Tuesday, August 20, 2013

a parent's worst nightmare, a parent's best hope

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Last night I had every parent's nightmare: I dreamed my child was kidnapped.

It was just a dream. She is fine. But still, it was very disconcerting.

In the dream, my daughter was reading at a table in either a bookstore or a library. Apparently I had been somewhere else, because I walked up to her and asked how her day was going and what she ate for lunch.

She was reading a book about sign language and learning how to sign. As she talked, she tried to sign what she ate for lunch, but couldn't figure out how to sign "strawberry sandwich." (Such is the nature of dreams - I have no idea why anyone would eat a strawberry sandwich. Anyway...)

A man reading at the table behind us heard our conversation, happened to know sign language, and taught her to sign the things she was telling me about. We had a pleasant conversation with him and then he went back to his book.

I asked my daughter to stay at the table while I went to the restroom. The door to the restroom was right next to our table. I was gone for only a minute.

When I came out of the restroom, she and her things were gone. So was the man who had been sitting behind us.

I put two and two together, thought "he has taken my child" and panicked. Apparently my dream-self jumps to conclusions as quickly as my waking-self.

I tried to call for her, but I couldn't scream. All I could manage was a hoarse whisper.

I ran out into the parking lot and frantically looked for any sign of her. Again I tried to scream, over and over again, but no one heard me. I felt completely powerless, completely lost, completely empty.

I woke with a jolt, my heart banging inside my chest, my throat hoarse from straining to scream my daughter's name in the throes of my nightmare. At first I couldn't move, couldn't think straight. Then I reached for my husband's arm and wrapped it around me. I tried to tell him what I dreamed. He couldn't understand me, but knew I was scared and held me. Then I went to check on my daughter, who was safe and snug in her bed.

I breathed a sign of relief, got ready and went to work. But the anxiety caused by my dream lingered for hours.

I thanked God that she was safe, that it was only a dream. Then I googled "dream interpretation child abducted."

I was relieved by what I found.

Dream expert and author Lauri Loewenberg explains on her website that when parents dream about their kids being in trouble (e.g., kidnapped, hurt) and being unable to help, it is usually as result of the child moving into a new stage of life and the parent feeling left behind.
"Dreaming that your children are hurt or kidnapped is VERY common. You'll find you get the kidnapping dream when you feel life is pulling your little munchkin away from you. For example, when you don't see them enough because you are working too much, or when they start pulling away simply because they are getting older. When we resist how fast time goes and how much they grow, we get the kidnapping dream. These dreams are in no way a warning that something terrible is going to happen, but rather they are a reflection of your deep love for them and the pain you experience watching them grow so fast!"
After reading this, I tried to look at the elements of my dream more objectively, as well as I could remember them.
  • My daughter was researching a new method of communication, sign language, that I did not know. 
  • She had eaten something unusual that I was unfamiliar with. 
  • Another person (the man) helped her learn new information that I could not help with. 
  • The man was helpful, not threatening. 
  • She was alone before I came, and there was no reason to think she was in danger by my leaving her for another minute to use the restroom. 
  • There was no evidence anyone had caused her harm. 
  • Her things were gone, which meant someone - possibly her - had put them away in a responsible manner. 
  • She could have been in another area, behind a bookshelf, asking a question at the desk, but I did not look there for her. 
  • I assumed something had happened to her, that it was bad, and that it was my fault. 

This reminded me of a quote from the movie Finding Nemo, where dad Marlin promises he'll "never let anything" happen to his son. He meant "nothing bad" but his friend Dory points out that this a funny thing to promise. She says, "You can't never let anything happen to him. Then NOTHING would ever happen to him. Not much fun...."

We are going through a lot of transitions at our house. My husband and I both hit milestone birthdays this year. In September we celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary. We have a new teenager in the house, an exchange student from Germany who will live and grow with us for the next year. Our older children are growing and changing, as are our grandsons. And most markedly, our youngest child has changed seemingly overnight. She is in her tween years, entering 6th grade, attending a new school, enduring braces and glasses, learning new things we might not be familiar with, spending more time away from us, having experiences we are not part of, and pulling away from us a little more.

Some of this is scary stuff. But it's all good stuff.

We remember some things our older kids went through, and rejoice that they are still kicking and learning and growing and loving. We remember that we all made it through their rebellious phases and bad times, and also remember all the good times we had along the way.

And we try to follow advice given to us by some friends at church. He is a judge, she is a journalist. They are the coolest people, and we have watched their daughters grow from amazing little girls to amazing young women. They are mature and fun, smart and adventurous. And they are kind.

When our daughter was just a baby, we told them how much we admired them and their daughters, and asked how they managed to raise their girls to be such confident, hard-working, generous people.

Their response was surprisingly simple for such accomplished, educated folks: "We figured God made them pretty good to start with, and our job was to screw them up as little as possible."

I bet there was a little more involved than that. But when you operate with that as your premise, everything else kind of falls into place.

We never want anything "bad" to happen to our baby. But we definitely don't want "nothing" to happen to her. We want her life to be amazing and full. God made her pretty good to start with. We have given her a firm foundation to build on. She knows who she is. All we can do is continue to teach her, continue to be there when she needs us, and continue to pray for her protection.

And screw her up as little as possible.


  1. You are such a good writer! I must warn you, when she leaves home permanently, it will feel as if you are living the kidnapping dream! Prayer is the key to screwing her up as little as possible.

  2. Amen! Just trying to get through middle school right now...should be pretty prayed up by college :)


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