Most kids have nightmares about monsters. Or scary dogs. Or getting lost. I know this because I have a lot of friends with small children and this is what they tell me.
So when Zeke woke up crying hysterically the other night—his very first real nightmare--Shanti and I ran to his room and did our best to comfort him. We couldn't understand a thing he was saying, but we stayed with him and held him until he quieted down.
When we went back to our room we speculated about what could have been stalking our son in his dreams. A mean kid from school? Something scary he had seen on TV? Monsters? We felt horrible that he was so frightened and upset.
So when we got up the next morning I really wanted to ask him about it. I didn't at first, for fear of re-traumatizing him, but by the time we sat down to breakfast, curiosity triumphed over willpower, and I carefully submitted my inquiry.
“Zeke, do you remember waking up last night?”
“You seemed pretty upset. Can you tell me what made you so unhappy?”
“A very mean girl took my cake.”
“Cake? You had a nightmare about cake?”
“But you don't even have a cake.”
“I do have a cake. I saw it.”
From there the conversation degenerated into a debate over the nature of dreams, with me trying to explain that your brain tells you stories while you sleep, but they're not real and therefore the cake cannot be real, and Zeke stubbornly clinging to the “But I saw it!” defense, while repeatedly explaining to me that brains cannot make cakes because they don't have hands and you need hands to stir cake mix and spread frosting.
I eventually waved the white flag. Not because Zeke had convinced me that brains don't have hands, but because Shanti had hopped on the Internet during our debate and learned that parents aren't even supposed to question the legitimacy of their childrens' dreams. Apparently you're supposed to arm your child against the next nightmare by providing suggestions as to how they might combat the monster/bully/cake-stealing-girl. Chagrined by this, I shut up, and thought we were finished.
Two days later however, Shanti was putting Zeke to bed, when from out of nowhere Zeke announced, “I am going to wrap my cake in plastic, put it in a box, and hide it in the back of the refrigerator so the bad girl can't get it.”
I just loved that. Not that my son was still upset, but that his nightmares are about cake and that he had spent 48 hours plotting his defense of that cake. That is my boy.