"I'm afraid," said a tiny voice in the dark.

"I'm afraid," said a tiny voice in the dark.

"Aunt Cat, Nellie wants the light on," 9-year-old Raqueal said.

"No," I said. "If a light is on, then I can't sleep."

Nellie whined.

Her father leaves a light on all night long in her room, but I refuse when she is with me.

I want my nieces and nephews to become as comfortable in the dark as they are in the light.

When I was a little girl, my grandfather said I had "cat" eyes, because I maneuvered around the house or their store as well at night as I did during the day. No lights were necessary.

Getting the children to feel comfortable in the dark has been an ongoing battle, beginning with the eldest Raqueal and more recently her 3-year-old cousin, Nellie.

The children and I were spending the night in a motel during vacation.

I wasn't sure what to do about an 8-year-old boy being in the mix with four girls.

When I first started planning our vacation, I called several motels and hotels. I thought about getting adjoining rooms, and then quickly ruled that out. I didn't want Allen, or Minnie or Bubby as he is often called, out of my sight.

He is too much like his grandfather, my brother Allen, was at that age. I could imagine falling asleep in my room, Minnie closing the adjoining door and slipping down to the pool in the middle of the night to take a swim.

The more I thought about it, the more I decided two king-sized beds would do the trick.

I thought he and I could share a king-size bed while the three girls slept together, but I wondered if an 8-year-old boy would be opposed to sleeping with his old aunt.

At 4, he loved cuddling up to me. If I crashed on the couch, exhausted from chasing little ones all day, he climbed up on the couch and curled up next to me.

Somewhere along the way he began growing up.

Now I have to beg for a hug and the only time he seeks me out is to ask if I will play catch, since he, like his father, grandfather and great-grandmother, is a baseball enthusiast.

I may play like a girl, but Minnie doesn't mind if it gets us away from his sisters.

When we pulled up to our lodgings, I couldn't remember if I asked the clerk about a cot.

I talked to so many people; I could no longer remember who said what.

For a moment I contemplated sleeping with the girls, but I have had 6-year-old Heather beat me up in the past while I tried to sleep.

Heather thrashes around all over a bed, kicking and slapping as she goes.

Nellie is not much better. She may have a choke hold around your neck one minute, laying on your back the next or buried so far under the covers you fear she will suffocate.

"Aunt Cat, can I sleep with you?" Minnie asked.

I was stunned into momentary silence, and then I realized he, too, feared sleeping with Heather.

"I think that would be a good idea," I said. "You get to pick your side of the bed."

He grinned broadly, prompting me to do the same.

After swimming, dinner and watching television we were all snug in our beds.

Minnie took the side closest to the desk holding the remote control. Yes, he is all male.

We were just about to fall asleep when Nellie starting whining about the dark.

"What if a monster gets in?" she asked.

"No monsters are coming in here," I insisted. "The door is double-locked."

"What if they get in the window?" she asked.

"Don't worry Nellie," Raqueal said.

It stunned me for a moment, because Raqueal has always been afraid of the dark. I don't know how many times I have walked her home from my mother's house explaining the night sounds and trying to make her feel comfortable.

"Aunt Cat is a fighter," Raqueal continued.

Shock registered on my face, which was hidden by the dark.

Like my grandmother and mother, I fear little. Like my father, I am not opposed to meeting my match, but that is not the way I try to portray myself to the children.

Then I remembered a recent conversation in which Raqueal, who I call Sissy, asked if anyone had ever been mean to me.

I suspected she wanted to talk to me about someone being mean to her, so I answered honestly. They may have been mean to me once and gotten away with it, but never twice. I further told her that I would protect her and her siblings at all costs if someone were mean to them.

Coupled with some of the family stories she has probably heard repeated about me in my youth, I am sure she put it all together and figured out I would rather "fight than switch."

"Aunt Cat won't let anything or anyone hurt us," she said.

"But what if the monster is bigger than Aunt Cat?" asked Nellie.

I waited to hear Sissy say that no one nor nothing was as big as Aunt Cat. I caught my reflection in the mirror as I brushed my teeth. I'm aware I'm a chunk these days.

"The monsters better be afraid of Aunt Cat," Raqueal said. "Remember, she has a tomahawk on her wall, and she's not afraid to use it."

Again I was startled.

Then a grin crossed my face. Goodness, I am apparently even tougher than I realized.

"And she knows how to shoot a gun," Bubby chimed in.

I turned to focus on the little boy in the bed next to me.

"How do you know?" Sissy asked.

"Cause I saw the pictures of her in her office," he said.

I couldn't help nodding my head as I lie there in the dark, good reasoning.

I didn't point out that the tomahawk was at my house and the rifle is broken and at my farm a couple hundred miles away.

"Aunt Cat will get them with her bare hands," Sissy added.

Now I was beginning to sound like Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett and Crazy Horse all rolled into one.

In the dark I was larger than life, and I don't just mean my weight.

Nellie snuggled down in the bed between her cousins and went to sleep.

Just as I drifted off to sleep, I felt a little hand shaking me awake.

"Aunt Cat, can I sleep with you?" asked Heather.

The war stories must have frightened her.

Glancing over at Bubby, I noticed he was sleeping peacefully.

His dreams were about to turn to nightmares, because the only monster in our room was about to climb into bed with us.

"Come on in," I said, helping Heather crawl up and over me into the middle of the bed.

Cathy Wogan is a ThisWeek staff writer.