Our son, Matthew, at six and seven years old dreamed horrible dreams. He would start from sleep, fly from his bedroom down the hall, then bullet his little body into our bed, eyes as wide as boiled eggs.
We could smell the fear on him, it caused his sweat to sour.
“What, Matthew?” “What is it?” his mother would ask.
And he: “Grasshoppers!”
It was a recurring nightmare: grasshoppers lurked at the bottom of a hole in his pillow. Insects huger than himself. They bit, he said, “Sideways,” and clacked when they chewed. They were waiting for the time he would fall down the shaft to their lair, where they would tear him apart for supper.
Three choices presented themselves to us, his parents.
But I had too strong a memory of my own childhood to make my mother’s choice. No one would say to our son, “Oh, Matthew, don’t be silly. There are no grasshoppers anywhere near your pillow.”
On the other hand, I was probably still enough of the child myself to be stuck with the second choice: in a sense, I believed him.
Well, I began to dream my own dream, in which Matthew and I are walking over an endless field of grass, bright green, too perfectly green to be safe. Matthew worms his hand out of mine and dashes ahead. “Wait!” I cry. “Matthew, wait!” I cry with a deep parental dread of the dangers ahead of him. And sure enough, all at once he vanishes from my sight. He has fallen into the hole of his dream. I rush forward. I find the hole. I see him falling—and I see, at the bottom, the grasshoppers of the Apocalypse waiting to eat him, and now I am in unspeakable anguish for my son. Should I jump after him? Should I return for help? I wake up.
My wife made the third choice, the still more excellent way.
One night, having calmed him down, Thanne took her son’s hand and walked back to his bed. She sat beside him on the bed and asked for the details of those grasshoppers again. Matthew recounted them, whispering, terrified to mention them in their own hearing.
When he was done, Thanne said, “Is this the pillow?”—touching the one he slept with.
“Ah,” she said, nodding in solemn agreement. “But,” she said, “Matthew, did you know that grasshoppers, they are finicky?”
“Yes. Grasshoppers live in only one kind of pillow. This kind of pillow,” she said, taking his from the bed. “Come with me,” she said and again she took his hand. She led him to a large garbage can in the kitchen, and there she stuffed the pillow good and gone forever.
Next, she got him a different sort of pillow, in which, she assured him, grasshoppers wouldn’t be caught dead living.
Also, taking advantage of the opportunity, she removed all the toys he took with him to bed.
You see? Thanne companioned him into his story. She accepted its premises, but not its present ending. She assumed the role of the storyteller and thereby led her son through the terrible (and terribly true) terrain of the tale even unto a marvelous ending. Thanne uttered the whole of the name of the spirit that had come to wrestle my son night after night, to wrestle him in his solitude. So Matthew learned the spirit’s name as well. He took power over the demon.
And he never dreamed of grasshoppers again.