It was a relatively normal night. Lillie fell asleep with her usual amount of fuss and fizzle before conking out. She was sandwiched between her daddy and me when it happened: our four-year-old had a night terror, one that caused me to grow at least two patches of gray hair.
For those of you — like I was — who are thinking, “What in the world is a night terror?” the answer is this: it is apparently a period of time when your child is asleep, but with their eyes open like unseeing dead ghouls. This wakeful period apparently can be accompanied by anything from talking, walking, screaming, or a variety of other dream-time expressions. For Lillie, it was of course, expressed through dancing.
Our darling four-year-old daughter does occasionally wake up at odd times and want to play, so when she sat up in bed and started shimming, I woke up and laughed. It was cute. It was like she was listening to music only she could hear and dancing to it. After I laughed, she laughed. I told her that it was time to put away the dancing shoes and lay down.
That’s when the strange blend of suddenly eerie laughing joined some sincerely gut wrenching crying.
Realizing something was wrong, as she was still shimming, laughing and crying, I woke up my husband, who is like a log and must be rolled a few times before getting momentum. We turned on the lights and started asking Lillie questions.
Do you need to pee?
Are you hurt?
Talk to us, sweetie!
Frantic now, thinking of seizures, brain aneurysms, exorcisms (joking), or anything that might explain this terrifying development, I held her face and tried to get her to look at me. Her eyes were…vacant…in a fashion I do not ever want to see again. In my worst nightmares I see such empty eyes and can barely breathe for the fear and grief afterward.
I picked her up and cuddled her to me and noticed her legs were clenched beneath her. I wondered suddenly if her legs were cramping, if she’d somehow hurt a foot. I sat her down and began prying her legs from their clench. She immediately began peeing all over the bed. We picked her up and hurried her to the toilet where she could finish. Only then, after we were done cleaning her up, had life returned to her eyes. She was confused, but not scared or worried, unlike her dad and I who were honestly frantic.
We got her covered up and began asking questions. What is your name? Can you sing your ABCs with mommy? She was able to answer everything well and didn’t seem to be mentally affected.
I started calling. First, I called my mom, who was equally freaked out and suggested keeping her awake for a bit. I agreed, but quickly dialed the overnight nurse at her pediatrician’s office (can we all take a quick moment to bless every office in the world with an overnight nurse on call?). The nurse told me that the incident was very likely a night terror, explained that they were relatively common, but that if it happened again, we should bring her in for some tests to write off any other issues. She said next time we shouldn’t try to wake Lillie, but let the horrifying dream run its course as the children usually fall asleep well afterward and don’t tend to remember it in the morning.
So there it is, our first experience with night terrors. I pray with every fiber of my being that it was the last. I don’t know how parents who have experienced similar/worse incidents manage to cope because I can’t remember being so afraid. What have your experiences been with this type of thing? Share! Maybe we can put other parents’ minds at ease so that they won’t be as scared if it happens to them.