Night Terrors and Day Dreams

After a rough night with my youngest daughter, I offer two beliefs and a philosophy that have guided my life and my parenting.

1. You can’t spoil a baby, you can’t hold them too much.

When my first daughter was born, I couldn’t put her down. People would tell me, “she’s asleep; she doesn’t need to be held now” and I would inevitably answer, “I know, but I need to hold her.” I held my children; I didn’t let them cry. All except one night when my baby daughter was just short of three months old and the doctor had told us she should sleep through the night and if we let her cry for three nights, she would sleep uninterrupted.

The first night was agony; I couldn’t stand it. I begged my husband to listen to make sure she was OK, and I went downstairs to the couch in the living room and just cried myself. I never did that to another child. It wasn’t worth it. She did learn to sleep through the night earlier than the others, but I learned there are better ways to accomplish this and more importantly, it isn’t the end of the world if they don’t learn to sleep through the night till later. Each child probably took longer, but somehow I never minded. All healthy, normal children eventually sleep through the night (or get old enough to entertain themselves). All healthy, normal children eventually get toilet trained. They learn to walk, to talk, to be independent, at their own rate and there are enough things in life that cause you to rush forward. Watching a child grow is one of the greatest joys in life, why rush it?

2. Parents can share their bed; mothers aren’t likely to smother their infants; and sometimes, kids just need to be near their parents physically.

As they grow, they need to just come and give or get a hug. For no reason other than they suddenly realized they haven’t gotten one in a while, or that the world is a big place. Sometimes, this need goes way beyond those infant years. My two younger children, at almost 13 and 9, still come over for this quick feeling of connection (while I have to chase after Elie and my middle son).

I think children should have their own beds and be encouraged to sleep in them. But as a newborn, my children were more likely to be found in my bed than in their own. After the first few weeks or perhaps months, they became accustomed to sleeping in their own cribs but once they were able to walk, there were times they would come to us in the middle of the night. To gain admittance to our beds was simple – come and ask, and often, just climb in. We’ll let you do it today and tonight and probably tomorrow night too.

Make a habit of it, and we might sort of break you of the habit, but now and then, our bed is always open to you, as are our arms. For years, especially on mornings when there was no school, one or two or three or more children would climb in and we’d cuddle or talk or wrestle. I miss those days even though at least three of my kids are full grown and too big (although yes, sometimes they’ll still come and sit and talk, and even lay down).

So, those are two of my great parenting beliefs; I’m sure there are others.

And a philosophical point: when you ,most need to sleep, that’s the time your child will come to wake you up, to need your attention. It’s always been that way. I can’t count the number of times I’ve had an important meeting the next day, and spent hours dealing with a fussy child. Perhaps they feel our tension; perhaps there is something else going on.

And so, in the middle of all else that is happening in Israel now, why have I gotten to this subject now?

Because last night, my youngest daughter came to my room in the middle of the night. She was shaking and scared. She’d had a terrible dream and could find no comfort. I didn’t even have to prompt her before she told her terrifying story.

Bad men came to take her and her friends. They told her that they were going to kill her and they told her that they’d killed her family. I was completely awake by the time she’d finished and without hesitation, I simply lifted my blanket and in she climbed. Within minutes, she was sound asleep, cuddled by my side, holding my hand.

Hours later, she went to school and I went to work. I can analyze in all directions why she had that dream and still never know for sure what prompted it, what deep fear she has inside her. It could have been something she saw, something she read. It could easily be hearing the news and worrying about Elie and others. It really doesn’t matter because there is little more that I can do for her other than what I did.

Her country is being hit by rockets every day. Even at 9 years old, she knows this and yet she asks no questions. A soldier was killed the other day, hit by a mortar. A mother was playing with her daughter in the park when they hear the siren in Ashkelon. They ran for cover, but didn’t make it in time. The mother was critically injured, the daughter suffered minor wounds.

While my daughter probably didn’t hear that specific tragedy, she hears others. Her brother is a soldier and she doesn’t really understand where he is. She’s never been to an army base, other than the training one in the south. She sees him come home and sees him leave and doesn’t really know where he goes or when he will be back. This time, it has been longer than usual. For a while, he was coming home every other weekend, and during the month before this happened, Elie had been home three times. He’s been gone now for almost three weeks.

She spoke to him once on the phone but I usually catch up with him after she has gone to bed and even when I do call early enough for her to talk to him, he’s usually at the checkpoint and too busy to listen to a 9-year-old talk about her math test, her English test, and who she is best friends with this week.

I think that just as I had my melt-down yesterday over something so simple as the woman at the bank wishing Elie well, I think my youngest daughter finally gave in to the tension she feels around her. There isn’t much I can do to help her, other than lift the blanket and tell her to climb in. Judging by how quickly she went back to sleep, this time snugly in my bed, I guess that was enough.

As she slept beside me, warm and content, I decided that maybe I needed it as much as she did. Sometimes you hold a baby because you need the comfort even more than they do and sometimes, I’ve discovered, you call your son in the army because you need that too.

Maybe growing into a soldier’s mother isn’t that different than the rest of the journey I started years ago, when my first child cried out and I took her in my arms. Sometimes, the journey is hard and scary and exhausting, but there is no other road I would take, no other path I could imagine following.

I was trying to think of the ending to this post – something like, “The road is long. With many a winding turn. That leads us to who knows where. Who knows where. But I’m strong. Strong enough to carry him. He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother”, where I could have substituted the word “son” for “brother.”

But truthfully, I’m not sure I’m strong enough to carry Elie and he’s certainly more likely to be calm and carrying his own weight and much of ours. As I was contemplating this, my phone beeped, and so I’ll end with how we live these days:

“A Grad missile has hit the center of the city of Ashdod. There are wounded. Perhaps from shock.”

And so it continues.

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