There was a flat crocheted Holly Hobbie figure hanging from a light pull in the middle of my bedroom in New Jersey. I was 2-4 when we lived there, I’m not sure how old I was when it became a focus, but eventually it scared the living daylights out of me. I was sure it was going to come to life in the middle of the night and kill me. I devised a safety plan. If the blanket was tucked all around my body and over my head the evil Holly Hobbie couldn’t get me.
I’ve had problems with nighttime for as long as I can remember. In 3th grade we lived outside Boston. I remember starting to feel sick to my stomach as soon as it began to get dark every single night. By the time bedtime actually rolled around I’d be seized with terror. In the morning I’d be fine, but each day was a long slide towards dread and fear. In 4th grade we were in Fairfax, VA. My fear had morphed into a faceless intruder coming into my room to kill me. I decided I’d be able to crawl under my bed and into a hole in the mattress to safety. Inside the mattress I imagined I would discover a tunnel that led to an underground world of tunnels and burrows where a population of people hiding from the world came together. I spent a lot of time in my head with those people. I could lose myself in their world and finally relax.
The terror eased when I became a teenager who wanted to sleep all the time. As an adult living in apartments in cities helped. I never felt alone even when Z was away, people surrounded me on all sides. I could faintly hear them living their own lives and it comforted me. Our home in Syracuse is the first single family dwelling I’ve lived in since I left for college in 1995. We moved in the week before T was born. It seems like he didn’t sleep that entire first fall. Very quickly nighttime became sinister to me again. When it would get dark my anxiety would skyrocket. I was so tired and while I wasn’t scared of things that go bump in the night I was filled with dread that once again I wouldn’t be allowed to sleep. And if I’m honest the other kind of fear has also returned when Z goes out of town. I admit it. I’m scared when I’m alone in charge of the kids. A while ago I told my Mom about all of this. She asked why I didn’t tell her I was so frightened when I was a kid. It confused me. I thought that I did. And who knows what really happened? Now that I’m a Mom I can guess. She needed me to get in bed so she could have a fucking tiny little break and I fought her. I probably frustrated the hell out of her.
And now I empathize with her. Because T sure does frustrate the hell out of us. Some nights he makes bedtime into a torturous process, other nights he is completely cooperative and asleep for a solid 10 hours moments after his head hits the pillow. Lately he has started to talk about monsters. We aren’t sure where the fascination came from-we aren’t showing him movies with monsters, we don’t talk about them. When we were traveling last week he was having a hard time settling and Z lost patience. So we traded off and I climbed into the bed with T. He asked for a song about the Monster Owl. I had zero idea what he was talking about. But I made one up about a good monster owl named Harry who protected kids from bad monsters and who everyone wanted in their bedrooms. T dug it, he’s been talking about it since. Unfortunately I can’t remember how it went.
Z and I just want to get him to sleep so we can decompress a bit before starting this whole parenting thing again the next day. But I’ve been wondering if he’s been scared. Last night he woke up crying in the middle of the night for the second day in a row. He was up even earlier last night-at 1am. When he cries in the middle of the night I go in, Z is on C duty. Last night he confirmed my fears, he told me he was scared. I explained that he was safe and he told me there was a monster under his bed. I guess that cliché exists for a reason. We certainly haven’t put that idea in his head. From the time he first got up until 7 (a major sleep in for us) he was in and out of our bed, we were in and out of his bed, we had the light on in his room so he could play. He was completely unsettled and clearly very scared and not interested in sleep.
My heart aches for him. But at the same time today is going to suck ass because I’m so tired. I need my sleep, I’m a really selfish gal. These are the facts, I wish I was a better mother/wife/person. I just want my kid to fucking sleep so we can fucking sleep. My love and hopes and dreams for him are able to pierce that selfishness enough to fill me with worry. I don’t want him to grow up with a fear of nighttime just like mine. I do not know how to help him.
Z and I brainstormed a bit this morning. We asked T what was scaring him specifically and he told us the monster was an ugly doll that has been in his room for almost his entire life. He kept calling it Bobby, which was weird, but we figured out what was going on. The doll has historically been one of his favorites and it is called Beep Bop. But it has sort of fallen out of favor, it isn’t in the bed with him anymore and we haven’t referred to it by name for ages. I guess Bobby is what he remembered. We told him that Bobby was a good monster and he protected people and we’d really like to have him in our bedroom if T doesn’t want him around so he can make us feel safe. T loved that idea. We are also going to do an under the bed search tonight to show him there are no monsters there and perhaps a stuffed animal can stand sentinel to protect T. We wondered if there was another stuffed animal he wanted in his room that would protect him. He asked for the fish snow man. Which is actually a stuffed ghost some kind vendor gave him at the flea market ages ago. I quite enjoy the irony of a ghost protecting him.
Have any of you dealt with this? What did you do, Smart Friends? How do we teach our kid not to be scared of the dark, of night, of monsters? How to we help him get through the night while also getting sleep ourselves so we have something left over for C and laundry and making dinner and work and each other? T needs sleep, he is exhausted. Dude was a major dickhead this morning. Kept throwing wooden blocks at his brother.
It kills me that fear is already part of his emotional vocabulary. Did I do this to him? Does he see how I struggle to get through the day? Is he learning anxiety from me? Did he inherit it from my genes? Was I irresponsible and foolish for sharing my DNA with my children? Those questions tourment me. I don’t think I can handle the answers.