Liam gets night terrors. From time to time, he starts screaming in the middle of the night. Sometimes he just screams, sometimes he cries, sometimes he calls out for us. We rush in and find him, still asleep, but appearing to be in awful pain and torment. He thrashes around, grabs at his legs, claws at his arms, wrings his hands. To witness it, you’d be certain that he is at least in the throes of a terrible nightmare, and at worst, suffering an onslaught of pain from a horrible illness.
He is almost impossible to wake from this state. Trying to pick him up intensifies his anguish. Trying to hug or kiss him incites him to lash out violently. Saying his name, turning on the lights, even clapping our hands, all serve no purpose except to upset him even more. When we finally do wake him, he is still upset, but more at being rudely awoken in the middle of the night than anything else — he doesn’t remember being frightened or crying out. Night terrors are apparently completely normal in a child of his age, and he most likely has no idea why, to his mind, his parents randomly wake him some nights full of stress and concern. These night terrors can last 10-20 minutes (although it always feels like hours), but once it’s over, he is usually peacefully asleep again within minutes.
When this first started happening, we were terrified and overwhelmed. We had a screaming, tormented toddler in the middle of the night with nothing we could do to fix him. (We’ve since learned that it’s better NOT to wake him, so we don’t, but it goes against every instinct that I have.) Of course, we went through all the normal parenting worries: is there something wrong with him, is he sick or suffering in some way, how do we help him??? And, honestly, the stress was amplified by the fact that we live in an apartment and we worry about whether we’re waking all of our neighbors when this happens. Knowing that this is a developmentally normal thing (and that there’s nothing we can do about it) allays most of our fears. But I still feel bad about what we’re inflicting on our neighbors.
We don’t have any idea how this affects our neighbors, because no one has ever said anything. No one has ever asked us about it, or complained, but we can’t imagine that they haven’t noticed or that they don’t know which apartment it’s coming from (as an American family with small kids living in a country of exceptionally quiet people, we make more noise than the rest of our building’s residents combined). Since I don’t know what anyone thinks about it (are they quietly seething or patiently understanding?) I worry. I worry that they don’t understand, and one day the Austrian version of child services is going to show up and demand to know what torture we’re inflicting on our kid at 1 in the morning. (And all of this is made worse in the summer months because no one here has air conditioning and everyone sleeps with their windows open.)
It’s another area where cultural norms are different, and it makes them hard to navigate. I hope that my neighbors understand, or even better, that by some trick of architectural acoustics they aren’t particularly bothered by it. But I wonder how I would ever even know what they think about it (and I wonder how Austrian parents would handle the same situation).