January 10, 2005
My wife went out today to make a quick appearance at a good friend's birthday party leaving me alone with the baby for a bit. This might not seem like a big thing, but most new dads of breastfed kids will empathize because ultimately there is not much we can do if the kid wakes up hungry. A timer is set when the mom leaves... could be an hour, could be three hours, could five minutes. I found myself not wanting to move for fear of waking him so I watched him dream. He was in deep REM sleep and full of activity.
What do they dream about at this age? Sometimes the dreams are good with smiles and even the beginnings of a laugh, sometimes they seem to be very very bad with startles and pained yelps of panic. At this age they are generally in REM about 5-6 hours a day. In the womb it was 10 hours. Some people suggest the dreams are the babies way of forming connections, making sense of the day, and learning, but new studies suggest deep low wave sleep is more important for development and REM is just random firings of neurons that allow the brain circuitry time to recharge. Still,some part of me doesn't accept the scientific explanation and believes the his dreams take him far outside the confines of our small house to the places he visited while still in the womb in the manner of the blind experiencing the world in sounds and movements. Perhaps he's even inherited a few of our dreams. I know some of my own dreams do not always seem to be my own and would more likely belong to my grandfather or one of my many uncles. Sometimes it would make more sense if the logical world did not apply.
He of course did wake up hungry and inconsolable, but a few minutes later mom appeared and the sound of her voice alone calmed him.
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Thinking about these things brought to mind this story.
Once when I when was in Rajasthan on a desert road between Jodhpur and Jaisalmer I came upon a group of children being prepared as fire eaters for a circus. It was twilight and the kids would stand by the road blowing fire from their mouths at the passing cars hoping for a few rupees. Over and over they would shoot out flames into the air projecting a circle of yellow light around them and onto the desert floor. While there were few cars on this deserted road , almost all who passed threw out some small token. Occasionally a truck would stop, the driver would negotiate a price, and the kids would gather round with their limca soda bottles full of gasoline for a show. An older boy collected the money and gave it to their boss, a Fagin-like character named Hrishikesh. The younger boys would compete for the longest brightest flame. One played a flute. The scene was terrible and beautiful and it comes back to me in my own dreams sometime--the darkness of the desert, the indigo sky, the boys many irreparably dulled by the constant breathing of gas and kerosene with their burned mouths and odd laughter, and of course the flames lighting the dark. I wanted to leave that place quickly, but Hrishikesh invited me to tea and some part of me was fascinated. We sat outside his hut in front of a burning oil drum and talked of many things. I asked him about his dreams meaning what did he dream of doing, but he took my question literally. "I have only one dream. All my life one dream. I dream of ice and a world without fire." After the tea I excused myself feeling I was about to be robbed, he protested but let me hitch a ride to Shaitrawa with a trucker. Before I left he looked me in the eyes and said, "You will not forget this amazing thing" he said, "You will dream this night."