know, but Kasia's reaction was predictably 'upset'. It hadn't helped that we actually have three stuffed mice included in her collection and that we both sat there starring at the dead mouse for 10 seconds before realizing that this one was real. (Well the trap attached should have been a give away.) On that occasion I was able to hand my daughter off to spend the night with mom, but it took a couple of days to convince Kasia her room was now mouse free.
Still, could have been worse. Could have been cannibals.