This post originally ran on BabyCenter.com.
My daughter woke up at 3 a.m. screaming one night last week. That may not seem like big doings to anyone who has ever battled the sleep patterns of a toddler, but this was no ordinary night-waking. From the second she regained consciousness, my 20-month-old began yelling the name of her favorite TV show, Yo Gabba Gabba, which she fondly refers to as “YA YA?” The question mark is intentional, because she always says “YA YA?” in the form of a request. But the screams coming from my daughter’s crib that night were no request; they were a plea.
Seeing as she had slept soundly the previous eight hours, neither my wife nor I knew what made our daughter beg for television the second she awoke. Not being of sound and rational mind at the God-forsaken hour of 3 a.m., it took a while before we realized what happened: she had just awoken from a nightmare.
As best I can figure, she was in the midst of a pleasant dream watching Muno, Brobee and the rest of the Gabba gang performing some type of song-accompanied antics when all of a sudden two pitchfork-wielding demons appeared and cut off the television. Much like most people awake from a dream the instant before they, say, get hit by a train, my daughter jerked awake as soon as said demons cut short her fun time. And since the only people who have EVER done such a horrible thing to her in real life are her own parents, I picture the scene that woke her up so abruptly looked something like this:
Scary, indeed. For what it’s worth my daughter went back to sleep with a few reassuring pats, so we’re really not that bad in real life, at least since I’ve stopped carrying the pitchfork around.
I looked up nightmares the next day, and it turns out children even dream in the womb, at least in some form. As they get older and their mental capacities develop, dreams only become more vivid. That explains not only how my daughter was able to have a nightmare so fierce it woke her up, but also how, with her ever-increasing vocabulary, she was able to verbalize the traumatic scene her own brain conjured up that night.
This isn’t the only time my daughter has woken up in such a manner. We got a report one day from daycare that she woke up prematurely from a nap screaming for “AIRPLANE STICKERS!” and wouldn’t calm down until she got one. Luckily there were stickers available, but I fear the day when she wakes up on her 16th birthday screaming “NEW CAR, HONDA, FULLY LOADED!”
The world is an exciting and new place for any child and, luckily for us, our daughter hasn’t been spooked by much of it. However, the one thing that causes her to break into a fit faster than Bobby Cox on a bad third strike call is the immediate cessation of a fun-filled activity. I have learned that few things turn from good to bad quicker than when your child realizes it’s time to leave the playground, or stop coloring, or turn off her favorite television show. This is the stuff of nightmares for a toddler. While it’s not the creepy, spine-tingling horror you’d find in a Stephen King novel, I can still sympathize.
My earliest nightmare I can remember involved a shower faucet. In the dream, I was taking a bath. Not just any bath, but an awesome dream bath where your G.I. Joes talk and obey your orders and Ninja Turtles slice your pizza with a katana. All of a sudden, I noticed a human arm coming out of the shower faucet above my head. The hand held a cup full of water that it began dumping on my head. It freaked me the eff out and I woke up crying. To this day, I still believe there’s a 2 percent chance that arm will thrust out of the showerhead one morning and my wife will find me curled up the fetal position, soaking wet and blubbering about “evil shower arm.”
My adult nightmares now are much different than they were when I was a child, but the level of terror they invoke is the same. The fear I felt as a kid when I dreamed the clown from Are You Afraid of the Dark was trying to eat my face is the same I now feel when I dream about my daughter trapped inside of a locked SUV that’s slowly sinking into a pit of quicksand. Regardless of age or how many Goosebumps books you read as a child, everyone has experienced that heart-racing pang of fear that comes from a nightmare, and my daughter is now a part of that club. As a parent, there’s nothing I can do to prevent it, and in some ways that’s a living nightmare all its own.
That last night-waking was the only my daughter has had, but there will surely be more. She’s sleeping peacefully as I write this now, so hopefully she’s dreaming of something pleasant. Perhaps instead of demonic parents entrapping her favorite dancing television characters, she has caught a ride on the “HAIRPLANES” she is so obsessed with:
Or maybe she found herself in a shower of multi-colored pacifiers:
Or maybe she’s atop the world’s biggest slide that shoots her into a bathtub full of Cheerios:
Whatever dream it is, I hope it’s a good one. If so, maybe I’ll join her: