What's a Parent's "Worst Nightmare?"
By Eric Renderking Fisk - April 3rd, 2008
So, I'm at this multi-church men's conference, like "Promise Keepers" and I realize that there's something horribly wrong because we're asked to sleep in a parking garage. You know the ones I'm talking about, the multi-level ones that spiral around on the outside.
It's nap time in the middle of the afternoon and I'm laying down on this metal cot with an old mattress, inside my sleeping bag with one eye open towards my coat rack where my fedora is proudly perched. This is an open-air parking garage and I'm worried about it being blown off because of the wind at this high level. I'm shivering because it's cold, but I should be one of the lucky ones since my cot is on a part of the parking garage that's level and some of the other men are sleeping in a cot that's on the slope and once in a while I hear someone rolling off. I imagine it's going to get worse when night comes.
I'm laying down thinking how ridiculous this is. It's the weekend, I should be home with my family. If I wanted to nap like this, I could be doing this at home in my house and not a parking garage.
Larry King is in the cot next to me talking about his suspenders and bow-ties and asking me if I approve, if that's "Retro" enough for me. As we all know, Larry King has his own TV show and is incapable of shutting up. But what you don't know is that Larry King is incredibly insecure and constantly seeks validation from those around him. Everyone else is pretending to be asleep, and since I'm the only one awake I'm the target of Mr. King's questions.
Larry King says he's too cold and asks if he can climb into my sleeping bag and I yell: "OK, enough of this bull!" And I pack my stuff into my back-pack which is much larger on the inside then it is on the outside so I'm able to fit my disassembled coat rack into it. I put my fedora on, point to my sleeping bag and tell Larry King he's welcome to it. I snap my cell phone open and call my wife.
... I'm telling you, I'm so retro my cell phone has a rotary dial with a real bell that rings in side.
She tells me that she and our youngest son are shopping and to meet them there. I don't know where "there" is, but after a short walk I find myself in the town where I grew up and I walk into the store where I used to buy all of my Army-Navy surplus that made my vintage style so accurate.
My wife is there dressed in an effeminate version of Robert Duvall's "Gus McCray" outfit from "Lonesome Dove." Our youngest son is also with her, but there's nothing special about what he's wearing.. My wife told me she's been taking some extra vitamin supplements and that's why she looks 17 again... which she does. She looks amazing and I tell her I can't wait to go home... then I suddenly ask where our youngest child is. We turned our back and in an instant he's gone.
I run outside and see up the road on the corner of Main Street and Western Avenue where the Paramount Theater used to be, traffic is going around some obstacle in the middle of the road. I realize that it's my son and I suddenly realize that he's been hit by a car. I run down the street yelling his name. I see our cat running away from the scene of the accident and I wonder if he had anything to do with this.
As I get closer and closer I realize that my son hasn't been hit by a car. He is in fact sleeping on the same cot that I was sleeping on earlier in the day. He has his own sleeping bag, the one his grandparents gave him this past Christmas. As I get closer I see that penguins are directing traffic and I'm both amazed and astonished that they are able to do that, and people are actually obeying their commands. I realized at this moment that this is a harsh commentary on the world and someone should be writing about this. I'm horrified that my son would take a nap here of all places and I start to imagine what could have happened if the penguins weren't there. I start to panic and then next thing I know, I'm awake...
One of the things they don't tell you before you become a parent is that you'll be plagued with strange dreams about your children for a very long time... much the same way they don't tell you before you graduate from high school that you'll still have nightmares about showing up for class unprepared.
I still have dreams about waking up in my room mothers basement using antique furniture that my extended family stored down there or tried to throw away and I wouldn't let them... that part sounds like a nightmare but is actually true. I would wake up and realize that I had a final exam for a class I never showed up for. Or after my last class on the last day of school I was told by a guidance counselor that I had to take an exam for a class they forgot to schedule me for back in September... but their mistake doesn't mitigate the fact that I still have to take this test, get an "A+" on it or I can't graduate high school.
