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Last night I went to

Last night I went to bed nice and early. Around 10:30. I sank into my many, many pillows (it’s a problem) with the satisfaction of knowing I would face the morning with a solid night’s sleep.
I really should have known better. After all, both Max and Raphael have colds. Max is on his way better, while Raphael is on his way down. Max’s sleep has been poor the last few nights and if there’s anything I should have learned about him by now it’s that if you disturb his sleep it will disturb you right back.
True to form, he was up every hour or so, either moaning and wailing out mournfully from his bed or trotting over to my room to burrow under the covers next to me. After yet another trip ferrying him back to his bed I fell into that fretful “I’m on call” sort of sleep. Sure enough, after another 30 minutes or so, I heard a pitiful voice call out something unintelligible. I groaned, thinking there goes Max again. But then I heard the voice again, saying something sadly about his arm. It wasn’t Max. It was Raphael.
I went to his room and looked down at him in his crib. He was waving one arm at some imaginary foe, ordering it away.
“Raphael,” I whispered.
“An’ it don’…mah arm…an’ wheh Mama…Mats, go ‘way,” he muttered. His eyes were open, but when I leaned over right in front of his face he stared blankly through me. I reached down and picked him up. Rather than curling into me as he normally would, he pushed one arm stiffly against my chest and squirmed. I tried to maneuver him around to a comfortable cuddle, but he was unyielding. Finally I put his tense little body back down in his crib and covered him with his two favorite blankets. He laid there and said garbled but sad things and I watched for a few minutes, and then left the room with a heavy heart.
When Tre was right about Raphael’s age, he started having nights were he would sit bolt upright in bed and yell. I’d run to his room and reach for him, but he’d thrash and kick and push me away. He seemed terrified, but unable to recognize me. It was so disturbing that I took him to a pediatric sleep specialist.
Night terrors. He was having night terrors. Night terrors are like nightmares, but the person suffering from them doesn’t wake up. They don’t recognize people, and you generally can’t short-circuit them. The only thing you can do for a child in the midst of a night terror is to make sure they’re safe. If they get upset by your touch, leave them alone. The only kind thing about night terrors is that the child doesn’t seem to remember them in the morning.
Imagine that, as a first time mom. My baby was going to have a perfectly secure life. From the black and white patterns on his mobile, right through to the best college, everything was going to be perfect. Now this doctor is telling me to stay in my bed while my child thrashed and wailed all alone in the grip of something that even a doctor calls terror.
Mercifully, Tre’s experience with night terrors was short. They came and went while I lay in my bed, sweating with unanswered maternal instincts. Then about four years later came Max’s turn.
Max’s experience with night terrors was not short. The really bad period lasted about a year, and he still suffers occasionally on nights when he’s overtired. For Max being held seemed to help. It didn’t upset him further as it had Tre. Nothing makes it stop once it starts, but if I picked him up and wrapped my arms around him tightly it seemed to calm him eventually. There were many, many nights when I held him for hours, wondering if the morning would ever come.
Now I’m an old hand at this. It doesn’t panic me like it did when Tre first went through it. I know some of the science behind it. For example, it has a genetic component. Children who have night terrors almost always have one parent that walked or talked in their sleep. The boys’ father and I both walked AND talked in our sleep. So it’s no surprise that Raphael will have his turn too.
But it’s like watching my baby start his walk through fire. No matter how much I understand about it, it will never sit right with my mother’s heart.


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