July 12, 2013

The Persistence of Memory

DD by night
photo by Phil Forsyth
Everyone remembers their first real nightmare.

Not the garden variety bad dream, but the first time they woke up in the weird dawn light, confused and eerily quiet, and they crept out of bed with forbidden footsteps to go searching for the one person who could convince you that everything was okay.

I remember. I was about three years old. I had a dream that my father and I were walking from our house to the Children's Museum. When we got there, the door was locked, daddy couldn't open it. Then, out of nowhere, a GIANT BUMBLEBEE came zooming towards us down the abandoned street. It flew towards my father, and he batted it away. Then it rushed towards me... and I woke up.

I tiptoed down the stairs to my mommy and daddy's room, and told my mom I had a scary dream. She grumbled something about being sorry, and groaned quietly as she looked at her bedside table. Then she murmured something about it being okay, and although the feeling of unease still hovered around me, the very real presence of my very real mother made the rest of the world feel more tangible. My nervous energy from dream began to fade.

Strangely enough, she later told me that her own first nightmare was about a bumblebee as well.

Recently, began to wonder how old most children are when they have that first real nightmare. SI and DD are definitely around the age I was for mine, and their imagination play has developed to a point where a nightmare seemed pretty inevitable.

They like to pretend they have scary dreams, but their descriptions of these dreams are always the same.

"Mommy? I had a nightmare."
"I'm sorry, pumpkin. What happened?"
"There was a mean radish, and it ate up all the other radishes."

In case you're wondering, that is a near perfect description of a scene from one of their favorite movies. (Seriously- check out 4:22.) It is the only "nightmare" they know.

Until last night.

Last night, I was up writing until nearly three am. I crawled into bed and managed to pass out from sheer exhaustion, despite the weirdness of not having M in bed with me. A mere four hours later, I heard my door creak open, and the sound of suppressed crying. I looked up to see DD, bedheaded and red eyed, standing in the door.

"Whassamaddahpunken," I managed to sigh out. Not my most comforting moment, I'm sure.

"Mommy..." she said, and broke into tears. I closed my eyes again threw my arm into the air, gesturing her into a hug, and she dove into the bed. She curled up next to me and cried into my shoulder.

"Sokaysweetie... sokay.." I yawned over her, and kissed patches of forehead between the curls.

I drifted in and out of consciousness while she clutched my shoulder and whispered, "I love you," over and over again. It must have been a doozy.

With a near Herculean effort, I opened my eyes again. The sun had risen over the top of the trees across the lake, the world was full of golden tones and the sounds of birds and crickets and toads.The light glinting like diamonds off the gently rippled surface of the water was excruciating.

"What happened in your dream, honey?" I yawned again.
"Mommy... Mommy... Mommy, I dreamed you and SI went away and you weren't going to live with me anymore." And she burst back into tears.

Now I felt like the biggest jerk in the world. Here I was, totally unable to achieve consciousness enough to comfort my daughter, and her nightmare had been that I didn't love her anymore.

"Oh, sweeite..." I hugged her as tightly as I could, and scooped her under the blanket with me.
"Sweetheart, I love you so much. I won't ever leave you. I'll live with you until you're all grown up, and then for as long as you want to live with me."
"I love you."
"I love you too, pumpkin."
"Me too."
"I love you."
"I miss Daddy."
"Yeah honey, I do too..."

Eventually I managed to get a bit more of the dream out of her. She couldn't cross a road, and I took SI into a river. Something like that.

And the thing is, this is something I know she's going to remember. Forever. She's never going to forget finding her way out of her dark room, sneaking out of the bed she and SI are sharing, waking me up and my useless mumbles. She's never going to forget being scared of whatever was in that dream that frightened her so much. She'll never forget how it felt to wake up and not know if I really had gone.

I hope I managed to make it, overall, a good memory. I hope she'll remember that I rubbed her back and kissed her cheek and told her how much I adored her. I hope she remembers that after a while, SI jumped in the bed with us, and the three of us cuddled and talked about going to get Daddy at Aunt Genocide's house tomorrow, and that there was laughter and smiles and I actually kept my eyes open.

I hope she remembers how small she was, and that I was there to comfort her.

I hope there's always someone there to comfort her.


  1. My first nightmare was about a giant worm! The people with me always changed, but we were skiing and it was chasing us underground. We came upon a shack to hide in and it burst through the ground to eat us with its shark teeth. I had the same dream well into middle school.

    She may remember the dream, but she'll also remember falling asleep in your arms afterwards. The only thing you could have done wrong was tell her to go back to her own bed.

  2. Great post. I don't remember specific nightmares; I just always remember being chased by somebody or something. It's why to this day, I wear specially fitted feetie pajamas with Nike running sneaker soles.

  3. Found you on the Link Up. Love this post. It always makes me so sad to think my babies/little kids have bad dreams. I mean, what could they possibly be scared of? One time my son was able to tell me he was scared of ants...hmmm...

    1. They're so strange! One time, I was joking with DD about all the not scary "scary things" we could think of. I asked her if forks were scary, and she said, "No mommy, they don't have feet."

  4. I like this post! I don't remember having any nightmares as a kid and haven't yet experienced this with my child. However I can see myself responding the way you did.

  5. Loved this! I can't remember my early nightmares but I'm sure I had them because I was always sneaking into my sister's room at night to crawl into bed with her. Sounds like you did good to me! -- Norine of Science of Parenthood

  6. This was a beautiful window into a longing that I share with you... that we want to be comfort for our children now and how dearly we hope there will be someone down the road to comfort them.
    My first nightmare was around the time I was three. I have vivid memories of it to this day.

  7. We always want to protect children, especially from painful experiences of our own past dreams or nightmares. Not always easy, but I believe that if we have the best of intentions, we can always do it. Thanks for linking up with the Creative Buzz Hop this week, sharing your post!



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