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Dan Conradt: Pleasant dreams from the bottom of a backpack

November 11, 2018

“Don’t look!” Steven said, sliding to the edge of the chair to block my view. I looked anyway, because my parental intuition says “be wary” when a 7-year-old tells me not to look and then tries to hide what he’s doing.

“I made you something at school,” he said.

He was pulling things out of his Elmo backpack and piling them on the kitchen table. It reminded me of one of those clown cars at the circus, where the volume of stuff coming out was impossibly big for the size of the container. The pile on the table was already bigger than the backpack:

• A package of goldfish crackers

• One dark blue mitten

• A box of eight Crayolas

• A permanently wrinkled red windbreaker

• An apple

• A plastic ruler

• A pair of Power Ranger snow boots

• A library book about Arthur’s new glasses

• Three mismatched socks

• A plastic baggie full of Legos

• A bottle of Elmer’s glue

• A travel pack of Kleenex.

• A handful of battered M-and-M’s rattled across the kitchen table.

“I found it!” Steven said triumphantly. “Come over here, but keep your eyes closed!”

I covered my eyes with one hand, but left just enough space to peek between my fingers; I’ve navigated the kitchen in the dark for countless midnight snacks, but didn’t want to risk breaking a toe on a table leg, knowing that a surprise was waiting.

“OK,” Steven said after I’d taken four tentative steps. “Stop there. Put out your hands, but don’t look!”

I did as I was told, and something nearly weightless and slightly fuzzy settled into my hands.

“OK,” Steven said. “Open your eyes!”

It reminded me of a spider web — three circles, each slightly larger than the one inside it, connected with what looked like spokes on a bicycle wheel. Three tendrils dangled from the bottom of the largest circle.

It was a fragile-looking ornament made of baby blue, pastel pink and neon orange pipe cleaners.

“It’s a dreamcatcher!” Steven said.

“It’s beautiful!” I said. “How did you end up making a dreamcatcher?”

“We were reading about Native Americans in school,” he said. “And we learned about dreamcatchers, so we made some. Do you know how they work?”

“Not really,” I admitted.

“I do!” he said proudly. “If you hang a dreamcatcher over your bed, good dreams get through right here …” and he tapped the smallest circle, “ … and come down these things … “ and he flicked the tendrils “ … so you can dream them. If you have a BAD dream it gets caught in the web and can’t get out, and when the sun comes up in the morning the bad dream goes away.”

“I’m going to hang it on the lamp next to the bed!” I said. “Sometimes I have bad dreams.”

“Really? About … monsters?”

“Not really monsters,” I said. “Sometimes I dream that I’m in a strange house and I can’t find my way out. I go into a room and there are three doors … I go through one of them, but it doesn’t lead anywhere, so I go back out … and the room I was just in had changed. And everywhere I go the rooms keep changing and I can’t find my way out.”

“That would be scary,” Steven said with concern in his voice. “But the dreamcatcher will keep that dream from getting through, so you only have good dreams!”

“Do you want to hear about my favorite dreams?” I asked.

“Uh-huh!”

“I have a lot of dreams where I’m flying.”

“Like you have wings and feathers and stuff?”

“No, I’m on … well, not really on a magic carpet, more like the rug Grandma used to keep by the front door. And I never fly too high … sometimes it’s just a few inches off the ground and I fly down the street, and sometimes it’s just over the tops of the trees, and I can reach down and touch the leaves as I fly past.”

“That would be so much fun!” Steven said. “You can still have those dreams! The dreamcatcher will let them through! Can we go put it up right now?”

“I think we should. Maybe it will keep the bad dreams away.”

We hung his gift from the shade of my bedside lamp, I tucked Steven into his bed and read “Goodnight, Moon.” And when his breathing settled into the slow, deep rhythm of an innocent sleep, I crawled into bed under the protective watch of a dreamcatcher.

And I spent the whole night flying over the tops of the trees on Grandma’s rug while my 7-year-old co-pilot reached down and touched the leaves as we flew past.

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