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Night Terrors & Helplessness

As I write this it’s Wednesday night.

Last night my son had his first “night terror.”

He’d sleep walked before, resulting in us simply re-directing him to his pallet of awesomeness bedness.

Only this time was different.

He’d spent the day dealing with a 104 temperature. We’d alternated Tylenol and Ibuprofin throughout the day keeping him at a solid 101 to 100.5 temp. Fluids were pumping and he slept like a champ.

Around 6 p.m. Chicago got beat-down by a strong band of storms that left us huddled in our basements waiting for the all-clear.

Then sleep came.

And all was calm and normal.

At 1:30ish a.m. I heard a bang!

I’m a light sleeper. A door could slam three blocks away and after many beers I’d still sit straight up trying to assess the situation.

I walked into the daughter’s room and found her slowly crawling into bed. She’d performed her nightly “I have my father’s genes and clumsily fall out of bed” routine and was recouping.

I checked on the boy who’d been dealing with a high fever all week. And he was burning up.

That’s when I made the parental rookie mistake.

I tried to wake him up enough to take his temperature and that’s when it happened!

His eyes opened.

Pupils as black as night and covering every millimeter of those amazing hazel eyes I’ve grown to cherish.

He looked at me as though I were the devil. His eyes pierced my sockets as though he could see through the back of my skull.

He kicked violently to get free of his covers as his arms shook and his voice quivered to find the words to say, “no….no…I’m OK…I’m OK..just give me a minute, I’m OK!!!!”

Still not registering for a second I believe he’s worried I’m going to give him shitty tasting medicine but it quickly becomes clear that’s nowhere near his concern.

I’m there to guide him to harm.

The wife walks in at this point and holds him tight only for him to wrestle free. Meanwhile I leave to go get a cold cloth to place on his head – an old trick I used to do when he was a baby to calm him back to sleep.


It was like placing hot coals on his skin.

He erupted in screams like someone was slowly stabbing him and we were the culprits.

Helplessness filled the eyes that I threw upon the wife in desperation for some type of guidance.

And I got nothing.

We were both trapped in this brand-new world of helplessness , together.

The last time I’d experienced it I was alone. I was watching the wife enter hour 3 of labor, trying her damndest to welcome into the world the very child we’re now comforting.

I then made the decision to call 911.

Five minutes later a policewoman showed up.

Her eyes darted throughout the house searching for wrong-doing, as she record our names, and our son’s names. My daughter was peeking out from under her security blanket as she huddled in the corner of the couch.

Upstairs my son had snapped-out of the terror and finally woken up.

By the time I’d reached the last step I could see his charm, whit, love of human interaction slowly winning the paramedics and policewoman over leaving me humbled and feeling like I’ve wasted valuable time.

I profusely apologized to the paramedics and police.

I hugged my son.

An hour after everyone left and we rested our heads on pillows again, the boy woke into yet another terror. Only, this time we knew better how to comfort him and work him through it until he finally put his head on his pillow going back to sleep.

I then spent the rest of the night with the wife making sure he never left our consciousness as we half-slept in shifts through the remaining 1.5 hours of night.

And when the sun rose I was on my back.


I’m so lucky.

I cannot imagine living the life of parents dealing with children inflicted with diseases, syndromes, etc… that keep them from living any type of life that could be considered normal.

I am humbled by them.

My heart aches for them.

And I’m thankful.


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Reader Comments (22)

I hear ya on the night terrors, Anna used to get them A LOT when she was smaller. Thankfully she has outgrown them. It's a very scary and helpless parenting moment. I totally don't blame you guys for calling 911 it's definitely that frightening. And I totally agree with you, I'm humbled by those amazing parents too.

June 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSara @ Periwinkle Papi

It is so scary watching your child and feeling helpless and uncertain what to do. For what it is worth, I think you did the right thing by calling 911. He is your baby, no matter how old he is, and it is always better to ere on the side of over cautious when it comes to things like that.

June 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJenn Fox

Thank you for sharing. I think many parents go through situations like these, and realize just as you have that it's a precious thing to have a happy, healthy child even if they can be a pain in the butt at times. That little pain in the butt is worth every second of it. :)

June 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDiane Zerr

My eyes welled with tears while reading.

You described a dark and scary night in parenting, offset by a bright, exhausting day where you just can't seem to hug them enough.

There's nothing quite like parenting to show us what we are truly capable of.

Best wishes.


June 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJesse

When my son was about 1 1/2 (he is now almost 15 <gasp>) he had been running a high fever off and on for a few days. I was a young, newly single mom and sacred to death. Then the most frightening thing happened, he had a febrile seizure. It seemed to last forever as my mother sped me and my son in her car the three blocks to our doctor, as I was uncontrollable and sobbing, they put me in a separate room, and he was still doing the slow, rhythmic convulsions. They sent us to the ER 20 miles away and refused to wait for the ambulance, who is notorious in our town for taking up to 1/2 hour to an hour to get a crew together. By the time we got there, he was fine. But since then, every fever he has, I am up all night. 13 years later, and I am still envisioning that baby in my arms and it is terrifying and I thankful it was only once and I am humbled by the parents who deal with children who have serious illnesses. He's a big, healthy, strapping young man now. Sorry for the long comment, this brought up that vivid memory for me.

June 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterErin

Amazing post. Wow. So scary.
Hope he and you and everybody are okay.
Thanks for sharing.

