Quiz: mentally ill, possessed, or a 4-year-old?

Last night as I was tucking Theo into bed, he casually informed me that he sometimes has trouble falling asleep because of the voices in his head.

Steven was out for the night, and the house was quiet and dark.

“What do you mean?” I asked, keeping my tone light. “What kinds of voices?”

Theo: “I don’t know.”

Me: “Are they men or women or kids?”

Theo: “Men, women, boys and girls.”

Me: “What do they say?”

Theo: “I don’t know. They just kind of go, ‘gah’ and ‘ooh’.”

Me: panicking silently

Theo: “They dance to their own music.”

Me: nonchalant on the outside but inside I’m like:









Me: “Maybe it was a dream?”

Theo: “No, it wasn’t a dream. It’s real.”

There it is, I think – the other shoe has dropped. My child is mentally ill. We allow ourselves to relax a little, and our kid starts hearing voices. Oh god, what kind of life will he have? I imagine him as an adult, institutionalized and heavily sedated. I actually tear up.

Then Theo says, “Should we call Odd Squad?” and smiles.

For those who don’t watch inordinate amounts of PBS Kids, Odd Squad is a show about a group of pint-sized special agents who investigate strange phenomena. It’s kind of like X-Files for kids. Theo is a big fan.

I snap out of my panic spiral.

“Ha,” I say. “Maybe we should call Odd Squad!”

OK, so maybe Theo does hear – or imagines he hears – voices. Or maybe he’s repeating something he heard at camp or on TV. Either way, he doesn’t seem to think that hearing voices is scary or even that big a deal. That’s good. I give him a kiss and we get back to our bedtime story.

Later, when Steven gets home, I tell him that I was pretty freaked out for a minute there. He reassures me with reasonable statements: that kids his age have big imaginations; that the line between dreams and reality is still a little fuzzy for him; that he most likely is not schizophrenic.

I suppose it says something about me that my mind went straight to “He’s mentally ill!” rather than, say, “What an imagination!” or even, “He’s communicating with the spirit world!” And yes, I admit it: I’m a little bit dark. And anxious. But man, it was eerie. He was so earnest about it, and he’s never said anything like that before.

I couldn’t help myself; I googled it. The first two links were reassuring: “Don’t Panic If Your Child Hears Voices,” the headlines soothed. The third was about child-onset schizophrenia. I scrolled past that one and clicked on one from Time, which proclaimed that “Hearing Voices In Childhood May Be Common.” It was an article from 2010 about various studies showing that lots of kids hear voices and that this does not, in the majority of cases, predict future mental illness.

I didn’t push it. I stopped reading there.

A lot of parents have stories about their children seeing and hearing people who aren’t there. Are these kids communing with the spirit world? I don’t think so, but that’s just my opinion. Maybe it’s true that children, being innocent and pure and relatively new to this world, have stronger connections with other dimensions or something. I guess it’s kind of nice to imagine a benevolent presence making contact with Theo. It certainly beats thinking that he’s insane. For now I’m just going to chalk it up to childhood imagination. But who knows? Maybe my  grandma has been coming by to say hello. If he brings it up again, I’ll ask.



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