Thursday, January 23, 2014

Pinch Me

Pinch me, pinch me, cause I'm still asleep
Please God tell me that I'm still asleep.
-Barenaked Ladies
I used to wonder if Ethan would ever be able to tell me his dreams. I'm pretty sure I don't have to worry about that anymore.
Lately Ethan has not only been able to tell us about his dreams in detail, but he's also awed by the realization that sometimes dreams feel so real.
"I dreamed we were in this tall building," he told me the other night. "And you were making flowers out of a flower machine. And this duck kept banging against the glass to try to get in. And Elmo was there."
I had to smile at the image that conjured in my mind.
"Mama, sometimes in my dream I try to get back to my bed. And it feels like real life. but I keep trying to get back to my bed."
I made the mistake then of telling him one of my worst nightmares, still emblazoned in my head afte nearly 30 years. Wild dogs were chasing me and I was trying to climb a tree to get away from them. I willed myself to wake up, and felt the relief of starting to wake up, followed by the horror of only seeing myself wake up in the dream. For a moment I felt I was trapped, like I was never going to get back to the land of the living.
This obviously struck a nerve with Ethan. After we talked a little bit more about other scary dreams I'd had (mostly recurring sagas involving elevators that plunge but never hit bottom and tornados that always almost suck me up into their vortex), he kept going back to my waking in a dream, of trying to get out but not being able to.
"Mama, what if you wake up but it's not real?" he asked. "How do you know if it's real?"
I stood there dumbfounded for a moment, incredulous that I was discussing this with a six-year-old, and one on the spectrum, no less. I had this weird kind of deja vu creepy moment kind of like my very first class in college, Philosophy 101, when Professor Foard held up a piece of chalk and asked us all, "How do you know there is one piece of chalk here, or 25 for each person in this room?"
"What if this is a dream?" Ethan was asking, and I tried to put away metaphysical thoughts, like that all of this temporal world would seem like a mere dream in the grand scheme of eternity. My boy genuinely looked scared.
"Ethan, I promise you this is real life," I told him. Yes, but how do you KNOW that, I could almost hear Professor Foard probing.
"How do I know?" Ethan asked, echoing the professor's words.
"Well, dreams don't last all afternoon like this," I tried to explain.
"They can too last for hours," Anna had to pipe in. "I've had dreams go on and on and on all night."
I thought back to cliché. "Ethan, if you want to know if you're dreaming or not, pinch yourself. If it hurts, you'll wake up. Then you'll know that it was a dream."
Ethan pinched his hand, lightly. "It didn't hurt, though."
"Yes, but you're still here, right? You didn't wake up, so this has to be real."
In bed that night, saying prayers, Ethan took the dream issue to God. "And God," he added as an addendum to petitions about getting a good night's sleep and blessing the family, "please help these dreams that are like real," he said earnestly.
"Help you to not be afraid of them?"
As I tucked him in and gave him a kiss, I had that weird other-dimension, Twilight Zone kind of feeling again. What if this were a dream? Stranger things have happened. Who knew?
Then I couldn't help it. I pinched myself. Just in case.

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