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The Stuff of Dreams and Nightmares

Aden called to me from her bed the other night.  Bad dream.

(Aden napping with her dad in 2006)

We taught her a couple of years ago about lucid dreaming, and how she could control the contents of her dreams a bit if she needed to, but lately it’s been getting away from her.  She told me several weeks ago over breakfast that she’d had a bad dream “Not like a nightmare, nothing bad was happening in it,” but it was uncomfortable.  She didn’t like the color of the clothes the people were wearing, or the length of their sleeves, and she wasn’t able to change it, and that bothered her.  I told her if nothing scary was happening it would probably be more fun to just let it go and be surprised by whatever the dream wanted to be.  She thought about that for a moment and agreed to try to be surprised.

(Mona sleeping during her baseball cap phase)

But her dream the other night was just downright scary.

She said there was a doctor trying to hold a frantic little creature and it kept eating straight through his hand.  I agreed that sounded gross and freaky and told her I’d lie with her in her bed for a little while.  She loves that.  She smiled and made as much room as she could for me and I put my arms around her and she was content.

(Quinn, 2007, passed out after some really hard play)

Someone told me years ago, before I had kids, that when a child wakes up from a nightmare you never ask them to tell you about it, because then they relive it and it becomes harder to shake.   On one level that sounds reasonable to me, but on another it doesn’t.  I’m actually less likely to talk about a good dream, because all dreams seem somewhat ridiculous when described out loud and I’d like to hang on to some of the nice ones.  Even my worst nightmares were drained of at least some of their power once I told them to anyone.  I’ve had some pretty frightening dreams that have stayed with me a long time, but all of them have to be acknowledged as fiction once they’re out of my head.

(Aden, asleep on the recent drive home from the cottage)

With my kids’ dreams, there is the added factor that I’m just curious.  And if they’re dreaming about things that stem from fears in real life I want to know.  But as with everything to do with parenting, it depends on the child.  Aden almost always tells me her dreams and nightmares if I ask, and Mona refuses.  The last time Mona had a bad dream after seeing a cartoon that scared her a few months ago, she could barely stand to admit she needed comforting.  I was supposed to sit on the bed and look the other way while she huffed and said she was fine until she fell back asleep.  If Quinn wants me in the night he comes and finds me himself.  He has no fear of the dark.  All of my kids as babies looked as if they were dreaming about eating during most of their sleeping hours.

(Sleepy Quinn, about a month old)

Lying with any of my kids in his or her bed at night is amusing to me.  All three of my kids currently share one room, and I’m always unprepared for how noisy it is.  I had a room to myself growing up.  There were times I thought it was lonely, but overall I liked having my own room and it took time to adjust to roommates in college.  My kids are so used to all being together that they’ve gotten good at blocking out sounds of restless shifting in other beds or the soft snores and breathing of their siblings.  Mona occasionally yells at her sister in her sleep, and Aden never stirs.  Quinn sleeps through an amazing amount of loud squeaky girl games in the mornings.

I stayed with Aden until she seemed relaxed, gave her a kiss, and told her I had to go back to my own bed if I were going to get any sleep myself.  She understood and went back to sleep.  I think she mostly just needed to know I was only one small cry of, “Mama!” away.  She keeps asking if we can invest in walkie talkies so she can call to me at night, and I keep reminding her that I hear the slightest peep from my room next door without any electronic gadgets at all.  The bad dreams my kids have are few and far between, and I’m relieved that a brief snuggle has been enough to fix them.

(Mona asleep in her car seat, age 2.)

Personally, I used to have a lot of tooth nightmares.  I’d have a dream about once a week about my teeth falling out.  The last really vivid one I remember involved me holding in one of my canines while being driven in a cab to a dentist at night, and by the time we arrived I discovered that while I was holding in the one tooth, all the others had fallen out without my noticing.  There is no way to receive adequate pity for such a dream because it’s too stupid.  I remember the feeling of horror that accompanied it while I had it, but even I know it sounds laughable when I describe it.  Every once in awhile I’ll come across another piece about dream analysis that will include something about what tooth nightmares are supposed to represent, but they are all over the map and none of them sounds reasonable.  I sincerely think I’m probably nervous about losing my teeth and in this case the tooth shaped cigar is just a cigar.  The tooth nightmares, along with my daily bout of hiccups, both mostly disappeared once I got pregnant the first time.  I don’t have a clue what that’s about.

In any case, I haven’t noticed any increase in nightmares in the kids since their dad left, and I’m glad.  It is among the greatest gifts I can offer my children that they feel safe in their beds at night.  Ian’s deployment may have complicated their daylight hours, but at night there appears to be no change.  Most of their dreams remain sweet.

I hope it’s a long time before they realize that true nightmares happen when you’re awake.

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