Unclear If Kid's Dreams Are Real Or Invented
"People took my ice cream and I was so frustrated and Daddy ate eggs so fast!"
Mornings are when we share our dreams. Our entire family has been dreaming more frequently in the last few months than any time in recent memory, and some portion of our breakfast time lately is spent updating each other about the dreams we dreamt ourselves the night before. Kina seems to read this as competitive storytelling, which leads to some outrageously detailed dream logs—but it is impossible for me to assert that she did not in fact dream that her ice cream was stolen and that I was eating a huge plate of eggs as quickly as possible. That seems plausible, in a genre largely composed of the implausible. What is the difference between a dream she invents for me and one she (unwittingly) invents for herself?
By that measure, I have no way of knowing what it would mean for a four-year-old to dream, but we suspect she’s doing what we think of as “dreaming”. She started talking and moaning in her sleep when she was much younger—a spooky reminder of the mysteries of child development, but a good sign that we have a normal little dreamer. At the time, I wondered what she might be dreaming of, if she knew what dreaming was, how a kid that small might distinguish waking life from dreams, and what it means when the spectrum of your lived experience includes events that your brain makes up from plain cloth.
The last year has done strange things to my dreams. I’ve come to cherish the classic David dreams: staying in a massive and dimly-lit hotel, but not knowing where my room is; taking elevators that go sideways; jumping great distances with little effort. More recently, those dreams have been complemented and amended by the pandemic: working in a crowded office with people singing karaoke; taking the wrong train; having long conversations in restaurants. I’m not sure whether to interpret these new dreams as nightmares or not—they’re not entirely unenjoyable. I wonder what my toddler mind is working out. My waking pandemic existence and my dreamy post-pandemic existence run together in a continuum of mundane neurosis and absurd complacency; after I leave the mess of this world behind, I get a little time to take the mask off, eat lunch with friends, and leap over shopping malls.
For her part, Kina says “I see things in my head when I’m sleeping”. She dreams of scrambled eggs and strangers out to steal her precious ice cream. She dreams of the Octonauts (“but real”), who visit her at a giant playground. She dreams she is being chased by sharks, but I come and swat them away. She dreams of jellyfish who fly from California to knock doorknobs off of her Lolo Tim’s head. She dreams of being an adult and riding bikes with her friend Futura. She dreams of floating in a boat with her parents and seeing the fish under the surface of the water. The things she sees in her head expand her universe—they offer new challenges and give her new powers. Imagine what it must be like to have dreams, in this year, that aren’t just about breathing. Imagine that you once dreamed about the person you have become.
Row, row, row your boat.