June 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPam @writewrds

Been there too many times to count. My 9 year old had his first night terror at 2. Scared the heck out of us. They are rare now but no easier to go through. He also has bad nightmares off and on due to anxiety. My heart breaks for him.
I can understand why you called 911. Better safe than sorry. We had a situation where we thought my daughter was choking. Put her in the car and started driving. Half way there I had hubby pull over and called 911. X-rays showed nothing but I have no regrets. I've learned...follow your instincts.

June 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJugglingAct

I love reading your stories but this one really hit close to home. My 3-year old daughter has had several toddler terror episodes and at first I thought it must have come from something we had done. Having had identical twin girls and losing one just shy of 6 months old, I look at everything a lot differently when it comes to my only child. After much research & talking to other parents I realized that most kids have these terrible dreams and it is completely normal, although not to parents who are terrified too as we watch our baby go through this. Yes we are very blessed...terrors and all. Thank you for this and every story you tell :)

June 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDonna

Wow. That sounds terrifying.
But, I am all too familiar with these situations. Only when it happens in my house my kids are wide awake. They have severe autism. This is how they deal with anything new. Anything out of the ordinary.

Thank you for writing this.

June 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSunday

I had tears in my eyes reading this post and the comments that followed. I thank God everyday that my children are healthy and we don't have to build our lives around an illness or disability. I haven't had to deal with night terrors, but I have had the febrile seizures mentioned above on several occasions. It is the scariest thing I have ever experienced. My oldest (now 13) had her first at 18 months and then with every single fever until she turned 4 years old. I thought I was over them until a year and a half ago when my then 3 year old (who is now 5) had her first febrile seizure. I think it was scarier because it came out of nowhere. I was told they outgrow them by 4 and I was almost there so I never even worried.

Thank you for sharing, these parenting moments definitely help us grow!

June 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLaura

Oh how very scary. My three year old has had nightmares but no night terrors. I'm able to calm him just by holding him. I would've been just as scared.
Those feelings of helplessness are the worst.
Thank you for this post... and for reminding me too to be grateful.

June 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJenni Chiu

Night terrors are HORRIBLE! They make you feel so helpless as a parent. Our poor babysitter experienced the first one our son ever had & had no idea what to do. Thank God your little man is ok & hope he's feeling better.

June 23, 2011 | Unregistered Commenternuckingfutsmama

I never knew that my mom gets night terrors until we were sharing a hotel room and she woke me up screaming. Scared the living sh*t out of me and she was an adult so I can't imagine it happening to one of my kids. Very scary.

June 23, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterelzimmy

This is heartbreaking and scary... my 2.5yr old has had nightmares (which are enough to terrify me, leave me feeling helpless, and they break my heart) and I can't imagine having to go through it with an actual night terror - I've heard they're so much worse... and based on your tale, sound like something I hope to never have to go through... I get anxious when she's ill, I am so thankful as well that she's healthy. We are extremely blessed, and I definitely feel for the parents of children with life-long illness or disabilities...

thanks for sharing...

June 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRusti

I had night terrors routinely as a child. My poor parents dealt with me "waking" up, screaming in terror, and were unable to do much to comfort me. It took months of this before my mother established a routine with my mostly asleep mind where a sip of water was enough to soothe me back to sleep. I still have them, sometimes. My husband has been hurt by my reactions to normally comforting stimuli (i.e. he'll go to hug me or kiss my forehead and I will punch him. Hard.)

I hope, for your sake, that your boy's night terrors are related 100% to the fever and subside as he feels better.

June 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLauren Elyse

I don't blame you for calling 911. My 10-month-old has night terrors whenever he's sick. He was 6-months-old when the first one hit, and we had no idea what to do. Night terrors and sleepwalking run in my family, so I was eventually able to figure out what was going on, but we almost loaded him into the car in the middle of the night for an emergency room visit. It's very scary when it happens - especially that first time.

June 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMartiniMom

My now 9 yr old daughter was 15 months old the first time she had a night terror, and I was terrified... Ever since, her terrors seemed to come right before a developmental milestone.

June 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommentermalkavMadness


My son is 22. This post took me way back.

Eli had these night terrors a lot. They ALWAYS freaked me out, because I am a control freak and totally there to keep BAD SHIT FROM HAPPENING to my family. But I could not stop them.

Thankfully, my sister in law was a nurse married to a doctor. They lived two-minutes away, so we could get there reassurance. We did not need 911.

Suggest you read up on this thing. The facts helped me a bit. But the hair always stood straight up on the back of my neck when my son had an episode. For me, praying a rosary was the ONLY way to relax and, maybe, go back to sleep.

Very, very creepy and scary, these stupid night terrors.

Hang in there, mate.


June 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBill

I had a roommate who had these but by the time she snapped out of it she had no idea what I was talking about. Other people who roomed with her had the same experience. I never knew this was what it was.

The 911 call was a good move. I had to call 911 a year and a half ago for myself, and although looking back, maybe, maybe I didn't need to. I thought I was going to die, so I'm glad I did. That's what it's there for.

I think we all should be thankful for first responders...

June 23, 2011 | Unregistered Commentersharna

Wow that sounds like an insane night! When I was a little girl I used to get night terrors until they figured out it was happening every time they gave me Dimetapp. I apparently had an allergic reaction to something in it that caused me to have night terrors. I remember as I got older my dad telling me how I'd scream for him to help me and he'd be sitting right there. He said he felt so helpless. Now that I'm a parent I can easily imagine how that feels. I'm so sorry you had to go through that! I hope today finds your son feeling much better and that all of you get a good night's rest!

June 23, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterlisa

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