Every few weeks, my near 6-year-old pops into our room a few minutes after we turn off her lights bed complaining about a bad dream. And trying to be sympathetic without being too drawn into the intelligent anti-bedtime antics, we remind her that she's safe in her room with her brother and 400 lights on, and more importantly, that she can't really have dreams when she hasn't fallen asleep yet.
Now this is hardly as bad as my son's repeat offenses that have been almost completely squelched by the cruel but effective blanket threats combined with a later bedtime and swimming laps in the neighborhood pool.
Of course, we're dealing with the middle of the night visits which I think might actually be worse, because even though he goes right back to his room when we gently usher him with a very sleepy pointy finger back to his bed, he still happens to show up right when some sort of hot naked movie star is licking Doritos crumbs off my lips.
I'm pregnant. What's a hot dream without 6000 calorie chips?
But this time, Quinlan frantically called me back into her room even before I had turned the corner in the hall.
"I'm having bad dreams, mom," she squeaked from under her covers.
I have her my spiel, trying not to make it sound canned or like I've rattled it off 20 some odd times.
"But I can dream with my eyes open. And it's about dying."
Of course, this might be the most brilliant attempt ever delivered by a child to get out of bedtime because knowing me (and knowing that she knows me), that would automatically get her my complete attention for a very extended period of time.
But her brilliance aside, I finally understood why she had been complaining of those bad dreams - a wandering, analytical and quite fantastical mind that I know all too well.
My ability to create fantasies and escape my reality had been my solace and my protection for years in an abusive household. I dreamed about leaving. I dreamed about seeking out my revenge. I dreamed about every single thing in my life, so much so that for awhile, I was living my life in my head.
It was safe. I was happy. And protected.
But my mind, especially after having children, was and often is my worst enemy. After a few years of what I now know to be plain old anxiety, I've learned to keep it mostly under control, for the most part, with positive self talk and reminding myself that I'm in control of my mind and not the other way around.
Restating the facts and keeping myself grounded. Closing Google. Turning off the news. Talking to my husband. Eating a bag of Oreos.
And even then, particularly when I'm pregnant and breastfeeding (which has been for the last six years straight) and my husband is away and my kids are sick, my mind could eat me from the inside out.
I'm fortunate that it's never gone past the point where I couldn't talk myself down.
But it's come very close.
So when my daughter told me about her thoughts about dying, I (along with my 723 death scenarios that I've already played out) could comisserate.
And I did.
There's not much I can say about the fear of dying to a 6-year-old, other than that death happens, it's scary, and she's perfectly right to feel that way - no extra details. No "but you'll be very old so you don't have to worry about all that." Just the facts.
But what I can also say to her is that she is in control of her mind. And when she starts to think about the scary part of life, that she can be the one to change that around, and replace her thoughts with good ones - an upcoming birthday trip I'm taking her on this week. The fantastic girl's day we had with a drop-in art class, lunch, and a hair appointment.
And better, all the wonderful positive dreams and wishes she has about her life.
Because for all the pain that a creative, imaginative mind can cause, there is much beauty in being able to envision all the goodness you will for you life even before it happens.