Phantom Cry Syndrome
Spend enough time taking care of children and it becomes an inescapable part of your psyche. It makes it way into your dreams in sometimes overt, sometimes subtle ways. Last month I dreamed that Clara was trying to get Kate to swim in a pond where a shark was swimming. I’m no psychoanalyst but I think such dreams show I have some pretty deep fears about the safety of my children. Even when your children are at school or you have a babysitter you are not free from what I have found is the most common form of parental paranoia: Phantom Cry Syndrome. Randomly, out of nowhere, you will hear your child’s cry.
PCS can happen anywhere at any time. This afternoon it happened to me in my car, even though I knew I was alone. I heard my child’s cry – it was barely there, as if on the very edge of my hearing – and I jerked my head towards the sound. The sound had passed and I was left to laugh at my own foolishness. The children were with the babysitter, you nimrod. As I continued driving I found the source of the sound: A driver had his window down and I could just hear his radio. But since I had no context for that slight sound the first time I heard it, my parental instincts kicked in and turned it into a child’s cry.
I’ve experienced PCS in the gym, where the slight squeal of a nautilus machine moving on the other side of the room can sound like a cry. I’ve turned my head at the sound of car brakes, a high pitched laugh from afar, or just about any sound that is just loud enough and just the right timbre or pitch to approximate a cry. My mind will fill in the information that the cry is my own child’s. It’s not a rational response, but for parents who experience PCS it shows just how heavy the responsibility of protecting the little ones in our care weighs on us.
I just made PCS up. But the next time it happens to you, you’ll know what to call it.