Monday, January 19, 2015

Remembering the Fearful Years

I wrote this last night when I should have been sleeping. I was just trying to get in my 750 words (I'm using to write more, and it's working) but I got into it and wrote about 1500. Here's what I was remembering...

It sounds like L and his buddy have stopped talking. Little boys have no volume control--no matter how many times you say, "Whisper!" I remember a comedian saying that boys and girls go to sleep differently, and that's certainly true with my two. Little girls get their lovies all arranged just so and get a drink and another story, Mommy, and curl up like little kitty cats until they drift off. Little boys are like, "HEY MOM, GUESS WHAT? WE PLAYED FOOT--ZZZZZ." L is not one to insist he's not tired, though. He's always been one that likes sleep. Which is why I'm not surprised that he and his friend have dropped off.
C, now...that child never wanted to sleep more than she absolutely had to, even as a baby. I know I should be grateful that she did go through spells where she took decent naps of an hour or more and slept through the night--and I WAS grateful. The problem was that these spells never lasted all that long without interruptions. Anything could disrupt her sleeping pattern--teething, sickness, travel, Venus retrograde in the house of name it, it would cause C to start waking up around 2 AM. She was chipper as long as you held her all night long. And a snack wouldn't go amiss, either. PAR-TAAAYYY IN MY ROOM, Y'ALL!
Anyway, we got through the baby and toddler years and then there were the Fearful Years. Mostly during preschool, but we had issues from time to time up until third grade or so. Something would trigger her fear, and she would come out after we followed the bedtime ritual to the letter (including tucking in her 576 stuffed animals--I kid you not, they were piled three-deep along the side of her bed, from the head to the foot). She was always a sobbing wreck when she came out, five minutes or less after we'd tucked her in, when she'd seemed perfectly fine. I would be just sitting down with my chocolate from my secret stash, about to congratulate myself on finishing another day of Keeping the Children Alive and (Mostly) Unharmed, and here would come this small person.
"Mom? Dad? I'm scared because I heard that the SUN IS GOING TO BLOW UP AND NO ONE WILL BE ALIVE ON EARTH ANYMORE." That was an actual conversation we had when she was six. Damn you, Educational Scienc-y Channel! I remember saying, "IF that happens, it will be in about 500 million years!" and trying to convince her that if it were going to happen any time soon, didn't she think it would be on the news? Logic: such a great idea to try to use it on a terrified second-grader. Eventually my persuasion worked--that time. Most of the time I didn't have any logical response. Mainly because her anxiety triggered a very primal response in me. I don't remember having a lot of these types of fears, but maybe I had more than I realize. I certainly am more anxious and fearful that the average bear NOW, so maybe I was then, too. Anyway, I remember my mom coming to lie in bed with me when I had nightmares because my dad wasn't so good at waking up and also because he wouldn't try to couldn't sleep with kids in their bed. (This may have been why we always had full or queen-sized beds.) If my night terrors happened before my dad went to sleep, he would come in and talk to me logically and pray with me, and that worked pretty well. So that's what we did with C. One of us would take her back to bed, and talk a little about it--what was real, what wasn't--and then pray for her, and quote, "God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, love and a sound mind--say that with me, Chloe, now breathe in, breathe out" (this was my idea, but I think it helped her keep from having full-on panic attacks. And I would scratch and/or stroke her back for a while.
The hard part was that she was never, ever ready for me to leave when I was desperate to leave. She does not fall asleep quickly, even now when she doesn't have night terrors. She would get still and I'd ease up off the bed (chocolate, I'm coming for you!) and her big wet eyes would open. "Mama?"
I wish I could say I always stayed, that I was always a fountain of consolation. But as she got older and these periods of fearfulness would reoccur, Justin felt that she had to learn some self-soothing skills. And I was so tired and ready to eat my dang chocolate and watch mindless TV.
I also knew that I wanted her to learn that she was working herself into a frenzy and that she alone held the key to her mental prison. As much as I wanted to, I could not banish her fear for her. We had given her some self-soothing techniques. Now it was time for her to learn to use them for herself.
It was REALLY hard for me to send my sobbing child back to her dark room--it felt like I was being heartless, no doubt because I felt like I was abandoning my own small self. I had to tell myself that what she wanted--curling up between us on the couch and watching TV--was not really going to help her. She was going to have to learn to go to sleep by herself anyway, and staying up late would only exhaust her for the next day. It was basically "cry it out" all over again, including the minimal soothing to let the child know they aren't being abandoned but not enough attention to make them feel it's worth staying awake for.
She'd come out crying, we'd hug her and pray for her, remind her to quote her Scripture verse and "think happy thoughts" (she was probably thinking, "You try that, Mom, when you're worried about supernovas!") to replace the scary ones. Interestingly, the scary thoughts only came to mind at bedtime. Things that didn't seem to bother her at all at the time--a mildly intense scene of an action movie, or a trailer for a horror film (I hate those--aired on prime-time "family" shows!) could send her into hysterics later that night. But we had to remind her that with Jesus's help, she COULD conquer her fears.
It worked. At twelve, she falls asleep every night  without assistance (I do let her read a little while past her official bedtime if her brain just won't turn off), and I eat my chocolate without interruption. Of course, she's an adolescent, so she's sometimes not sleepy at bedtime, but she's not fearful even when reading a YA dystopian novel. (She also never wants to wake up at 6:15, either. Thanks, teenage hormones!) Tonight we watched Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and I am willing to bet there will be no nightmares. I hope she doesn't struggle with anxiety like I have in my life, but if she does, I will try to help her learn to manage her own fears, because some things I can't do for my children, as much as I'd like to.


  1. So hard. I totally hear you on the 'could I just eat my dang chocolate and watch tv now'. When my husband traveled, I would get so angry when Angus yelled for me in the middle of the night because it would wake me up with a pounding heart and I could never get back to sleep, but I knew it was because he was anxious because Matt was away so I'd TRY not to be angry..... agh. It's nice to be past all that. I'm glad your hard work paid off.

  2. Oh yes, the waking up from a dead sleep with a pounding heart is awful! I'm glad we (and you!) made it past that stage.