earth below us

I had a sleepless night last night, and I’m dragging today. The Bee woke me up at 1:30 in the morning, just wanting to get tucked back into bed after getting up to use the bathroom. Then the Potato climbed in next to me at 3:30, because he was ‘coldie’–which is what happens when you kick off your covers every night, and insist on wearing shorts to bed. After letting him kick me in the ribs for about 20 minutes, I finally put him back in his own bed, where he snuggled cozily and fell asleep.

And that’s when my real trouble started.

I’m sure every parent has one dream that reveals their deepest fear, one terror about something really bad happening to their kids. Mine all revolve around massive heights and careless kids. I’ve dreamed about one of my kids falling off the Golden Gate Bridge, or off the top of a Ferris Wheel. Last night, it was one of those rope bridges across an Amazon gorge, like you’d see in a movie.

There’s never any explanation of how we happened to end up in the ridiculously high place. I think the likelihood that we’ll ever be in the Amazon is pretty slim, frankly, but it’s evidently a major concern to my subconscious.

Regardless of the circumstance, the horrible part of the dream, the part that keeps me awake, the part that, once I’ve dreamt it, keeps replaying over and over again in my mind, is the moment when one of my children goes over the edge. And I watch them fall.

It doesn’t matter if I try to stop the fall, or if I just stand there dumbly, the child always falls, and I’m always left behind.

I’m not sure why my subconscious picked this dream to stand in for all my fears about my children. I was never afraid of heights before my kids were born. But when I became a parent, all kinds of things that never used to scare me adopted whole new, frightening postures. And what’s worse is the feeling that I will never go back to the state of fearlessness that I used to enjoy. I can’t unmake myself as a parent, nor would I want to do so. But I’d sure like to stop having that dream.

Normally, when I have this dream, that’s it for my night’s sleep. I lie awake, or get up and go read somewhere else in the house so landisdad can still sleep. Every time I close my eyes and try to go back to sleep, that last image of a kid falling haunts me. Last night, I tried some creative visualization. I imagined us all harnessed together, I thought about how we could crawl instead of walk across the bridge, I (mentally) carried the Potato piggyback.

I thought about what’s hiding behind this dream, about my real fears for my children. The dream is a metaphor, of course, for my fear that I will not be looking at them at the most important moment, that I won’t be careful enough, won’t be meticulous enough with these, my most precious loves. I worry that in a world like this, you can never know which moment is most important until it’s too late.


April 3, 2007. thoughtful parenting.


  1. Jay replied:

    You probably don’t have to worry too much about rope bridges in the Amazon, but obviously this is a fear that represents many others. My mother always used to say that if you worry about something, it won’t happen, so if nightmares bother you at night, at least they’ll keep your kids safe during the day.

  2. Procrastamom replied:

    I have the same types of dreams where one of my kids falls off something (is this a widespread mother thing?). I thought it all stemmed from an incident when I was younger. My younger brother had ahold of our highly spirited dog one day when we were visiting a canyon and he very nearly got yanked into the abyss, because the dog wanted to chase some birds flying overhead. My brother was only little, about 8 or 9 years old and if my dad hadn’t caught him they would both have gone over (him and the dog). I thought maybe my affliction was from that.

    I do believe that I started worrying the day I found out I was going to become a mother and I don’t think I will ever stop for the rest of my life. It’s ingrained in us. Part of our instincts.

  3. elise replied:

    You are definitely going to get a lot of readers who will read this post and know exactly how you feel!

  4. thordora replied:

    I have that dream all the time. My worst was one where my daughter and I were in a concentration camp, and they put her outside in the cold, and made me watch her freeze to death through the window.

    I want to cry just thinking about that dream.

    These dreams hurt, but they remind me that live is short, and must be appreciated, since things can change.

    They scare me though.

  5. Andy replied:

    Ugh, how horrible. I know the feeling, too, when you wake and just can’t shake what just happened. Mine is trying to dial 911 and not being able to get through, or getting through only to have it be the wrong number. It’s always a different reason I need to dial, but always ends with the same traumatic attempts at frantically dialing and not getting through.

    I hope you get some rest tonight. I totally feel your pain on the sleepless front.

  6. Susan replied:

    I’m with you, although my fears involve car crashes.

  7. mamalala replied:

    Oh, I so get this. Not the falling, it’s usually someone hurting my kids, but agh. I usually try to rewrite the ending so I can go back to sleep, too. It doesn’t always work, though.

  8. bj replied:

    Mine is that we’re running/fleeing from some danger (monsters, nazis, bad people, a flooding river, whatever), and I tell my children to run, to come into the elevator, to leap on the escalator. But, my children don’t listen (or one of them doesn’t listen). Instead, they complain, that they’re tired, or hungry, or don’t want to go in the elevator.

    I wake up at the point where I’m leaping into the elevator with one of my children, while the other one is on the other side of the shutting elevator door. I too have to re-write the endings in order to go back to sleep (or even to not have a miserable day).

    No secrets about my wories — that my children won’t listen at a crucial time (and of course, this is ’cause I’ve trained them in a safe and comfortable world where there are always second chances), not in the acopolyptic visions of our dreams, or the television news. It’s amazing how visceral these dreams are.


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