Have you ever had a dream that has shaken you to the core, the kind where you wake up with tears spiking your eyes, Goosebumps all over your body but dripping with sweat, where you can’t quite figure out where you are and no matter how hard you try to convince yourself it was just a dream, you can’t shake how realistic it felt?
A few nights ago, I experienced exactly that. Only this dream is reoccurring, yet usually these thoughts and worries only occur when we are abroad on holiday and they are variations of the same subject. In general, I am a very laid-back person, and nothing really phases me, however motherhood has spiked feelings and worries within me I didn’t know existed. They always surround my worst fear, losing Toby.
There is a flip side to the hilarious, outgoing and witty personality (Toby’s not mine, but you know the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree and all that 😉) as I have mentioned before, people are in awe of him. He gets so much attention everywhere we go, he will talk to anyone and everyone and he has no fear of strangers. He presumes everyone is a good person as children should and that melts my heart but petrifies me at the same time. The feelings of anxiety surrounding it only really build up whilst we are abroad. On top of his personality that people are so taken by, he has bright blonde hair (more so when he’s been in the sun for a couple of days) and blue eyes. So, this alone gets a lot of attention when we are abroad, we often get people coming over to comment on his lovely hair colour or eye colour. Under normal circumstances I of course see no problem with people being friendly and complimentary but when we are in a foreign country my mind doesn’t think rationally and images of Madeline McCann and Ben Needham flash to the front of my mind. (Dramatic and farfetched, I know). For the first two years of Toby’s life I would only go on holiday with my parents as I guess a form of comfort, I have learnt to combat these irrational feelings and fears because we love travelling and I want Toby to experience the world. We do now travel just the three of us. But sometimes those feelings come back to bite me.
This dream in particular, we were on holiday in Greece and had been there for a week. The hotel was amazing, and we were having the best time. We were in the pool all day and exploring in the evenings. The staff were so nice and couldn’t do enough for us. As everywhere that we go, within a couple of days everybody had come to know Toby by name. (He makes sure of that!) One morning the clocks had gone backwards, or forwards, something along those lines and Toby was sleeping in later than usual, we had run out of water and decided he would be absolutely fine left sleeping if we nipped out to the supermarket to get some things. (Just to clarify this is what happened in my dream and would never ever happen in real life. Even now that I know it was a dream I keep thinking why would one of you not just go?!) We came back to the room and he was gone. My worst fear realised. Its making my heart race even writing this because I can feel that feeling, you know the one where you’re in the supermarket and you go to pick up something from the shelf, turn back around and they’re gone?! That split second before you see them bounding towards you, is gut wrenching.
Anyway, back to the dream. We were running around everywhere, screaming his name, asking anyone and everyone if they had seen him. Dan ran to the reception and told them to call the police, I was screaming, frantically running up and down showing people his picture on my phone. I ran out of the complex and down the street asking everyone who I passed on my way, I ran past a Sainsburys (I know what you’re thinking, a Sainsburys in Greece?!) and I saw a glimpse of blonde spikey hair in the store walking out of the adjacent door at the opposite end of the store. I sprinted inside and screamed his name, he turned around almost in slow motion, I scooped him up in my arms sobbing. He looked at me in a daze and the first thing he said was “I’m hungry”. He had a shopping bag in his hand and had been sent in by himself to get something to eat because he kept complaining of hunger. In his bag he had a cheese sandwich and a tube of smarties. My heart hurt. He told me “the man” had come to pick him up from the hotel room and had told him he was taking him to find us. Still clutching him tighter than I ever had before, I stepped one foot outside the exit in which he was walking out to see who the man was that was waiting for him. It was the hotels pool maintenance man. Dressed in a hoody and a cap rather than his usual bright red attire. He clocked me and ran away. I threw up. I was shaking. The same pool maintenance man that had shouted “Hey Toby!” and gave him a high five every time he had walked past him all week, who had laughed along with him and us, who had told us on multiple occasions “he’s so cute”, who we presumed was harmless. I went back inside the store and rang Dan to tell him I had found him and that it was the pool maintenance man who had taken him. Dan, the police and the hotel receptionist were at the store in seconds and it was at this point I woke up.
Tears were strolling down my face and I was dripping in sweat; my hands were trembling. Toby was right next to me in bed sound asleep and safe. But I could not shake how real the dream felt. I couldn’t convince myself it wasn’t real, even though I could see him right in front of me. I think it was because I knew how easily that could happen, Toby would trust a friendly, familiar face that he recognised from the hotel (not that he would ever be left unattended abroad or at home). I walked up and down the hall way a couple of times to try and rationalise everything. I ended up having to wake Dan up at 3am, as I needed further reassurance that it was just a dream, and everything was fine.
At the point of writing this I haven’t decided whether I am going to post this or not, it’s obviously a bit deep compared to what I usually write about. Maybe it will just be something that I needed to write down to clarify my own thoughts and it will go unread. I’m not sure. The dream stuck with me for a good few days and had me questioning whether it is the right time to talk to Toby about stranger danger. I think it’s a difficult topic, I don’t want to crush his spirit or alter his innocence in any which way, but I also want him to be aware of who it is and isn’t ok to go with and ultimately to be safe. I’d love to hear your opinions on talking to your children about stranger danger and how you have dealt with this matter. Is four too young or should I have made him aware by now?