Last night I woke up with a foot in my face. I lay there, eyes squinting open, looking cross-eyed at the foot which had been thrown across my nose. So annoyed. I had been having a dream in which my friend Ali had inherited a Sizzler. And just as we were helping ourselves to endless bacon bits and ranch from the salad bar, I was yanked out of my dream to a Sizzler-less two a.m. by a heavy foot. From the size of it and the absence of tiny tufts of hair coming off the toes, I deduced that it was not my husband's foot.
"Dude," I sleepily said out loud to my husband, "there's a 10-year old in our bed." I move the hairless foot off of my face and hopelessly nudge its owner who is known to sleep through fire alarms. On autopilot, my husband sits up, scoops up the young intruder and sleep-walk carries him back to his room.
This scenario is by no means unfamiliar. This has happened more than a few times in the past few years. Yes, there have been stretches of time where my son stays put and sleeps without a problem, but all it takes is a scary story told at school, or a trailer from a horror film shown on a commercial break and he's uneasy in the dark of his bedroom at night.
But I can't be mad. He comes from a lineage of former scaredy cats. He reminds me of me when I was his age.
I'm not quite sure what started it all, but I remember being scared at night. I was quite fearless in general, but when the sun went down and the shadows moved across my room, I became spooked, and some nights, even paralyzed by fear. Fear of what? For me, it was fear of the unseen, fear of seeing ghosts (particularly Native American ghosts) and also, fear of the life-size Marie Osmond doll that my aunt had given us, hopefully as a joke. I was also obsessed with the mafia and worried that they would come and break my legs. And I'm mad that I ever watched The Dark Crystal.
My parents nearly pulled their hair out trying to get me to stay in my room.
It all peaked when I was in the fifth grade, and was my son's age. My parents nearly pulled their hair out trying to get me to stay in my room. I remember lightly knocking on their door the way that Evan does now, hearing their frustrated sighs (thank God I never heard passionate sighs) and then curling up on the bench at the foot of their bed trying not to be so disruptive that they would stop allowing me to do it.
So what do we do about the Boogie Man?
Just as my parents did, we will remain patient. As long as we can determine that my son's fears are not about a bigger, underlying issue which requires more attention, we'll just give it time. When I was my son's age, I knew just enough to get my imagination running wild in the silence that had set in on my sleeping house. My parents didn't punish me for being afraid; they just made me feel loved. Fears about life had set in for me, and they took the form of various things that were spooky to a 10-year old. They dissipated, and I grew out of it as I gained knowledge and confidence with age.
Well, I say I grew out of it. But I still run like hell up the stairs to escape being chased by Sitting Bull's ghost, avoid scary movies like the plague, and sleep with the hall lights on some nights. And if I ever have a nightmare, you can bet it usually involves Marie Osmond, breaking my legs.