Thursday, March 11, 2010

Bad Dreams

We are in the midst of the bad dream phase around here lately. I remember this phase very, very vividly with Claire. It started just after Benjamin was born and continued for about a year. There were times that we were up with her during the night more often than we were for her newborn brother.

And I guess bad dreams affect each child differently, but her reaction was usually to start screaming hysterically at the top of her lungs as if she was being hacked to death with a pick-ax, causing us to bolt out of bed like the house was on fire in order to calm her. I remember many a night lying down with her in her bed with my heart pounding, panting like I had just run miles.

More often than not, a snuggle and a prayer were all it would take to calm her down enough to go back to sleep, but there was always the chance that the bad dream would return and cause a repeat of the above stated, bolting, pounding and panting to happen several times a night.

She finally grew out of it, but now it seems Benjamin has picked up where she left off. Yet, his reaction is a bit milder. Instead of the hysterical screaming, Ben's reaction usually involves crying and calling out, "mommy, mommy, mommy or daddy, daddy, daddy." It's always a crap shoot as to who he will call for each night. He's usually back asleep in about 5 seconds but will wake right back up if you dare to leave his room without praying first.

Though each of my children respond to their bad dreams in different ways, one thing is the same for both of them: they can rarely, if ever, tell us what they were dreaming about. Half the time they can't even remember they had a bad dream when asked the next morning. Why is this I wonder? Is it God's way of protecting them by allowing their little brains to forget? Are they asleep enough that they aren't able to verbalize it? Or are their dreams so amorphous that the "bad" part of it is just recognized as "bad," and that's enough?

I wonder.

One thing I do know is that when I have a bad dream now, I remember it. If the dream is bad enough to wake me from my hard-earned slumber, then it is bad enough to wake me ALL the way up and to be running through my brain.

This doesn't happen to me very often anymore, but the dreams that I would categorize as truly bad ones are ones I can still tell you about today.

When I was little, for whatever poorly-judged reason, I was allowed to watch, if not all, then most of the movie, The Invasion of the Body-Snatchers. I don't think I would have been much more than about 5 at the time, but I will tell you that I had bad dreams about that movie for a LONG time... years maybe. Not every night, but those slimy, pulsing pods of terror made for some very bad dreams, let me tell you.

And why is it that the bad dreams that we do have tend to repeat themselves over and over? I've had many students in the past write their research papers on dream theory and dream analyzing. How would pulsing pods of slime translate for Freud I wonder. Whatever the reason, surely my fears must have been playing themselves out in my subconscious somehow.

Certainly this is evident by another common bad dream of mine which involved me as a very young toddler being snatched out of the shopping cart by a stranger while my mother's back was turned. That's really all I remember about that dream. But I had it over and over for many years, and while the "stranger" may have morphed and changed over the years, the dream never continued beyond that moment when I was snatched (by the by, I just noticed that two of my dreams involved "snatching." Interesting. Odd, but interesting. Wonder what old Freud would say about that?) I always woke up right after that moment. I think because whatever was to happen after the snatching moment was just too scary for my little self to handle.

My most common dream during middle and high school, and it even continued for several years after that, was that my teeth were falling out.

No, no going to school naked for me. Instead, I would arrive at various locations only to discover that my teeth were loose and were on the verge of falling out of my head. To make matters worse, this dream almost invariably included the frustrating moment when I realized it was a dream, made myself wake up (or so I thought) only to discover that. OH. MY. LORD. MY TEETH ARE STILL FALLING OUT! This cycle would continue over and over, and my anxiety level would ratchet up, higher and higher.

A nightmare I tell you. A nightmare.

Again, Freud. Have your field day.

Since becoming a mother, my bad dreams have again changed. And, as most mothers out there would agree, my greatest fears center around something awful happening to my children, and so that's the horror that occupies any bad dreams that I have today.

The worst dream I have ever experienced as an adult happened when I was pregnant with Benjamin. Something about those hormones during pregnancy, but that dream was so vivid and so terrifying. I could describe it still very specifically, but the long and short of the dream was that I was out on a big floating raft-like thing in the middle of a lake with many people. I can't recall all the people there, but many friends and family for sure. It was dark, it was loud, and it was crowded.

And, I lost Claire.

She was 2 at the time.

I lost her, and then I heard a splash.

And then there was much searching, much panicking, and much freaking the heck out. For a long time. Long enough for me to realize that she wasn't coming back.

I woke up from that dream with my heart pounding, sweating profusely, shaking like a leaf, and crying uncontrollably. Crying so hard that Shawn woke up, and while I babbled the whole dream to him, he just kept saying, "it wasn't real. It wasn't real. It wasn't real." It took me a long time to believe him.

But, boy, did it feel real. So real that I got up and went into Claire's room in the middle of the night just to make sure that she somehow hadn't drowned in the middle of her bed.

The dream I had two nights ago was almost as bad.

This time the setting was a beauty pageant.

And I was a contestant. (Shut up.)

Yes, I understand that that in itself is a bit nightmarish and unbelievable, but that's actually not the worst of it.

For some strange reason the pageant took place outside in a large public park next to a huge swimming pool full of kids. And as I and the other contestants were walking to the stage in our Yoga Wear (this is what we decided to wear in lieu of swimsuits. Don't ask. Dreams don't always make sense, right?), I looked over at the pool and saw Benjamin in the shallow end holding hands with other kids.

While I watched, he took a deep breath and put his head under water.

I continued walking and watching him, waiting for him to come back up.

He never did.

I broke out of line, raced to the pool and dove in, only to realize that my clothes wouldn't allow me to swim well (darn those heavy yoga clothes).

I could see him at the bottom of the deep end now and couldn't get the attention of the lifeguards who couldn't hear me and who were distracted by the beauty pageant contestants.

I was treading water, yelling, choking, and watching Ben who was not moving at the bottom of the deep end.

I woke up, gasping for breath and shaking.

This time I was able to keep from crying, but just barely.

Now, why both of these nightmares center around my children drowning, I really have no idea. I'm sure there is some symbolic significance of water there. But the completely powerless and helpless feeling I had in both those dreams was so intense that it makes my breath catch if I think about it even now.

It's enough to make me wish it were just my teeth falling out. Nightmare though that may be.

I'd rather be toothless than be kidless. For sure.


Anonymous said...

I'm sorry Naomi. Bad judgement call to let you watch Invasion of the Body Snatchers. That's one of the scariest movies I have ever seen, tho when you watched it it was the first time we had seen it. Ignornance is bliss.

Kelly said...

dreams are interesting things. Nathan is studying psychology in school and he is learning about all these wonderful theory's. It's kind of crazy what your brain does when you are sleeping. I do hope you never have another dream like that again. Something about those kind of dreams that stick with you.

The Fab 4 said...

Good grief, Naomi. I found myself gasping a bit at the drowning dreams. Horrifying. Thank goodness for the pageant reference. Brought me such joy to think of my brilliant friend rolling her eyes at the blonde dufuses (dufi?) quipping about world peace while you wax poetic and proficient about Chaucer.

Naomi said...

Ha! Merica, if only I had the chance. I do specifically remember, while donning my spiffy yoga wear, that I was totally out of place here. You, Rachel, and some other friends from high school were in the pageant with me. :-)