My earliest memories involve nightmares. Waking up screaming and
sweating, waiting to be rescued by my mother in her nightgown or my
father rubbing his eyes.
Most nights they would take me back to bed with them, or my mother would sing to me or my Dad would scratch my back.
nightmares persisted, almost every night for five years. Eventually the
nightmares became less. I started sleep-walking instead. Once I
sleepwalked to the staircase and tumbled all the way down. I woke up
bleeding from the head and totally confused. But most of the time I
just woke up in the bathroom or on the bedroom floor. There was nothing
worse, though, then the nightmares. I had a recurring fear of skinny
objects. A phobia. In my dreams toothpicks had legs and they were all
marching side by side, thousands of them, kind of like that scene with
the broomsticks in Fantasia.
I hadn’t thought about my
nightmares in forever. Not until Archer started waking up screaming.
Standing in his crib, holding open his curtains, staring out the window
like he was watching something horrific. Sweating and shaking– totally
This has been going on, now, for the last few
nights and I don’t know what to do. I wish I knew what the dreams were
about but he cannot tell me. He just screams and shakes and I do what
my parents did for me, rub his back, sing to him…
The ants go marching one by one, hoorah.
…Until he falls back asleep, up against me on the couch or in bed.
right now. His little head on my lap as I type this from the safety of
our couch, where nightmares cannot reach him for whatever reason.
I remember feeling so safe between my parents, like nothing could touch or harm me. Like everything was going to be okay.
I knew that Boogie-men couldn’t reach me and there was no such thing as
monsters under my parent’s bed. Not even marching skinny toothpicks
could find their way back into my subconscious.
In many ways I
still believe that– that when something scary happens, or upsetting,
that I can just run away to my parent’s house. That they will take care
of me. Protect me from boogie-men or the scary things in life. The
complexities. The fears of having so much responsibility, of feeling
unprepared for domestic life– for marriage and motherhood and being an
adult. Waking life can be just as scary, just as out-of-control as
nightmares. Sometimes even worse. The inner-demons we wrestle with in
our waking life cannot be killed with a lullaby or a parent’s warm
I look at Archer, asleep in my lap and I think, “I am
his safety. Nightmares do not reach him here.” But one day they will.
One day he will wake up a man. And his nightmares will all but be
forgotten, the tremors of real life taking their place, and he will
come to me for safety and suddenly realize that the only person who can
protect him from his fears and chase away the boogie-men is himself.
That growing up means having to sleep alone sometimes, with bad dreams
and the ominous shadows that filter in through open windows.
he will want so badly to lie beside me, to believe me when I say,
“everything is going to be okay” and so will I. Because a parent wants
nothing more than for their child to be happy. To sleep soundly. But a
parent can only do so much.
No matter how much we want to chase
away our children’s nightmares, protect them from heartache, from their
inner-demons, we are powerless. There will come a point when we cannot
bring our babies to bed with us to stop the crying.
It has been
difficult for me to come to recognize this about myself– that knocking
on my parent’s door in the middle of the night will not make my
boogie-men go away. Because I’m not the child anymore. I am the parent.
I cannot seek protection, I must protect. I am the safety. I’m the one
who opens the door.
I have the answers. Somewhere in here.