At about 10:15 I awoke from a half-sleep to hear Kiddo#3 calling for me. Wailing, really. I went into his room and flipped on the lights to find him not-awake-not-asleep.
I was cold, so I didn’t think much of it at first when he was trembling all over. My first thought was to check the thermostat when I got him settled, but I couldn’t settle him. I tried putting a blanket on him, but he was sitting up. He kept throwing it off. He kept urging me to do something, but I couldn’t tell what. His speech was garbled. He’d point to something he could see but I couldn’t and urge me incoherently to do something about it.
It took a long time to get him out of that urgent state. I know it’s a “night terror,” that the child isn’t really awake but is dreaming without the usual sleep paralysis, and of course that’s scary because it must feel wrong. He’s done this before, but not quite this badly.
At some point I managed to get him to stay on my lap and I rocked him, and then I laid him down and cuddled him. But all the time, his hands were twitching and he kept speaking incoherently.
About five hundred years ago, they’d call that demonic possession, I thought, but it’s just an overactive dream. I knew that. It was still freaky. Even with the lights on and thousands of pages of medical science standing at my back, it was freaky.
Eventually he calmed down, relaxed, and fell into a deeper sleep. REM sleep doesn’t last forever, and once he got to the end of that stage of sleep, he stopped moving and went into the deeper sleep, and I went back to my own bed (only to find the baby had, like a heat-seeking missile, gone into my warm spot and there wasn’t room for me where I’d been before.)
I guess this is the place in the post where I’m supposed to draw a Deep and Well-Thought Conclusion. I could tell you this is how it is with God and us, that we get worked up by the problems of the world and point to things that aren’t there and wail for God to make it better when all we need to do is relax because these things aren’t really that scary to begin with.
But that’s honestly not the way I can look at it after holding a child who was shaking when he tried to point to a thing I couldn’t see, demanding I do something to it which I couldn’t understand, and who felt his own body wasn’t working right (because, well, it wasn’t) and who for fifteen minutes lived in a reality that was, literally, a nightmare.
God does hold us when that happens. But I can’t just metaphor it off and say it’s not a big deal, because when you’re the dreamer, that night terror is everything.
Fear not, dear sister – my sibs and I had night terrors fairly frequently as children, and we are all healthy adults. My mother noticed that we seemed to have night terrors whenever we’d had especially exciting and event-filled days. She called them “replaying your day in your sleep.” This does not mean that these night-terror experiences were in any way quiet or tranquil: We screamed and shouted gibberish and threw off our blankets and were inconsolable for a time, but we eventually fell back to sleep and had no real memories of the events the next day. My own children behaved in a similar fashion whenever they had high-ish fevers. Also, I once lived through a night terror with a child I was babysitting. When I first heard her first blood-curdling screams, I was certain – certain! – she was being murdered in her bedroom. I ran in and held her and rocked her while she raved…until she fell back to sleep. Her mom called me the next morning, saying that her daughter said, “Mummy, if I get scared again, would you please hug me and rock me the way [Emkay] did last night.” That little girl didn’t remember the horrid experience, only the comforting. I hope this reassures you. All the best to you and your loved ones – Emkay