Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Monster in Your Dreams

I’ve always been fascinated with dreams. They are magical doors to exciting worlds, escape from the banality of life. Dreams are the seeds of inspirations and ideas. They are source of nightmares and fear. They are the windows to our souls.

My little Ryan has always had bad dreams. He was two and a half years old when I adopted him so the situation was traumatic for all involved. For awhile they were every night, an hour to an hour and a half after he went to bed. I would rush to his room and pull him into a hug and tell him Momma was there. Everything was okay.

When I first brought him home he spoke Chinese and I knew none, but he learned English quickly. Months after he came home I asked him what he remembered about China. He looked at me with a confused expression and said “nothing.” He only had memories of being with me.

Over the years, I’ve tried to jog his memory. Does he remember China at all? What about when he was with us there? Or living with his foster family? He remembers nothing, to my huge regret. But he was only two and most people have no real memories from their past before three.

Ryan is five now. Lately, his dreams have changed. He tells me they are about China when he was little. But when pressed, he said he didn’t remember.

But this morning was different.

I woke up late and had to get three kids and myself ready. I was in my bathroom and running behind when Ryan came in and stood next to me, very subdued. I looked down at him and he said. “I had a bad dream.”

I kept fixing my hair and asked, “What was it about?”

“When I was little in China. And Jenna was there.” This was a new piece of information.

I glanced down at his face, uncharactistically expressionless. I sat on the floor and pulled him onto my lap, facing me. “What happened? Do you remember?”

He stared into my eyes, tears welling up. “I lived in China and you came to get me.”

I sucked in my breath as cold terror trickled down my back. His nightmares, finally, after all these years made sense.

I am the monster in my child’s dreams.

I pulled him into a hug and told him how sorry I was that it was so scary for him. He didn’t know what was going on when I adopted him. The orphanage director brought him to me and left. He was alone with a strange looking woman who smelled different and he didn’t understand what she was saying. He was traumatized. He had cried for hours.

I leaned him back and stared into his face. “It’s okay to have those dreams,” I said. “It’s okay to feel mad, or sad or scared of Mommy in your dreams. You’re not bad to feel that way. You didn’t do anything wrong. But I love you very much and I’ll do anything to make you feel better. I want you tell me when you feel this way and I promise I won’t be mad or hurt or sad.”

A tear fell down his cheek.

“Do you understand?”

He nodded.

“You need to tell me so you will feel better. If you talk about it your dreams might not be so scary. And I promise I won’t be mad. It’s okay to feel that way.”

He spent the next ten minutes with me as I got ready, holding my hand when we went to get his sisters up. Within another ten minutes, he was fine, his silly self.

But I’ve spent the morning reliving every nightmare he’s had, viewing it in a new light. What could I have done differently? How could I have prevented this trauma for him? Because isn’t that what we mothers do? Blame ourselves?

The truth is, there are things I could have done, but I’m not perfect. Maybe I should have pressed him harder sooner but I don’t think so. Honestly, I don’t think he put it all together himself.

So why am I telling the world this painful experience? Because I wish that I’d spent more time repeating his adoption “story” with him. Jenna, the first, had a bedtime story about a little girl who lived far away and her family flew over an ocean to get her. But Ryan is my third adoption and our bedtime routine has changed. I’m often in a hurry to get my kids to bed so I can work. Stories don’t happen as often as they should. Maybe, just maybe, if I talked about it more he wouldn’t need his dreams to sort out his feelings for him.

And I know that my Ryan isn’t the only one. You—the adoptive mom or dad—might be the monster in your child’s dreams. It doesn’t mean that they don’t love you. In fact, I suspect Ryan’s biggest obstacle this morning was resolving his conflicting feelings about me. It never occurred to me that he kept that horrifying day locked deep in his psyche, although it should have. It shouldn’t be a surprise it escaped through his dreams. But now I’m aware and I’m prepared. And maybe, just maybe, we can make the monster go way.