My seven-year-old son has been having trouble sleeping. Every night for the past few months, he has materialized at the side of my bed, complaining of nightmares.
The reason for this current bout of sleeplessness is the television show “Terra Nova.” It posits an earth in the 22nd century (a century my son expects to see, by the way), that is so polluted the people wear personal air filtration mask as casually as today’s earthlings wear ear buds. Fortuitously, the government has found a space/time portal to carry chosen colonists back in time 85 million years, to unspoiled earth. My paleontologist-son will tell you that means the colonists must co-exist with dinosaurs for 20 million years. This brings us to the reason he can’t sleep.
Under the guidance of a reviewer who said the show was great for five-year-olds and environmental warriors alike, we watched the pilot episode together. Big mistake. He was terrified by the “Slasher” dinosaurs. Specifically, he is convinced that the Slashers will have special access to him under his blankets, and so insists on sleeping on top of them. (Yes, I put blankets on him after he’s asleep. But he wiggles out, ever vigilant.) Freezing in the middle of the night, he wakes up and comes to our room, and the tango begins:
Him: “Mommy, can I sleep with you?”
Me: “You have to sleep in your own bed.”
Him: “But I see a sliver of space right between you and Daddy.”
Me: “Three’s a crowd.”
Eventually I relent; he climbs up and sleeps soundly the rest of the night. As for me, my left arm is the only thing that sleeps soundly, tingling from lying on my side to avoid falling off the bed.
I accept responsibility for my role in this. I’m the genius who put the show on, after all. But I never dreamed that I’d have to tell a boy who has watched “Ultimate Dinosaur” DVD nine hundred thousand times, that dinosaurs are scary.
To me the scariest part of the program was its depiction of earth in the not-too-distant future, filled with poisonous air and population police making sure no one has more than two children. This was the stuff I had warned my son about in advance, this was the frightening part. He asked me, “Earth’s not really going to be like that, right?” My answer was calculated not to terrify, but also to motivate: “No, not if people ride their bikes more and drive less and turn off the lights when they leave a room.”
It has been a couple months, and the Slashers still haunt his bed. Now I am left with a parenting dilemma: If I want my child to stay warm under his blankets, in the hopes that he (and his dad and me) can have a restful night of sleep, so that he can grow and play and learn, should I tell him the Slashers are more likely to get him if he’s uncovered? Should I tell him he should be more scared about human extinction?
So far I’ve resisted, but if I miss enough sleep, I may lose whatever judgment has so far restrained me…
Tune in next week for how I finally fix the problem of the Slashers!