Oscar had a bad dream tonight and woke up crying. We found him, all wobbly and tear-streaked in his green striped pajamas, peering through the paned glass door that separates the bedroom hallway from the rest of the house. It was only 9:30 so he hadn't been asleep that long. The details of the nightmare eluded him, but the corners of his mouth turned down and his lower lip trembled every time an image popped back into his consciousness. He was dazed and disoriented so we escorted him to the bathroom for a pee and water break, hoping to erase those scary images.
Never one to miss a party, Ruby hopped out of bed a few minutes later and feigned having to pee too. Oscar sat on the toilet sipping water from a yellow plastic cup, pajamas pooled at his ankles, while Paul murmered comforting words. Oscar, still stuck on the dream, sniffled between sips.
As I turned to the task of getting the Rooster, as we affectionately call her, back in bed, I reminded Paul with a wink to blow good dreams into Oscar's ears when he tucked him back in. Oscar smiled knowlingly as I described the correct technique for dream blowing.
"You blow the dream gently into his right ear while cupping your hand over his left to keep those good thoughts in there," I instructed.
"Yeah yeah you gotta make sure they don't escape out the other ear", Oscar added haltingly from his throne.
I thought he'd be ok, then. His sense of humor was back and the good dream, whatever Paul would choose, would distract him. A few minutes later though, Oscar was back in the hallway, crying again. The bad dreams had returned.
I helped him over to his bottom bunk, which he shares with no fewer than 14 stuffed giraffes of various sizes, and pulled the covers up under his chin. I placed my hand on his cheek, pressing gently, and told him I would blow in a bigger dream, one to combat that bad dream that wouldn't go away.
I see you Oscar, standing by the chimpanzee exhibit at the Oakland Zoo. You're wearing your Oakland Zoo t-shirt and a little oval tag with your name on it. Underneath your name is the word "Docent".
Oscar didn't know what a docent was so I explained that a zoo docent is an animal expert who talks to visitors and gives presentations. Oscar nodded contentedly, his face finally relaxing. I return to the dream.
You're tall now, you're not a kid anymore, Oscar. You're wearing a backpack that holds your water bottle and you take a nice long drink because it's hot out there. Just then a school bus unloads at the zoo entrance and a river of kindergarteners flows into the zoo, headed straight for you at the chimpanzee exhibit. You see the children coming and are excited. Their energy is palpable and you remind them gently that the chimpanzees don't like loud noises. They respond to your calming voice and gather around you. You invite them to ask questions, and a little boy's hand shoots right up. You enjoy his enthusiasm and answer his question easily. Next a smaller girl, with toes pointed slightly inward, shyly raises her hand. The way you speak to the girl with such respect and care, brings a smile to her teacher's lips.
After a few more questions you slip away to the giraffe exhibit where you are giving a talk on the difference between reticulated and masai giraffes at 10am. You arrive early, Oscar, and unfold the piece of paper in your back pocket that lists the differences. But you don't really need to look at this paper -- you know it all by heart.
You turn then to rest on the black fence of the giraffe enclosure. Your right elbow is propped on the fence and your chin is cupped in your hand as you lean over and gaze at those oddly graceful creatures. You know these giraffes intimately. You study them every day. You know the tall one can reach the highest branches but he shares the leaves with the shorter giraffes. You know the calf who likes to stir up trouble, and the smaller one who sticks close to his mom. You know who comes near the fence and who seeks shade. You know these giraffes and they know you. You smile to yourself, happy, and turn back around to see that a small crowd has gathered now. They've heard about you -- Oscar, the giraffe expert! You clear your throat, take a sip of water and greet your audience.
Oscar eyelids grew heavy as I painted this scene. I kept my hand pressed lightly on his face and every once in a while he nodded knowingly as if to say, "Yes, that's right. That's right mom. You know. You know."
Tears slipped silently from my eyes, thankfully hidden from Oscar by the dim lighting. I do know. It is so simple and I can see it all so clearly. Oscar and I dream the same dreams.