Night Terrors

       “Some people

       try to turn back their odometers.

       Not me!

       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.


About Gwynn Rogers

After 20 years of sales and marketing experience in the fields of real estate, high tech, and corporate travel, Gwynn has moved on to the career of “Grandma.” When not teaching her granddaughters an extensive vocabulary of “alley-oop-boop, ups-a-daisy, cowabunga or bummer”, Gwynn can be found hunting for mentors for the Kitsap Youth Mentoring Consortium, or chasing her fantasies on her treadmill. Gwynn currently freelances for magazines.
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14 Responses to Night Terrors

  1. Pat says:

    I remember many times my own mother was disbelieving of the truth as I was growing up with my nine brothers and sisters and even into events with her Grandchildren. I don’t know it it was the era, or if Mom was overwhelmed with so much in her life, or if she was disbelieving because if she believed, she wouldn’t know what to do and thus would be helpless. I do know her disbelief had an effect on how I treated my own children and the many children I worked with throughout my career. In working so hard to believe, sometimes I was duped, but it was a price I was willing to pay.

    • Gwynn Rogers says:

      Growing up sure can be interesting. Sometimes, I wish we could start out old, learn our lessons, and THEN carry those lessons into our childhood, it would make life so much easier… I think.

  2. Susan Scott says:

    a lovely and insightful post thank you Gwynn. You capture the essence of a frightened child very well. And your sadness, though not stated, of your mother not believing you. As children we don’t have the emotional strength or knowledge or wisdom to withstand those hurts from our parents. But, well done on meeting the challenge and rising above the circumstances and becoming the mother and grandmother that you are. Funny/strange how unhappy periods in our lives can be the grist and the push to overcome them.

    • Gwynn Rogers says:

      Thanks Susan. It is surprising to me that mom understood so little about children, yet she was a very intelligent person. Since both of mom’s parents died before I was 2 years of age, I don’t understand the dynamics that mom, as an only child, grew up with. It truly is sad. Thanks for your comment Susan.

  3. Penny says:

    great story, I have a grandson that used to sleepwalk and you would swear he was awake. However I never doubted that he was truly asleep. So sad your mother didn’t see an opportunity to get closer to a daughter by comforting you instead of punishing .
    Great writing.

  4. Gwynn Rogers says:

    Thanks Penny. I know my mom had so much to do, she couldn’t see straight, however she didn’t understand children in the slightest. Technically my mom was NOT a bad person, she just was clueless when it came to her own children. Neither my brother nor I were accepted by our parents for our idiosyncracies… sadly. It made a huge impact on both of us.

  5. Carol Caldwell says:

    Well written Gwen. My nephew had night terrors, but not the sleep-walking kind. They were bad dreams that left him screaming. His parents learned not to wake him up once he fell asleep, which was difficult when he fell asleep in the car. There are alarms for sleepwalkers now that are especially good when traveling. Good information.

    • Gwynn Rogers says:

      My granddaughter had night terrors. She was terrified of Monsters… that is why I became a “Grandma Monster” as I would chase away the bad monsters, and then eat Sienna up with love. We still have fun chasing one another around. I love their giggles AND my being Grandma Monster STOPPED the night terrors. PHew!

  6. Annette says:

    I never realized how common sleep walking is among children. I, too, awakened in various places in my childhood home. Once, my mother intercepted me as I was walking out the door. This behavior continued well into my teens and early twenties – too many demons?

  7. Ditto Susan Scott, Gwynn. Beautifully composed and written.

    Look at the following you’ve acquired and all those who share your night terror.

    Excellent. Thank you for sharing.

  8. patgarcia says:

    My dear Gwynn,
    The experiences that happened after you were caught sleepwalking were terrible for you, but I can also understand the helplessness of your mother. It is my belief that she was totally overwhelmed with your actions. If she had known some of the characteristics of sleep walkers, she may have reacted differently. However, the important thing is that you know them and you are able to reconcile what happened to you and live a productive and very creative life.
    Writing this blog for example is an excellent avenue for self-exploration and for learning more about things you did not understand and you are doing it wonderfully.
    I enjoyed the blog article. Keep writing, you are doing an excellent job!

  9. Gwynn Rogers says:

    YUP, mom definitely was overwhelmed in a variety of ways. Sadly, mom never learned about sleep walking. Since I talked in my sleep too, and other things, it doubly traumatized both of us… her anger at me and my not knowing how to respond. It is too bad the internet wasn’t around in those days. Mom’s lack of belief in me ultimately really damaged me. I don’t know whether she would have listened and understood if we could talk about those events now. However, I FINALLY understand all of the circumstances and am benefitting from that knowledge.

    Thanks again for your support. You are a fabulous friend!

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