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A Frightening Sleepwalking Adventure

Photograph by Getty Images/Flickr RF

The weather was unseasonably warm for a late January Los Angeles evening. When I went outside to throw out some trash before bed that night, I felt the warmish Santa Ana winds under an almost full moon, and I thought, "It feels like summer." Little did I know then how thankful I would be later for that warm night air. Or the immense gratitude I would feel for the close-knit neighborhood we live in.

As a mother there is nothing I have come to love more than the feeling I get when I put my three kids to bed. And it’s not just because I am relieved to finally have my daily mom duties handled and that my husband and I get to spend some time together like we used to before kids. Nope. It’s also because when I tuck my kids safely into their snuggly beds each night I feel an overwhelming sense that all is right in the world. My kids are sleeping soundly. Peaceful. They are exactly where they are supposed to be. Safe.

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It was around 2 a.m. on that warm January night when our three dogs wildly awakened me. Since I am long past the nights of being woken up by an infant, I sleep like the dead. But the barking immediately broke me out of my deep slumber, and I started walking downstairs rather foggy-headed.

Our oversize front door consists of a wooden frame around opaque glass. When we rebuilt our home four years ago, we put a lot of thought into our front door. Next to the opaque door is a long side window for glances outside. As I made my way down the stairs, I saw our dogs all barking at the front door at a flashlight that was shining through the opaque glass, casting an eerie 2 a.m. glow into our foyer.

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For some reason, I didn’t think twice about going straight for the door. No thoughts of whether or not this was someone who was trying to break in came into my mind. I just walked straight for the door toward the moving flashlight, telling the dogs to hush. In retrospect, I guess I was tired. I didn’t even think to wake up my husband.

As I made my way through the swarm of howls to the door, I leaned over to the left to look out that side window. The first thing I saw was my neighbor of 10 years with the flashlight in hand. Then I looked down by his side and saw my youngest ... Tommy. Just 4 years old, standing in his dinosaur jammies, crying and confused.

And then I started crying and becoming confused.

The first thoughts that went through my head were, “How did this happen? Did I somehow forget to put him in bed? Could I have really left him outside?”

I opened the locked front door in shock, stammering, ”What happened? What is going on?” My neighbor told me he heard Tommy crying outside. Thank God my neighbor had fallen asleep on the couch watching TV. Otherwise, he may have never heard him crying. He had no idea why Tommy was outside, and he wondered if everything was actually OK in our house. I mean, why would a 4-year-old be outside at 2 a.m., crying in the front yard?

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The “what ifs” rifled through my brain at lightning speed: ”What if he walked into the street? What if no one had heard him? What if someone … ?” I couldn’t stand the what ifs. When I brought Tommy inside and back up to bed, I cried to my husband about the what ifs. He told me to try and focus on the fact that those what ifs hadn’t happened at all.

With our new custom front door installed four years ago came a hefty, not inexpensive handle and bolt lock. It looks like this:

This is one of those “fire-safe” front door bolts where even when the bolt is locked, if you push down on the handle with just a little oomph the bolt will unlock. Now this is great if you want to get out quickly during a fire but not so great if you have a 4-year-old who decides to take a little sleepwalk.

I would have never classified Tommy as a sleepwalker. Sure, he somehow finds his way upstairs into our bed in the middle of each and every night, but honestly, that kind of sleepwalking is welcome. Cuddling alongside my last born until he grows out of this phase is something I truly love. I had never given one second of thought to the fact that he could ever sleepwalk right out of his bed into the night air.

Tommy believes he never really did venture outside. That it was all just a dream. He told me he had a hammer and he busted right through our front door glass … in his dream. When I did a little research about sleepwalking, I learned that “escape” is a common theme.

Now our bedtime front door routine includes a variety of barricades, and I even resorted to pulling out the old baby monitor so I can hear if any other nighttime escapes are underway. All I know is that the image of seeing my Tommy in his dino jammies on the other side of a locked door at 2 a.m. is something I will never forget.

So yes, thank God for an unseasonably warm January night and a longtime neighbor friend asleep on the couch with good hearing.

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