Sydney had a nightmare last week.
She woke up screaming for her daddy, refusing to leave her room without him carrying her out. Normally when she wakes up in the middle of the night, she wanders into our room, gets one of us to help her into the playpen, and then falls back asleep. Not this time.
The next morning, she wandered out to the kitchen and said, "My room is on fire." I made a move from my chair to rush to Sydney's room before she stopped me: "In my dreams. My room is on fire in my dreams. The door was burning, and I was calling and calling for Daddy and he couldn't get me because my night light burned the door." She started crying again as she told me the story, and I scooped her up in my arms and reassured her that it was just a dream, not real.
She has been terrified of going to sleep every night since then, insisting that we leave the door open and her night light off, when before she always wanted the door closed and night light on. She trembles with fear every night as she wakes up with the same nightmare: her room on fire.
We showed her the smoke alarm, and how it worked. We talked to her about us being right next door. We prayed with her for Jesus to keep her safe at night.
She is still afraid, although she was less fearful tonight.
I am at a loss for what to do. Teaching my children courage has never exactly been my strong suit, although I think I fake it pretty well at times. There are certain phobias I have that I work hard not to convey to Sydney because I don't want her to inherit my irrational fears.
No need to be afraid of the dark. See! It's okay!
Isn't swimming fun? Isn't water fun? Ooh, look at your pretty swimsuit!
It's just a tiny bug. It won't hurt you at all.
I may be afraid of the dark, terrified of water, and phobic of bugs, but I try to put on a brave, smiley face, just for my kids. Except, of course, whenever I encounter spiders, for which I have no false reservoir of bravery. I can't fathom a situation in which I could calmly react to a spider. Hmm...maybe if I were in a movie opposite Matthew Macfadyen, being paid $10 million dollars?
Nope. I just ran the image through my mind, and not even money and Mr. Darcy could get me to share screen time with a spider. This fear--this internal shaking that causes me to break out in a cold sweat--is what Sydney must be feeling each night when she approaches her room at bedtime. And the most I can do is hold her, rock her back and forth and say, "You're okay, baby. You're safe."
I want her grow up brave, grow up strong and confident; I don't want her to grow up saddled with all my fears. It's, of course, what every parent wants...that our children will inherit the best of us, rather than the worst. I want to give my girls my confidence in public speaking, my ability to communicate through writing, my strength in finding humor. Or at least, perhaps not these specific traits, but the act of boldness to do something. I work hard to overcome my eating disorders, my depression, and my manic anxiety not for my own benefit (because I have after all these years learned a few coping techniques) but for the benefit of my children. My real fear is that these are the fires that will burn in their adult doorways, and all my words of bravado will be too little, too late.
Fortunately, I keep growing, learning, maturing, and yes, facing my own fears. I find that practicing to be brave for my girls actually does make me feel a little less afraid. My words echo back to me in Sydney's voice as she gives herself a pep talk before taking medicine, "It's okay, Momma. I'll very be brave."
Right now, I'm hoping her nightmares are just a phase that will soon pass. We continually monitor what she watches, and encourage her in every way imaginable that she doesn't have to be afraid. I don't know what to do beyond that...Except try to practice what I preach and tell myself when I'm in a room full of my own fears, I'll very be brave.
As a parent, I think it's the only choice I have.
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