He thumps quickly into the bedroom, breathless and scared.
“Mom, I had a scary dream,” he says, voice shaky.
“Oh honey, I’m sorry. What was your dream about?”
“There was a bad man with white eyes who made me go to jail,” he says, crawling up into my bed and into my arms.
“That sounds very scary. But you’re safe. No one is going to take you to jail. You’re safe,” I repeat.
He sighs, his body relaxes, but his heart still pounds. We snuggle in the pre-dawn light. I can just hear the birds starting to sing. After a quiet few moments I ask, “Are you ready to go back in your bed?” He nods.
“Will you carry me?” he asks, voice low. It is a rare request.
“Of course,” I say as I pick him up and he wraps his thin, strong, spidery limbs around me.
I place him in bed, pull the covers over him, kiss his head and return to my bed.
Three minutes later I hear his footsteps again.
“Mom, I can’t get the pictures out of my head, can you erase them?”
He climbs into my bed, and I reach up to rub the back of his head. I brush his hair from his eyes, and massage his scalp, mumbling as I go, “Yes… got it… right there… this should work.” This is the nightmare erasing ritual I created a few years ago, based on an improvisational parenting moment (aren’t they all?), based on an idea I had given my little sister post-nightmare, 25 years ago. It is perhaps a bit dishonest, in the same vein as kissing away the hurt. But it is a version of the mother/child pact that has probably existed as long as there have been mothers and children. Moms make things better.
Someday, he will understand that I don’t have the power to erase anything. That I can’t really fix very much, that I’m not even “just a tiny bit magic” like he thinks I am now. He will realize that the world can be big, and mean and complicated. Perhaps he’s started to figure this out already.
But tonight, in the dark, I am his mom, and I have the ability to fix it. I can heal, I can help, I can calm. And I can make the bad dreams go away. I do not take that loving trust lightly.
“That’s better,” he whispers. And this time, we hold hands as I walk him back to his room and warm bed.