Sunday, February 27, 2011

February 27, 2011 ~ Day 80
Bad Dreams

My husband needed to work late this evening so I hatched a plan to keep our children so busy on 'an adventure' with mommy, they wouldn't have time to miss him too much. As soon as I'd picked both boys up from their respective schools I let them know that we were going to head north to buy new school shoes they've been hoping for, followed by a delicious Chinese food dinner. "Yay! Another date!" my eldest exclaimed.

Along the way I needed to deposit a check at the bank and as we headed in that direction the same (five year old) son murmured, "Maybe now I'll be able to stop thinking about my bad dream."

"You had a bad dream honey?
" I asked, "When did you have it?"

"I can't stop thinking about it. I keep thinking about it all day, even though I am trying not to."

"What was your dream about?"
his little brother interjected.

"I dreamt that someone was putting a needle into my chest," he said. "They were sticking a needle into my chest right here ~" and he pointed to his breastbone.

This is the first time my son has ever recounted a nightmare for me, even though he has at times told me about dreams he's had where he plays with different kinds of animals. I don't know why I was so surprised to learn that my son is dreaming vividly - even having nightmares - because he is nearly six years old. I don't know when dreaming starts with humans but heck, it could be in utero. (I'll have to look that up.)

Thinking of my kindergartner experiencing such an intense, kind of weird and violent dream, was a little upsetting to me. I didn't want to show him that though, because it is important to me that he feels comfortable sharing anything in the world with his parents and I wanted him to feel safe and assured. Very calmly then, I asked him to explain his dream in greater detail to us.

"Where were you, honey? In the dream? Who was putting the needle in your chest?"

"I was at the doctor's office. The doctor was putting a needle into me right here (again he gestured toward the breastbone). You know, mom, where the milk comes out."


My son's dream was apparently more complicated than I had even guessed, and yet it was also starting to sound like a real dream - where random things happen that would make no sense in real life.

"Yeah, you know - where ladies feed their babies. The needle was stuck in the place where ladies feed their babies from."

"Oh, you mean your pectorals - your chest muscle area. Is that right?"

"Yes. Except of course no milk was coming out of me because I am a boy."

"Oh, sure. So, why was the doctor putting a needle in your chest?"

"You know, mom, like when they take your blood. Or you get a shot."

"Ok, so which was it? Were they taking your blood, or were you getting a shot?"

He paused for long enough that it became obvious that he was inventing this new part of the dream within the context of our conversation. I think he was trying to decide if it had been a friendly or a scary dream, and he really wanted it to be friendly.

"Um, I think he was giving me a shot. So I wouldn't get sick."

"Oh, so the doctor was protecting you then. Well, that's nice honey. Sounds like it wasn't a bad dream after all."

"I just wish I could stop thinking about it. I dreamed about it last night and I keep seeing the needle."

"Even now, during the day?"

"Well, I dream during the day A LOT mommy. Except usually they are good dreams. This one was just bad."

"I dream sometimes too," said his little brother. "I don't dream about needles though. I have never had that dream."

At this point, we reached the bank and our conversation about dreaming reached a natural conclusion. By the time we were back on the road to go on our adventure, we'd shifted gears completely and were talking about Dr. Seuss.

I'd be lying though if I said that his dream hasn't been on my mind. I guess hearing that my child is having dreams where people are poking him with needles raises some anxiety in me and also an awareness that my children are growing up, and that there are many things they think about and that they will be exposed to in their lives that I have no control over.

My son has unique fears unlike anything I have ever experienced. He also has a very different temperament than my own, with certain distinct similarities but overall, we are different people. This is natural and normal, and I adore every ounce of him just the exact way he is. Still, I don't always know what to say to him! I don't always know how to respond to the things he is experiencing or even (now) dreaming about.

This is the part of parenting that's called 'winging it', I guess. Or, 'fake it 'til you make it'.

I remember being a kid and believing that my mother was some supernatural creature who had the solution to every problem. She could heal me if I was sick. She could help me with any school project. She could guide me through any emotional bump with friends or boyfriends. She was my wonder woman.

Then there came the day in my teens when my mom no longer had all of the answers, and I felt totally shocked and a little disillusioned. "What happened?" I thought. "How did she lose her magical way of making everything better?" At some point during my late twenties I got up the guts to ask her about this (in a loving, appreciative way) and she laughed.

"Well, it's easy to solve the problems of a five year old," she said, "because their needs are pretty simple and they share all of their thoughts and feelings with you. You are the mother, and you are in control of their day-to-day lives so you can really fix just about anything. As your child grows up, making them happy gets a whole lot more challenging because so many things are completely out of your control."

I thought about this conversation tonight as I was driving my brood home from dinner. My son is starting to show signs of his independence, that he has thoughts and feelings and experiences every day that I cannot share with him and I sometimes may not even be aware of - unless he chooses to tell me. Today's dream is a prime example of this... had he not shared it with us in the car, I would never have known two important things about my son: (a) That he daydreams frequently (usually good dreams); and (b) That he experiences nightmares that are sometimes graphic and difficult to forget.

I wish I could shield my children from all bad things. Bad dreams included. Unfortunately, life doesn't work that way and this is not likely to be the last nightmare that one of my babies has to process. Knowing what a vivid dreamer I have been for most of my own life, it is probably just the beginning for them of a long lifetime of dreaming.

My goal as their mother then, is to embrace and accept them no matter what they are dreaming of... try to encourage a positive and open dialogue where each child feels comfortable telling me anything - even about the scary or violent visions that enter their little heads... and to work even harder to build a home that feels safe to them, so that any darkness they experience within their hearts or minds in the coming years can be balanced with the light and love of family.

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