Friday, September 19, 2014

How a Nightmare Helped Set Me Straight


Do you ever come up with an idea to blog about then experience something that causes you to completely change what you were going to say? Hi, that's me today.

It all began when Gabriel, who currently tends to sleep from 8 or 8:30pm until somewhere between 5-7am (at which point I typically nurse him & he goes back to sleep for a brief time...though that's ending soon - more on that later!) woke up last night at around 9:30pm. The boy had only been in bed for about an hour before he woke up crying. At 13.5 months old, he is definitely sleep-trained and fully capable of soothing himself, so we endured 10 painful minutes before he quieted down and fell back asleep. His crying session at 9:30pm made me a little worried that he wasn't going to have a good night...and boy, was that the case.

Gabriel proceeded to wake up crying screaming at least 3 more times last night between the hours of 3 and 5am. I mostly tried to let him fall back asleep on his own, but all 3 times he cried long enough that I knew I needed to go check on him. I honestly have NO IDEA what was going on because he didn't have a stinky diaper, he didn't seem cold (and I placed his blanket over him each time I went in), and he didn't seem to be crying because of something like teething pain. In my (limited) experience, teething pain is recognizable by him chomping on his hand, biting his crib, and not calming down at all even if I were to pick him up (which I don't do unless he really does seem in pain or sick). Each time I soothed him for less than a minute before leaving. Naturally, he screamed louder and harder each time I walked out, but he eventually calmed down and fell back asleep.

Basically every time he fell back asleep I could not fall asleep for the longest time - so it felt like I had been sleeping for barely 5 minutes before he would wake up less than an hour after his last crying session. I'm someone who typically needs to think about things in order to fall asleep (as opposed to my husband, who needs to completely clear his mind first), so it was only natural that at one point I began thinking about some blog I wanted to write about "fear" (bear with me).

The gist of the would-be post was something about how, as a mother (and wife, young woman, etc.), I choose not to live in fear. This might sound silly, but lately I've noticed how many people (especially mothers!) I know just seem so incredibly anxious about everything under the sun. Personally, I like to think I worry a healthy amount (and there are definitely circumstances that require hyper-vigilance), but the kind of endless paranoia that threatens to take over so many mothers' time with their kids just isn't for me. Mind you, I'm not saying that I'm never anxious - but the type of worrying I'm talking about usually goes hand in hand with helicopter parenting...which is something I do not ever want to do. Let me just clarify really quickly that I know much of how cautious you are with your child has to do with your child's stage of development - because one month ago I still had to follow Gabriel around telling him "not food" when he tried to eat mulch. What I'm talking about are the parents that can't even let a 4-year old gently fall down and scrape their knee [the horror!] without freaking the freak out and babying them.

As I tried to sort through how I wanted to say all of this in a blog post, I eventually fell asleep. At last...I was going to get some peaceful sleep (spoiler alert: I was WRONG).

Instead of being awoken by my baby one more time, I began having one of those half-awake, half-asleep dreams that seem eerily realistic. You know, the kind that feel like you're awake when you're really not. Well, I suppose my subconscious wanted to serve me up a whopping bite of humble pie about this whole "fear" topic, because what happened next was downright TERRIFYING.

I dreamed that I heard footsteps approaching after they visited my baby's room - and it even appeared as if I could see a person's shadow creeping through our living room en route to our bedroom. In reality, our bedroom door was closed and there's no way I could have seen such a thing even if it had existed - but sleeping Stephanie didn't know this. Next, I saw the shadow of a man standing in our door frame, slowly entering our room and - seriously, this is terrifying - then raising their arm...which had a gun.

I was paralyzed with fear and I tried so hard to talk, but because I was half-asleep I only felt myself struggle to make a soft grunting sound. Then, I thought I saw the person walking around the edge of the bed towards my husband's side - where the person just stood, staring. At this moment my brain decided to horrify me even further with the notion that while this "person" had a gun in one hand, in their other arm was our baby...!!! I finally snapped out of this nightmare and said out loud, "is someone there?!"

No answer, but I still thought I saw this scary person's shadow. Then,  I quickly tapped on Michael's back frantically telling him to "wake up!" My poor husband. Bless his heart. He was startled awake and I told him I thought I saw someone walk into our room. Without hesitation, he jumped out of bed and flipped the switch of our bathroom light on, revealing that (thankfully) this was all in my head.

He climbed back into bed pointing out to me that our front door is locked (with a deadbolt and a chain-lock, no less), which meant this wouldn't have been possible. I told him he was right and apologized profusely as I tried to calm down.

Adding to the misery of all this was the fact that I had a pounding headache and my body - because of the fright - was completely burning up. I threw the blanket off, cooled off, then headed to the medicine cabinet for some Tylenol. I could see in the mirror that my hand was steady, which took me by surprise, because on the inside I felt like I was shaking...everywhere. It was the weirdest sensation.

Eventually Michael and I both fell back asleep before his alarm went off only a couple hours later.

What a night.

I'm not even sure I got a full 4 hours of sleep with everything that happened.

Long story short, I knew as soon as I had that all-too-realistic nightmare that I couldn't possibly sit down and write about how I do so well to not live in fear. I mean, it just seemed laughable when I had just felt FAR more afraid than the entire year I lived in a gang-ridden neighborhood in Chicago. After all, there are things in this world that are unquestionably frightening, so any claim that I'm somehow a mother who parents without living in the shadow of fear makes me sound a bit too bold for reality. When you're a mother, there will be plenty of situations that can (and dare I say should) scare you. My unfortunate nightmare reminded me of this.

The key, I believe, is to differentiate when it's appropriate to be afraid and when we're simply being irrational about things entirely beyond our control. As Christians, we know that God has plans for us and He tells us not to worry. As mothers, we know that there are times when we need to be by our baby's side as they explore this great big world and learn to get their footing (both literally and figuratively), and hopefully we all learn that there are also times we need to stand back and let them experience a few things without swooping in to immediately scoop them up in our arms. As a mother to a baby on the brink of toddler-hood (who, by many standards, already IS a toddler) I am constantly evaluating where I am on the 'hovering' scale and whether or not I need to be there. I think that is the real message I was initially wanting to convey back when I was thinking about writing about not being fearful.

Let's just hope that next time I need some help clarifying my words that I am not startled into finding better phrasing because of a twisted nightmare....

And please, if you get a spare moment, say some prayers that our baby (and we all) sleep soundly tonight. :)

"So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own."
Matthew 6:34


  1. Oh my goodness, those dreams are the absolute worse! I've woken up Alex several times over something that seemed so scarily real like that. One even brought me to tears when I woke up - the worst. Prayers that all of you get a good night's sleep tonight!

    1. Thanks, Emily! We have slept SO much better since that night, thank Goodness.