There's the nightmare about on the last day of summer school I was told that I wouldn't get the credit for it because I didn't pay a $90 fee. Oh, wait! That actually happened.
I'm getting way off course here. Since becoming a parent, I've had the occasional dream or nightmare about some danger that threatens my boys.
There was one dream that plagued me for weeks - a comet was about to strike the earth and a particular time in the middle of the afternoon... 2:15. When the time came my wife and I were huddled with the boys on the bed in the room with the best view of the sky so we could face our death head-on. We were all wearing our best clothes. Again, my wife wearing an effeminate version of Robert Duvall's "Gus McCray" outfit from "Lonesome Dove." We saw the fire-ball scream across the sky heading east, and then suddenly exploded into a colorful burst just like fire-works on the Fourth of July. That was it. Afterwards, we looked around and discovered that rather facing death all of our neighbors had killed themselves rather then face a fiery death, as did all but one tenth of one percent of the population of the Earth.
There are the nightmares about being lost in the middle of the woods in winter and hiking around a trail along the side of a mountain, and we discover that all the wood that we tried to use to make a fire had been replaced with inflammable fake trees by an environmentalist group to prevent logging and forest fires.
There are also the dreams about wolves, other wild animals or creatures from movies or my own childhood imagination trying to eat my kids. Then there are the all-too realistic dreams about your kids not having enough to eat, eating too much, eating the wrong things. There are the nightmares about strangers, child abduction and the real threats the sick and disturbed aspects of this modern world. Being a parent means that you can't take a break from being vigilant, not even when you're asleep.
After talking to other parents since Monday morning, I discovered that this is a very real phenomenon that every caring parent goes through - the worst dreams are about harm coming to your kids and not being able to do anything about it.
I used to like to watch documentaries about "The End Of The World" and how it might happen. I'm fascinated by the prospects of survival and how someone could survive an event like that if they were lucky or skillful. Most recently there was a pair of documentary's about what the world would be like if suddenly there were no people and how the Earth would recover and reclaim land dominated by us. It's fascinating and captivating despite the fact that all the dialog is spoken by the narrator and scientists who explain that even a nuclear power plant might be reclaimed by nature in less then a few hundred years... maybe.
I'm watching this and I thought: "What would happen to my sons? Who would take care of them if everyone's gone?"
Then a voice said: "Uh, they would be gone too...." That sarcastic voice was my wife's, since I often think out-loud. - Those documentary's aren't that much fun any more. Since the moment I knew my boys were coming I've worried about the fate of the world and the direction we're going.
As I wrote above, a parent's worst nightmare is having harm come to their child and not being able to do anything to help them. A true parent worries about the children they bring into the world and raise. I've had to grow up and become the action hero for these little people and be ever vigilant. Just the mere thought of having kids has altered my view on politics and the world in general. What does a parent do when they feel powerless to prevent things from happening, such as natural disasters, crime or war? I don't know how those parents who have actually experienced disasters cope...
Is There Even A Name For This?
I did a quick search on Google looking to see if there's a name for parents having dreams about their children being in danger with many variation of the phrases used for the search. There are plenty of search results about a "parent's worst nightmare," [if you do search yourself, have your "SafeSearch" turned to at least 'moderate.'] and there are plenty of search results on "children's nightmares and night-terrors" and how to cope as a parent.
... But search results on how parents can cope with nightmares about their kids? I came up with nothing.
Maybe because it's so basic, something so instinctive and hard-wired into our DNA that we should automatically understand why and how this happens. If you believe in the Theory of Evolution, then it's easy to imagine that when we have children we're conditioned to be very wary of danger involving our kids. Something in our genetic make-up triggers something in our minds that focus our hopes, dreams, worries and concerns on our offspring just to make sure the species survives.
Or, on an emotional-spiritual side it could be that the love you feel for your own child runs so deep that every aspect of your being and subconscious is preoccupied with their their safety. There had been a moment in my own life when I could actually feel the priorities of my life changing, 8 months and a few weeks before Coppertop Fisk was born my wife called me at work to tell me she's pregnant... I could feel the laws of physics change and the color's wave-lengths shifted towards a more starker, saturate end of the spectrum... and I saw sharp corners and edges where there used to be none...
