I grew up with nightmares that could rival your best horror films. Now, part of that, I'm sure is because with my dad's love of scary movies, we saw them all... I think I was around 3 (or so he tells me) when I sat on his lap and watched the Exorcist; the first movie I actually "remember" sitting in his lap for, though, was Halloween II, which I was an toddler for (the first he remembers me being with him was Superman II, in the theater, and based on that, I was a tiny newborn, although he also says I saw Star Wars (V) with him, which would have still made me an infant!. So, clearly, I grew up with a head full of issues.)
I think dear old Dad was a bit sad when I told him that we restricted what the kids watch, as it relates to TV and film. (My FIL, too, while not a horror movie buff, doesnt understand either why the kids cant watch Patton, his favorite film.) We arent huge on TV anyway, although as they've gotten older, they have seen more stuff, but especially when it comes to movies, there arent 3 year olds watching scary movies or violent movies in our house.
That being said, I love a good horror film. Peter and I watched (although in 2 sittings, just based on the time we had), An American Werewolf in London (which is one of his faves and another my dad took an infant to see at the movies!) just the other day. And if I could force him to sit through my favorites (the original Halloween and Halloween II which must be watched one after the other!), I would, but he's not as into "scary" as I am and, those still make me jump, even though I've seen them thousands of times. We dont watch stuff like this nearly as often as we did prekids (in fact, I think the last time I saw the Halloween saga was when I was on bedrest with Bobby and Maya in the hospital... I tried watching it when it came on TV around Halloween and, while it played in the background, I was busy doing other stuff and just caught pieces.) Our TV time is spent with PBS Kids or Signing Time or something from the Dreamworks family of movies when we have family movie night.
But clearly... it's not film that causes imagination or nightmares. I used to think that my overactive imagination owed itself partly to the fact that I grew up in cinema houses or with a very good knowledge of how to work the VCR. There were other factors, too, of course, but I figured that, with all of those characters running around in my brain as I tried to fall asleep, it was probable they'd end up in a dream or something, so when I had a nightmare as a kid (or sometimes even now...), I blame the movies (and my Mom blamed my Dad... :) ).
Bobby and Maya are active dreamers, Miss M especially. She talks in her sleep and will often have engaged nightmares that, while they dont wake her, wake the rest of us. One that I remember quite clearly was about a spider. I'm not sure when she decided she didnt like spiders (and especially not webs); we arent the squash-it! type and other than relocating them outside if they are inside, I dont recall her ever seening any fear-driven response to spiders, but regardless, she doesnt like them. She will inspect any playground equipment for webs and before playing, wants Peter to take care of it. One night, she was screaming and he went in to calmn her; I could her him talking to her quietly, but couldnt make out what he was saying. By the time he came back to bed a few minutes later, we were both still tired, she was quiet, and we went back to sleep.
The next morning, Maya filled me in. There was a giant spider in her bed that came from the web that was on her window (there was a TINY web outside the screen, of her window, which was closed.) It was crawling on her bed and on her, but Daddy took care of it. For days after, when I'd go to put her down for nap or we'd get ready for bed, we'd have to shake out her sheets/blanket to show her that Daddy had indeed vanquished the spider. She'd retell the story, finish with "Daddy fixed it.", and onto bed she'd go.
She still talks in her sleep; some stuff is about the day ("Bobby dont take that!") but some is clear dream based imagination. It's never happy stuff; it's always filled with whine or light cry or something. But she rarely (in fact, I cant think of a time that it actually woke her... we usually wake her if the nightmare seems really bad) wakes.
Bobby, on the other head, seems to be like me where he has to really wind down to go to sleep (at night with anyone, but at nap with anyone but me), but then is out... unless he is gripped by a nightmare. That kid actually has had night terrors, and they are heartbreaking. One evening, we awoke to the most blood curdling screams. Both of us bolted for their room, but Peter got to Bobby first. His bright brown eyes were open and he was standing in bed, screaming. But he didnt see us; he looked at us, but he was still so out of it that, whenever someone touched him, he just screamed harder. We finally had to turn the lights on, keep saying his name, and finally we were able to wake him up. He blinked, his eyes looked way different (like was actually seeing us), and he started to say our names while crying. He was exausted and terrified. He wanted Peter that night, and I think Peter actually ended up holding him to have him fall asleep. Because he was pretty much nonverbal then, I still have no idea what he drempt.
Last night was similar. Around 1:30am, we woke to a chilling scream and then the scream of "DADDDYYYYYYY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" Like a flash, Peter was in their room, and Bobby was screaming and sobbing. He brought him into our room to try and avoid waking Maya, so we could try and calm him. Still whining and upset, Bobby settled between us and then rolled into my arms when I turned over to him. I kept soothing him that he was okay, that Mommy and Daddy were here and he was safe. I asked him (not really expecting much of an answer) if he had a bad dream, and he actually said "Chased. Legs." and kept trying to put his legs over my stomach so I could hold them. I'm assuming that, in his dream, something/someone was chasing him or he was being chased and his legs were hurt. I held him with one arm and stroked his legs with the other. He eventually wanted me to lay on my back so he could lay on my chest, like when he was an infant. Being pregnant, I can barely lay on my right side (which I was at the time I was snuggling him), and my back is now out of the picture. So, to be helpful, Peter took him.
