Children's nightmares, restless nights and the dawn of a terrible day

·3 min read

Jul. 2—It began, as terrible days often do, in the wee hours of the morning.

I opened my eyes to find our 6-year-old daughter standing inches from my face.

"Daddy," she whispered, her voice low and sad. "I had a nightmare."

Half-asleep, I must have muttered a question about the nature of our daughter's dream, because she immediately launched into a lengthy description of some improbable situation like "I had to eat a whole cake and I'd already eaten three ice cream cones" or "I was in a store that gave away baby dolls but I could only take six."

As you do when faced with a small child awakened in the night by some non-terrifying dream, I told Arlie that everything was fine, none of it was real, and to go back to bed.

"Can I sleep in your bed?"

From over my shoulder, Mandy stirred long enough to murmur "Not tonight, Arlie" before promptly falling back asleep. She would remember none of this the next morning.

"Aw," Arlie moaned.

But the sleep-deprived version of Adam Armour who exists at 3:46 on a Wednesday morning is not the most sympathetic, even when faced with the whimpers of his only child. And so, he grabbed her gently by the top of her head and led her back into her room, ensured she was secure inside her tangle of sheets and blankets and menagerie of stuffed creatures, and then returned to bed.

Despite all the effort I put into tossing and turning and stressing about how much work I had to do that day, I couldn't fall back asleep. I lay in bed staring at the far wall of our bedroom, telling myself over and over again that I had to get to sleep because there were only a few hours left before morning, and if I didn't get to sleep, I'd be in no shape to do everything I needed to do that day.

"You've got to get some sleep," I told myself. "It'll be a terrible day if you don't get some sleep."

Time moves differently in the pre-dawn hours, so it seemed as if my struggle to fall back asleep lasted hours, when really it was only about 45 minutes by the time I'd convinced my brain to go back into standby mode and finally drifted away again.

"Daddy, I had another nightmare."

My eyes popped open, heart pounding from the sudden shock of being awakened so soon after falling asleep again. I may have screamed a little.

"Can I please sleep in your bed?"

I crawled out from the covers, stood there for a moment or two contemplating my decision to become a parent, and then waved the child into my usual spot.

Arlie cheered — her nightmare about owning too many puppies or having a trip to Disney World delayed by a stop at an even better Disney World apparently forgotten — and crawled into bed next to her mother. For her part, Mandy rolled over, gave Arlie a barely conscious hug, and then said to me, "Are you going to the couch?" She didn't remember this, either.

A few restless hours later, as I listened to the slurping sounds of our oldest cat, Flannery, vigorously cleaning every corner of her body — as she had been since I'd plopped down on the couch — a hair's breadth from my nose, I wondered what nightmares awaited me.

"It's going to be a terrible day," I said aloud, watching as the blood red light of the morning sun crept upward through my living room blinds.

ADAM ARMOUR is the news editor for the Daily Journal and former general manager of The Itawamba County Times. You may reach him via his Twitter handle, @admarmr.