But Mommy, I'm scared.
The first time she said it was about a year ago, and she was almost 2½. She'd never uttered the words before, and they came seemingly all of a sudden one night as we were putting her to bed.
Scared of what, love?
My heart sank and cold starting creeping into my stomach. Almost like panic was starting to set in, which confused me. Why should this bother me so much? It was only a matter of time until she got scared at bedtime. Doesn't every kid eventually go through phases of being fearful of the night?
But it bothered me.
It took a few nights of her crying at bedtime, which was really unusual for her. We started leaving the door open, and that seemed to allay her fears.The Fear Fest was over for now, and was not revisited even with the transition to a baby sister and a big girl bed all in the same month.
Until about a month ago. And it started up again.
This time, she wasn't fearful going to bed. Instead, Hubby and I started waking up to her frantic callings of Mommy! Daddy! in the 3 or 4 o'clock morning hours. Hubby usually answered the calls. It was nightmares jolting her from slumber.
There is a bug on my bed.
My (stuffed) animals are peeking at me.
What is that on the wall.
I'm scared of my room.
It's been going on for over a month now, some nights better than others. We do our best to give her love, comfort and send her back to sleep peacefully Some nights she resists, other nights it happens almost instantaneously.
But it tugs at my heart, even more than when it first happened a year ago. I feel panic, anxiety in my heart for her. I struggled over my strong reactions to her dilemma. And as I thought and meditated on it, I realized exactly why I felt so strongly about it.
Because I had been that kid.
During elementary school, I was the fearful kid at nighttime who went through bouts of not wanting to go to sleep. I struggled over a period of insomnia, and I was particularly affected by scary movies (which I cannot watch even to this day). As my 3½-year-old daughter cries out for me, I am brought back to my own experience.
My heart can perfectly recall the agony of being alone in the dark, wondering what might be lurking in the closet or under the bed. My active imagination conjured amazing thoughts, ideas and images on the matter. I ached for my parents, who were just downstairs watching TV, fearing that I would still be awake when they headed up the stairs to their bedroom. Because if they went to bed, I would then be battling the Night alone. Every sound was my worst nightmare coming to life, and the sun rising seemed impossibly far away.
I spent nights waking from bad dreams, unable to shake them., wondering where the dark shadows were hiding. Unable to determine reality from fantasy. I wish my 30-year old self could speak to my 7-year old self, letting her know that everything would be ok. That one day you would thrill to go to bed, and relish sleeping in. That monsters and ghouls do not really exist.
I find that it is this fear that I want to spare my daughter from. Because when she cries in the night, I know exactly how she feels. I know exactly what scary images might be running through her head. I know what enemies she battles in the dark. And I don't want her to face it. I don't want her to know fear, anxiety, loneliness.
If I am honest with myself, I know the sentiment extends farther than sleeping. I think ahead to riding the school bus, being in a classroom with peers all day. There will be new fears, bigger fears. People will be mean to her. Her feelings will be hurt. One day, she will know the emotions of embarrassment, insult, shame. A friend will betray her. And there will come a time that a boy will break her heart.
But it's all part of life. As much as I want to embrace her and shield her from every difficult thing, I would be doing her a disservice. I would be holding her back. I know that, however hard the experiences may have been that I have faced, they have made me who I am today. I am stronger, wiser and braver than I have ever been.
And I have my 7-year-old scared of the dark self to thank for it.
Facing Our Demons
Because there is nothing more valiant than facing our fears, nothing more victorious than facing a demon and overcoming it. To survive embarrassment and know we live to see another day. To look Fear in the eye and know it does not power over us. That we will overcome.
And we are better for it.
So tonight, when I hear her tiny voice call out to me, as it will a thousand more times in her lifetime, my heart may break a little. But I will go to her and show her I am here. That I love her and will do everything in my power to protect her. More importantly, I will show her that she is braver and stronger than she thinks she is.
And she will be all the better for it.
Stephanie Anderson is a West Chester, PA mom. This post was adopted from her blog, Confessions of a Stay-at-Home Mom.