It was around, probably 2 or 3 in the morning. The sound of rain was hitting the windows and streets outside, adding nature’s own little lullaby of sound to the night. I awoke to the sound of our son’s voice calling out from the other room, scared.
I went in and found him in bed, sitting up and talking about a bad dream he had about Willie the Giant from Mickey and the Beanstalk trying to eat him. I gave him a hug and a kiss, told him it was all right – that we were all here, all safe, would keep him safe, and started making my way back to the other room.
It was not to last.
He was soon scared again and this time, the hug wasn’t going to cut it and allow me to cut out and back to bed myself. It wasn’t said, but I just had this feeling that I would be sleeping somewhere other than my bed tonight.
His room was freezing so those hardwood floors were not going to cut it. There’s a rug in front of the couch in the living room and although still atop hardwood floors, it seemed like it would be at least a little more comfortable. We found our candidate.
Grabbing his pillow, his teddy bear, and a pillow for myself, we made our way to the living room while mommy and sister slept. Him plopped on the couch with a nice cozy blanket over him, and I right below on the rug with a blanket normally draped over a nearby chair. The blanket didn’t quite reach from my toes to neck as would be ideal on a cold night, but beggars can’t be choosers and so you choose your priorities. In this case, covering up my feet took precedence over the habit of pulling the covers up tight around my face.
The floor was cold, hard, and I still feel the stiffness in my neck halfway through the morning as I sip my coffee and write this. He talked, a bit too much at times for a groggy daddy who was trying ever so hard to fall back asleep before the 6 am alarm went off.
Eventually, though, it all fell into place and we both faded off into La La Land until my phone started going off with text alerts about local school delays and closings every other minute. Then the sounds of Simon & Garfunkel’s Only Living Boy in New York played from the other room as my clock-radio alarm went off per usual to alert me it was time to hop into the shower and begin the day.
Fortunately for me, he stayed asleep through all of my morning routine, only to wake refreshed some time later.
And though a bit worse for wear in the neck and mind on my part, we made it through, no giants (or humans) harmed in the making of this impromptu sleepover and I got a big hug in the morning that he didn’t want to let go from.
I’ll take it.
Outside our window, the street lights brought some illumination to the pavement and yards below, but the thick, black darkness filled our home.
I moved my head to the left, seeing the glowing red numbers of my alarm clock. Not quite 5 a.m. I was curled in an odd, not very comfortable S-Shape, my body wrapped around the slumbering cats curled up in our bed throughout the night.
Then, I heard it. A tiny little voice from the other room.
Our son, talking in his sleep.
He called out the name of one of my parents’ dogs, the same playful way he does when he wants them to chase him around their house.
A few minutes later, I heard “Ernie! Elmo! Help me with...(a slew of words that were unintelligible).”
Shortly after that giggles and laughter.
Some time later, I heard “Dada, me take binky outside, peeaassse?” (we’re still working on weaning him off that binky. It only shows up at night for sleep currently as we try to lessen his dependence on it)
I just laid there in bed, smiling, trying to stifle my laughter at these wonderful adventures, laughs and lives he’s living in his sleepy little head.
It was wonderful.
Even the name sounds scary, doesn’t it? Well, that’s because it is, for both child and parent alike.
Fortunately for a lot of people, not every child goes through it, I’m told, and I’ve asked around and found that only a small percentage of parents I ask had a clue as to what they were, let alone had their child go through it. Which is good, because it’s frightening as hell.
My parents tell me that I had them as a kid, but was at least a few years old when they came about. Typically, they occur in children from 3 years old to 12 years old.
For us and our little guy, though, it started very early; within the first few months type of early.
For those who may have been lucky enough to not have gone through them, don’t confuse this with bad dreams or nightmares.
Oh, so different.
It can sound like normal crying at first, it can sound like a sudden shriek, but what it becomes is a long, arduous bout of exactly what it sounds like – continuous shrieks and screams of absolute terror from a baby who has only been alive for half a year and shouldn’t have to experience such fear, whatever he’s experiencing.
Seeing your child in pain, fear, etc, is hard enough for any parent, but here’s the thing about night terrors – you can’t do anything about them. You just can’t. The baby is not even awake for them. So, here we are, holding this tiny little guy, who is fast asleep, eyes closed tight, with no notion that you’re there showering him with hugs and love to comfort him, as he cries out in fear over and over again.
It gets even freakier and heart wrenching, when his eyes open a little bit during it, even though he is deep asleep and not even close to awakening. We’ve had night terrors periodically for months now, and last night was the first night I saw his little eyes open during them, while still asleep.
Believe me when I say I have never felt such heartache and helplessness as I did looking into his eyes and seeing the absolute terror on his face as he screamed, knowing there was nothing more we could do but hold him close, shower him with love and let him know we were there for him to come back to.
He’s absolutely inconsolable and unable to awaken and it’s quite scary.
I’ve heard a lot about night terrors, from doctors who say there’s nothing that can be done other than allow him to outgrow it to more metaphysical theories of night terrors as the process of babies experiencing trauma from a past life. When I think of that I just think, my god, if that’s true, what type of horror must my poor little guy have gone through in another life to be this frightened and tortured.
Regardless of what’s behind it, both theories prescribe the only thing that can be done – hold him, love him, let him know you’re there.
It’s the only thing we can do.
As gut wrenching as it is in the meantime, I just hope that one day, when I look back at this entry, I will go ‘wow, remember that?’ because the episodes will have become so far in the past, and he will be sleeping peacefully in the other room.