A Deeper Level Of Love You Couldn't Comprehend Before.
Children, especially when they're your own, have this capacity to steal your heart despite the fact that for the first few years after they're born they wake you up by screaming at the top of their lungs in a desperate need to startle you from a sound sleep. They start out as this helpless bundle of flesh and bone, and when my two sons were born I had this constant urge to wrap myself around them to shield them from all the invisible dangers, (real and unreal.)
Then when they start to develop as people, and start showing signs of being something other then eating machines, dirty diaper factories and noise makers, that's when they really steal your heart. My oldest son went from mimicking me to learn how to do things to mocking me to get a laugh from my wife. My youngest has learned to con my wife and I into doing or getting things by depriving himself of sleep, getting cranky and holding our peace and quiet hostage. Or, "H-Bomb Fisk" as we like to call him, knows he's cute and adorable and uses that to get what he wants... "I luv you, daddy" is the most powerful phrase in his growing vocabulary.
As they grow into being their own people, you would think that this fear of mine of the kids coming into some type of danger would subside. The fact that they know how to do things on their own would cause me to be worried less. Not even in the slightest, because now I'm emotionally invested in these little people. I know Coppertop wants to know what does it take to be a superhero and if I am one because of my long underwear. H-Bomb loves trains and insists on watching Thomas three times a day.
These kids of mine are now people I know very well. If anything were to happen to these guys I would be devastated because I've grown to love them beyond the instinctive impulse to do so...
There is no conclusion to this rant...
On my wall there's a picture of my wife back in the days when she was state champion of her division in horseback riding. She's wearing what can be best described as a feminine version of the costume worn by Robert Duval in "Lonesome Dove..." this isn't a nightmare, it's a living and waking dream turned into reality.
Yesterday we went to the hospital to have a mysterious bump on my youngest son's arm checked out. It's smaller then a dime but they may want us to remove it in a month and in the mean time they want us to monitor it. They made sure that we understood that they're sure this isn't cancer, while at the same time they don't know what it is yet...
... and this was after reading an article in the lobby about how there's really no rhyme or reason why kids are becoming allergic to modern staples of children's diets like peanut butter, eggs, milk and other foods. Seems to me that kids are getting sicker for no good reason other then the unexpected concourses of our modern living.
It's a Herculean task to keep everyday fears in check and being too over-protective at bay. I don't want to become one of those parents that is hyper-sensitive and buys hand sanitizer by the quart. There are these constant minor threats and major concerns that try and creep into a parent's thinking. It's almost maddening.
A few minutes before I started writing this final section, I put Coppertop Fisk on the bus. It's a huge leap of faith when you stop and think about it. You're putting your child on a bus with other people's children with a driver you don't know very well. You have to just believe that the school checked this person's background. As kids grow up and start to take small steps into the world there are going to be calculated risks and ways they have to learn to avoid danger. For me, that's a nightmare.
... But for my sons, these are the biggest adventures in their lives. Getting on a bus to go to school is their equivalent to me being able to fly my VW Beatle to the moon. Life is full of adventure, with exciting firsts to experience and enjoy. The world is a dangerous place enough with out having to worry about every perceived danger and allow your mind to indulge in every nightmarish scenario that pops into your head. Because another one of a parent's "worst nightmares" is raising a child into adulthood who's afraid of everything to the point of not living life.
The greatest gift I can give my two sons is the spirit of adventure with a sense of wonder. To protect my own heart and themselves I also need to perform the hardest balancing act ever - teach my kids how to take educated guesses and risks as they venture out in the worlds they're discovering while at the same how to be safe and not allow themselves to get ensnared in the traps waiting for them. Another "worst nightmare" would be failing these two boys by either going too hard in one direction.
This is the toughest job I've ever undertaken. And so far it's been the best.
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