try to turn back their odometers.
I want people to know why
I look this way.
I’ve traveled a long way
and some of the roads weren’t paved.” Author Unknown
Now as I look out into the depths of the oak trees nestled in the gully just off the bay behind my house, the dark shadows beneath the trees remind me of a very dark, cloudy, late night long ago. When I was a little girl of approximately three, my parents, my younger brother, Jim, and I lived down by the shores of Lake Washington amongst acres of fields, few homes, and woods that housed bobcat, porcupine, raccoons, coyotes, and deer.
Our father’s severe traveling schedule meant we only saw dad one weekend a month. This left mom to grow our food on an acre and a half of land, care for the house, and care for two small children – alone. Mom and dad desperately needed some time alone, so mom arranged for a friend to babysit for a few days, leaving Jim and me behind.
One particular late night, Virginia, the neighbor who lived across the road down by the lake, heard frightened screams of a small child. It was too late and not safe for a child of any size to be out alone.
Listening, obviously something was wrong, so Virginia quickly threw on some clothes, headed outside and up the hill, crossed the road, and looked to see if she could track down the crying child. There across the oiled gravel road, wandering among the trees along the side of the road Virginia spied a small child – me. My feet were bare and I was dressed in my nightgown. My bare feet and the hem of my nightgown were soaked from the late night dew in the long grass. Strangely, I didn’t seem to know where I was going. I was lost and screaming for my mother.
Approaching, Virginia swooped me up into her arms to calm me as she carried me across the lawn and driveway toward our 3,500 square foot Swiss chalet style house. The front door was unlocked as none of the neighbors locked their doors in those days.
Since Virginia and mom were friends, Virginia had visited with my mother many times so she easily found her way into the house, through the dark living room lit by the moonlight, down the long hall behind the kitchen, through the recreation room, and up the stairs to the bedrooms. No sounds stirred from the bedrooms, as the babysitter obviously hadn’t heard my plaintive cries. Angrily, Virginia flipped on the master bedroom light where the babysitter lay sound asleep oblivious to the event that had just unfolded. Slowly, and groggily the babysitter looked up, only to be told to pay better attention to me and my brother as I had been found outside by myself scared out of my wits.
After rudely flipping off the master bedroom light, Virginia kindly took me to my bedroom that I shared with my baby brother, and tucked me back into bed before she let herself back out of the house.
I still remember how terrified I felt waking with wet feet out in the lawn, not knowing where I was or how I got there. I still wonder to this day where I had wandered before Virginia found me.
Repeatedly, I had a habit of sleep-walking from the time I was a small toddler until I was approximately six years old, but mother never believed me. Mom would repeatedly ask me why I was up, but of course I didn’t know so mother would threaten me with her hairbrush. Mom was convinced that I was lying to her, and to prevent getting hit, I would come up with a story. Mom would continue to question me and of course I didn’t have the right answers so she hit me anyway. One time I fell part way down our cement basement steps as I unknowingly opened and walked through the wrong door. Even after this event, mom never believed that I had no idea of what I was doing.
Now, many years later I learned that sleep walking is quite common with children, but usually from the ages of approximately six years old until about 12 years of age. Also, sleep walking is genetic.
I learned that children who sleep walk are usually normal in every respect but a few studies have suggested that in some cases children may have inner conflicts that they are not able to verbalize. And in a few cases, family counseling and reassurance have been all the therapy necessary for children with frequent parasomnias.
Unfortunately, my parents didn’t believe in counseling either.
Experts recommend that when finding a child who is sleep-walking that you slowly steer the child back toward bed. Even though the child’s eyes may be open or the child is talking the child is not aware of what he/she is doing. Don’t attempt to wake the child, but slowly tuck the child back in bed. Also, consider child-proofing the house to make it safe by locking windows and doors so the child can’t fall out windows or go through doors out into the woods alone. Learning this information, for me, was like having the moon come out from behind those clouds to light up the sky.
Even though these events took place many years ago, mom consistently for the rest of her life told me that she could never believe me. She never accepted that I didn’t know what I was doing when I was younger, and sadly I had created the stories to protect myself from getting hit… to no avail.
Now, as an adult, I have learned the negative consequences of how mom’s treatment impacted me in my working and adult life, as mom and I never reached a resolution on this issue. However, remembering these events made it crucial to me to work at being a different mom than my mother was – more loving and understanding of my children. The good news is that these events are part of the impetus for my years of volunteering with organizations that help children.