by Sarah Stockton
My daughter and I both had nightmares last night. She woke me from mine with a cry of "Mom!" Just as wrenching as her piercing wail when she was an infant, it shot through my nervous system like a siren. As I sat on her bed hugging her stuffed Ducky to me for warmth, she launched into a description of her bad dream, a habit sheís had since she could talk. She likes to recount the dream in great detail, as a way of banishing its power over her. Her dream involved a bad man who grabbed her while her dad stood by doing nothing, even though she screamed and fought.
After she was finished, I told her I was glad she woke me up from my bad dream. In mine, I wandered the streets of some strange city, looking for an important meeting for which I was late. The meeting included all of my relatives, my mother, and my boss. Oh, and I didnít have any shoes on, and the shoe store I found didnít have any shoes in my size, though I tried on dozens of pairs. My nine-year-old daughter thought about this for a minute and said, ďThat sounds like a dream a grown-up would have, all right.Ē
I gave Ducky back and saw her settled back into sleep. Then, I went back to my own bed to ponder, at four in the morning, why our nightmares are so consistently different. Hers are almost always about wanting help or attention and not getting it, and mine are almost always about being inadequate to the situation at hand.
My daughter has often asked for reassurance that she wonít go back to the same nightmare after she falls asleep. I reassure her readily, because in my experience, the same dream, in the exact same form, never reappears twice. The themes however, occur over and over again, writ large. For instance, I often dream of shoes, and I think I know why.
I attended my fatherís wedding to his second wife when I was 13, back in the loose and free days of the early 70ís. I wore a long, hippie-style dress, and no shoes. What was my mother thinking to let me attend a wedding in a church, albeit an informal one, with no shoes? I cringe, even now, 27 years later, at the defiant gesture of a naÔve girl, left vulnerable by her need to rebel. Some conformity might have been better protection both for my pride and my heart, not to mention my feet.
Shoes, to me, are the ultimate symbol of preparedness. I want comfortable shoes for long walks and elegant shoes for important meetings. During my years as a single mom I bought all of our shoes at discount stores. I still eye expensive shoes like a poor child staring through the chain link fence at the fancy houses beyond.
My daughterís dreams often involve yelling for help and no one comes and no one hears her, while she is being chased or captured. The images evoke primal fears of abandonment, of anger, of terror.
I have more primal dreams sometimes, too, though they usually involve fear for my children, not for myself. For my deepest concerns at this point in my life are not just about whether or not Iím prepared for the challenges of making a success of my own life, but whether I can be an adequate protector, provider of shoes and banisher of evil demons in my childrenís lives, if not in their dreams.