Poor little Bobby. He started to cry a bit, then stopped, pushed himself off the bed, walked around to my side. I'd had to turn on my left by this point, and he just stood on the floor, laying his head down by my breast. It broke my heart. I scooted over and pulled him into bed with me and just held him. We were chest to chest and he threw his legs over my hip, so I could hold them. His breathing eventually settled and he fell asleep in minutes. I can only assume that he subconsciously remembers kangarooing when he was an infant and maybe there is something about being heart to heart or feeling my breathing on his head/face that reminds him of a safe time.
But the kid is tall... Eventually, he moved to the point that I was holding him, but it was all on my left arm to keep his lanky body from falling off the bed. Peter had fallen asleep so I nudged him and he took Bobby back to his own bed, an hour and a half after the waking began. Everyone is still asleep, even now, although I'm sure my little guy will be up and snuggling with me in a few minutes... He's typically my first-to-wake snuggle muffin! :)
Peter and I had joked while watching An American Werewolf... It was Robert's favorite movie and they watched it in childhood. Anyone who has seen it knows that there are a number of really non-kid appropriate parts (outside of the horror aspect of it), and I love to rib him about what he must have been thinking. In fact, during one part, he's like, "Oh, I never even noticed that until now!" (The movie is from 1981... he's seen it A LOT... It's funny that it can still give him something he's never seen.) But last night, after putting Bobby back into bed, he admitted that he was grateful our kids have never seen it (and by extension, other scary movies) because he'd have blamed himself had Bobby walked in on the movie playing and then had a nightmare.
I get that now. When I was 8 years old, my parents, little brother, and I went to the anticipated release of Halloween 4. It had been 7 years since the second movie had come out and my dad especially, but me too!!!, had nearly bubbled over with excitement. That night, in the darkness of my room, I could not go to sleep. I kept seeing that white mask everywhere (thanks to light from outside playing on the things in my room) and would cry out for my mom. Mom (not a scary movie fan at all and who just got dragged along to these things) wasnt too happy, but Dad told me later that he felt very guilty. He had developed a love of movie make-up and horror film because of an intense childhood fear of clowns (I also dont care for clowns... curious...). In an effort to try and scare himself out of the fear, he learned all he could about make-up and the movies and, eventually, his fear turned into a love of the craft. He had thought that, by exposing us to the stuff early, we would never have the fear. Our Halloweens were filled with having our faces cast in plaster, masks and teeth made to fit us perfectly, and make-up sessions that lasted hours. He would spend the summer months preparing our Halloween outfits; they are memories that I still treasure.
My having a nightmare about the movies made him sad because that was what he was trying to avoid. I can say that most of my nightmares dont include movie images, and that I fully understand what my dad was trying to accomplish, even as we go about it from the opposite side. I guess I see the world as a scary enough place; Michael Meyers and wolfmen... these are the things I can process and understand. Bombings, child abuse... these are things I cant and they are way scarier than anything John Carpenter or Rick Baker can put on film.
I cant save my kids from the world and it seems, it is their worlds (in spite of monitoring and limiting their exposure to movies and even the real "news") that fill their minds and cause sweet (or really sour) dreams. It pains me to know that they experience real fear; it is a comfort to know that, at this age, Mommy and Daddy can still fix it. Just like my own father explaining to me that the characters in the film were just people in make up or mask, or my mother showing me that what I was seeing was just light reflecting on class and that, by moving one or the other, the image faded, we can hold them and slay their spiders or whisper their demons away. I know that wont always be true. One day, they will know about the Newtown, CT and the Bostons, and there will be nothing I can say that will ease their hearts. They will face avoidable tragedy and my hugs will only be a warm reminder that I'm still here for them- and will always be- instead of the solace that takes away all of the anguish and hurt. Right now, we still have the super powers that make the bad go away, and return safety where there was once fear. But, I know that will go away. It will change.
Perhaps that is what made Dad so sad when I was a kid. He realized that, just maybe, his SuperDad status was starting to change... If a nightmare could replace the understanding of just how faked all the movies were, then what else would change? What else would he not be able to save us from?
My mom tells a funny story of when I was learning to walk. Apparently, we had a cornered coffee table (I dont remember this at all) and it was the grip-and-furniture-surf tool of choice for me. As I began to slowly gain balance and walk on my own, there was this constant fear that I would stumble into the table and take out an eye or, at best, get a nice, scar-worthy gash on my forehead. So my parents did what any rational parents of a new walker would do: they buffered the table- with themselves. They would follow me around, arms outstretched, ready to catch any stumble or fall. My mom was a petite, 5'2 woman who was maybe a size 8 back; my dad has always been a big guy: 6'1, 230 pounds or so when I was a kid isnt a stretch. To imagine especially this hunk of guy, crouched down, trying to protect a tiny toddler brings a smile. They could have just moved the table or even covered the edges with padding; I mean, learning to walk doesnt take forever. But instead, they put themselves between me and the pain.
I guess as parents, that is what we always try to do, in both the concrete and the abstract. At some point, reality sets in and we realize that we are just a buffer and that things can get through anyway. But I want to hang out to SuperMom status for as long as possible. (And, on that note, I think I'll snuggle the little guy whom I hear getting out of his bed...)