Fearful Fantasy Land (a toddler’s dream)

The stove was covered in hot pots and pans, bubbling and boiling away with the contents of what would soon turn into two meals for my sister-in-law (now a mother of two! Yay!) Glass of wine in hand I had just settled into the grove of a cooking marathon.

Then the peace was broken.  Through the monitor came the heart-broken cry of my boy.  This happens pretty rarely now (and as I type this I worry I am disturbing the gods of baby sleep by admitting how often I get to sleep right through the night).  When it does it is usually a sign that illness is creeping in, if we are lucky its just the call of a sweaty baby who needs the gentle breeze of his ceiling fan.  This cry most certainly didn’t sound like a sweaty baby cry.

On this night he was crying and screaming as if in pain.  He seemed to be grasping at straws hoping to find a way to get out of his room.

Our dialogue went a little something like this (my internal dialogue is in green):

“Iiiicieeee, ICY!” he cried.  Daddy, upon hearing this runs one up the stairs. Maybe he is hurting? Does he have a fever? An ear infection..oh great..could he have just scratched himself or something?

“Nooooo, MY get it!!” thwack the icy hits Daddy in the foot. “Sorry Bubs” I reply “We can’t go to the kitchen right now, it’s sleepy time.” He obviously doesn’t really hurt or he’d take the darn icy…or does he? Maybe it hurts so much he can’t think? Or he needs something else….what does he really need?

“Medicine!!” “Is something hurting Bubba?” I ask gently.  “Med. uh. sin. Mammaaaa!” Daddy brings in some meds.  Well if his ear is hurting maybe this will help? He’s never been like this befo-“No MY get it!” He screams at Daddy. He wants to get is own medicine? and go downstairs and..“Water, my fill it up!” and get his own water from the bathroom.  It seems like he just want to get out of his room.  

“Maybe he had a bad dream?” My husband proposes.  A bad dream? How could I know if he had? And how could I make it better…oh great, is this a new thing? My pasta is probably boiling over.  I have no idea how to fix this, much less quickly.  WAIT…its not my job to fix it.  I need to get back to what he needs.  Maybe he needs to just cry.  I’ll just listen.  

I held him for a few minutes as he sobbed, gurgled and occasionally struggled to get down and run for the door. I can’t change his feelings, I need to just be with him now, in this moment.  I can be his calm.  

As he continued I replayed what happened.  He really wants out of here.  He seems mad or frightened.  Maybe he did have a bad dream? 

Just say it out loud, it couldn’t make it worse.  Come on…You had a bad dream, you feel upset.  What if he never wants to sleep in his bed again…what if he just won’t sleep there tonight?!? What if speaking the truth allows him to recognize how scary dreams are and he never sleeps alone again!? (oh, inner dialouge…)

It usually helps him.  You know him.  He wants to connect, he needs your support, your calmness, your clarity.  He already KNOWS he’s scared and upset silly!! 

“Bubba? I whisper.  “Bubs did you see something scary in your dreams? While you were sleeping?” His crying instantly lessens and he snuggles a little deeper into me.  “Mamma and Dada are right here, we are always here to keep you safe.” I hold him tight.  “Dreams are pretend even though they make you feel lots of feelings. Mamma and Dada will always be here to help you.” By this point he had stopped crying completley .  He softly murrmured “yeah, yeah” as he fell back to sleep.  He barely opened his eyes, pointed to his bed and asked to be put back in his crib.  It was amazing.

What is amazing isn’t that my husband (though I’ll take the credit) figured out he was having a bad dream. It was that what he needed was to feel, to be with me and have me be calm for him while he was not.  Essentially what he was asking for was for us not to fix it.  Holding him, feeling him and listening to him I didn’t take on any of his emotion.  I was his rock in that moment.  I let him feel what he needed even though I didn’t understand it.  I was able to manage my own confusion and emotion calmly.  Then finally I was able to put words to what he was going through.  Finally he was able to offload it all and fall peacefully back to sleep.

Three cheers for recognizing your child’s truth, staying calm and speaking it out loud (even if your inner voice is unsure).

Thanks for reading!

Melissa

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4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. grammap
    Apr 17, 2012 @ 03:50:11

    That was awesome Missy! Good call to you and Ricky both!

    Reply

  2. grammap
    Apr 17, 2012 @ 04:25:14

    Now….little help on potty training? I raised a girl….I’m lost! 🙂 We sent the boy to the bathroom with Papa last weekend (Papa was happy to do it, but he looked at me with fear in his eyes and asked “how does he do it ?” lol I said sitting down dear…….

    Reply

  3. Auntie Elizabeth
    Apr 17, 2012 @ 05:16:47

    Such a cute story. Love the inner dialogue. I have to admit when I am going through a hard time that is all I really want. Just to be able to speak the truth of what I’m feeling. My most cherished friends are those that not only allow me to speak it but are brave enough to speak it for me and with me. I can only imagine what a relief it is for a confused little child to be given the light of truth allowing him to find his way out of the scary night-forest. And a nice hug from Mommy along the way.

    Reply

  4. Elizabeth Winston
    Apr 17, 2012 @ 16:36:52

    Fabulous insight from two great and loving parents – wish you were here to calm me at those bad times! Love you

    Reply

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