Yesterday, our babysitter confessed, “I think I traumatized your children.” She’d really only traumatized our 6-year-old twins, not our napping 2-year-old. Actually, she’d mostly traumatized our son by recalling to him in the daylight frights he’s been suffering in the dark. Griffin’s 2-year-old sister has also been enduring nightmares, and this pair’s dueling torments have become the cruelest sort of sibling rivalry for their parents, relentlessly fracturing our sleep.
“I’m sorry,” the sitter said. “I saw that Maurice Sendak book Georgia had, and I started singing that song about Pierre.”
“You know, the one where he gets eaten by a lion.”
“Noooooooooo!” screamed Griffin and Georgia.
“I got really into it, and I didn’t realize at first how upset they were.”
“No problem,” I said. “I’ll just call you when Griffin wakes us up in the middle of the night.”
The situation reminded me of the time my father helped host one of my sister’s Brownie camping trips and regaled the girls with the story of “Hatchet Mary,” who chases children in the woods with an axe. To polish off his masterpiece, my father then allegedly snuck a few feet away with a real hatchet, after tucking the troop trembling into their tents, and delivered several resounding blows to a nearby stump. Our phone apparently rang for weeks with the voices of incensed parents.
Our babysitter had committed no such treason and had merely stumbled into the thicket of our twins’ most current fears. Griffin in particular has been working through a stage in which monsters chase him through his sleep. And I was the one who had purchased Sendak’s “Nutshell Library,” thinking it might help Georgia resolve her own present conflict of resenting her twin brother because he appears to her more well endowed in every way: in our love, in his accomplishments, in his belongings, in his body. I was trying to convey to her that choice bits sometimes reside in small packages (pun intended)—that less is often truly more.
But of course this lesson proved too subtle for Georgia and ended up backfiring on me. While our daughter happily read through “One Was Johnny,” “Alligators All Around,” and “Chicken Soup With Rice,” she found the “Cautionary Tale” about Pierre, who only learns to care after being abandoned by his parents and gobbled up by a monster, to be somewhat alarming. So, apparently, did her twin brother, so harrowingly did the story coincide with the nightmares he has lately been harboring.
“That’s why Maurice Sendak wrote the book,” I tried to console Griffin yesterday at bedtime. “Every kid has that dream at some point. And every kid ends up being OK because they figure out that they can get through it—that it’s not real.”
“I’m just afraid to go to sleep,” our son wailed. “I’m scared the monster is going to come alive in my dream and eat me!”
He didn’t care that his nightmare was highly unoriginal. He didn’t care that the doctor ends up shaking an unharmed Pierre out of the lion in the end. Nothing I said quelled Griffin’s panic. So I recalled my husband from his March Madness night out with friends.
Finally, Griffin fell into a fitful sleep at his father’s side by about 10 p.m., and our son actually made it through his somewhat truncated night without further incident.
“I didn’t have any nightmares!” Griffin triumphantly declared this morning.
“Maybe it’s because we talked them all out?” I wearily and hopefully offered.
“Promise I won’t have any bad dreams tonight?” he asked me again this evening as I pulled up his covers.
“I can’t promise, but I don’t think you will.”
As I write this, Griffin is peacefully slumbering. I’m hoping his repose will last the night. But even if it doesn’t, even if Griffin awakens again in terror, I believe that he will soon learn that he can do battle with his darksome demons and conquer them all by himself.