Friday, February 13, 2009

Fears and nightmares

Last night after Joel and Elena fell asleep, Ariana began sobbing. She was terrified that someone in our family was going to die. As she wailed, she specified that she thought we would be eaten by a great white shark. We reassured her that this wouldn't happen, but she refused to be comforted by logic. I mean, we live in Oklahoma. It is pretty safe to assert that a shark attack is not one of the leading causes of death in our state. Still, every few seconds, another heartbroken cry rises. At this point, Carlos and I are trying to calm her and do anything we can to avoid feeding the fear-frenzy. We gently cuddle and attempt to redirect the conversation to pleasant thoughts. Nothing doing. She asks point plank at least fifty times if sharks can kill people and if anyone has ever been killed by a shark.

The dilemma faced by every parent who tries to teach their children to speak the truth: is a lie justified? I try dancing around it by telling her how unlikely it is, all of the reasons why she doesn't need to be afraid, assuring her that we are safe, etc. She unerringly insists on a straight answer. Has it ever happened to anybody? I answer truthfully that it has, but tell her again how rare it is. I'm speaking very calmly and matter-of-factly, but it isn't helping at all. Finally, inspiration! Does she remember the story of Jonah? Even though he was swallowed by a big fish, he survived, and God had the fish spit him out. (Any story with vomit is always a good diversionary tactic). Privately, I think that a repeat of the Jonah story is far less likely than being devoured by sharks to begin with, but since it is bringing her comfort, I am not nearly stupid enough to say so.

From there, things take a theological twist. "Mami, why did Jonah run from God?" We talk briefly about wanting to do things our own way, about our own desires for vengeance, about repentance, grace and forgiveness, and finally, she falls asleep holding my hand.

Alas, once we finally fall asleep, both of us have horrific nightmares, of the sort that are so terribly real at the time, there is a moment of disorientation upon waking where one believes it really happened. In my case, I dreamed...get ready for it...that I fell asleep and woke up. Yes, really. In the dream, we were in a hotel in Mexico, and for some reason it was extremely important that I not fall asleep, but I kept doing it anyway. In the dream (yes, I was still asleep), I'd jerk awake with that heart-stopping panic that hits when you suddenly realize you have forgotten something vitally important. It happened at least three times. When I finally awoke for real, the night seemed wasted, because I felt as drained as if it had actually happened.

Ariana's nightmare, thankfully, had nothing to do with sharks. Instead, she asked me very seriously what her lips looked like, because she dreamed that they turned into monkey lips. I don't think I even know what monkey lips look like, but obviously, I am in no position to mock anyone else's nightmares.

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