Thursday, September 30, 2010

Confessions in Dreamland

In the last post, I wrote that I thought to give the boy a BMX bike for his birthday because he was enjoying practicing jumps on the ramps at the local skate park. I did not write that I knew one of the things he wanted most was a laptop, a netbook to be exact, nor that the reason that I wanted to offer the BMX was that I judged it healthier than a laptop. I didn't write those things because they didn't reflect who I want to be as a parent - even though they are who I sometimes am as a parent.

These past two months have found me in the midst of frequent darkness, even as I traverse the magnificent light of my daily life. This darkness has been seen most vividly in my dream life. You see, recently, Cutter, my son, went through about three weeks of what felt like intense sickness.

He developed a cough that went into double ear and eye infections as well as some pretty wicked lung congestion. This came at the tail end of a couple months of busy-ness and travel the likes of which we don't often experience at our house. He developed a high fever and became sluggish. His breathing became quite rapid and I became quite concerned. We spent a few days on homeopathic and herbal remedies before we landed at the pediatrician's and antibiotics. I morphed into mainstream (albeit creative) mom. I designed menus full of healthy, vegetarian menus from which he could order. I pushed outside time. I pushed a BMX bike instead of a laptop. I started having bad dreams. About Isaiah. Our son who died 3 1/2 years ago from complex congenital defects.

You see, I know what life-threatening illness looks like. I know how fast, and for how long, a heart can manage to beat and still sustain a life. I know what the last slow breaths, the last slow beats, sound like. I listened to them. And so, when I dreamed of being unable to "play" with friends at the health club because Isaiah was sick, when I dreamt of refusing to visit Isaiah in the hospital while he was sick, well, I listened to that, too. And when I found myself freaking out because my husband fed our still sick son, Cutter, a plain bagel, I listened to that, too.

And what I heard was fear. Irrational, yes, but real fear nonetheless. I could see and know the fear was irrational, know that by trying to control my loved ones in their eating and their actions, I was not only expressing my fear, but hurting our relationships (refer back to The Hidden Child.) But I also needed to honor that mourning Isaiah and hurting from that loss is not a one-shot deal. Sure, I did a year of counseling with an amazing woman. Sure, I live an amazing life full of love and adventure and growth. But I still suffer. I still want to hold my son to my chest. And I sure as hell don't want to lose my other son. There, I said it.

Enter a good friend. One versed in dream work and Jungian psychology. A friend I went to with one of my latest dreams. The first dream found me in an art class that I'd enrolled in to "find myself." The professor gave us our first assignment: go home and draw your house. Don't focus on details. Just get the basic shapes down. How easy, I thought. At home, I tried to get the basic shapes of home down and found I couldn't. I could sketch the corner of the couch, the curve of the curtain, the dirty spoon on the sink's edge, but the whole escaped me. I returned to the class the next day, abashed in front of the professor, in tears explaining that I could not find my home.

To me, this dream represented part of my darkest self, the self caught up in trying to control minute details, the plain bagels and the day of video games, rather than being able to see the whole of where my life is, the whole of who my amazing child is. My friend offered something else, something more hopeful in the dark - that my psyche, through the dream, is letting me know that part of me knows that the whole is there, is visible, when I am ready, even if it means I have to go through all the details first.

Dream two, two nights ago, after I again attempted to assert control over my loved ones. During a moment that I was writing a book review on my laptop, my dh was watching a t.v. show and Cutter was playing a game on his laptop, I heard one click too many and said, "O.K., this is all wrong. Let's all shut down our media and talk about our day." I forced it. It was ugly. Cutter cried. Joe looked at me in bemusement. I don't like writing this - I'm often looked at as someone for whom this parenting is easy, but it's sometimes hard as hell, folks, and sometimes I am ugly. It's ironic - even as I forced it, I remembered a time in my youth when my siblings and I were forced to watch a t.v. show, for family time, for reasons I will never know, but which surely felt as powerful to my father. As a child, I hated it. And I hated it two nights ago. I apologized to Cutter, to Joe, to myself. I allowed that it was actually the noise that put me over the edge and not the fact that my family members were engaged in activities they loved. Since, I have made sure to have the space I need to write, to avoid noise when needed.

But the dream that night - I dreamt that Cutter was engaged in several activities that parents frequently dread. Sex, drugs, alcohol, stealing. I dreamt that he was engaged in a lot of ugliness, and still, I knew that I loved him, that he was deserving of love. And to think, the most I've been so hyped up about is food and video games. One day, my dh was kind enough to ask, "You know, if he sat on the couch all day reading books, would you be as concerned?" You see, I know, in my deepest heart, that my son is well, that he is rounded and healthy. He rides horses, he plays video games, he eats a variety of foods, he cooks sushi, he plays pretend, he builds dioramas, he swims, he does so much - and I know this and I love him. I just sometimes forget that I am fearful, fearful of loss, fearful of illness and death, and instead of allowing that, allowing it to open me up, make me vulnerable, well, I forget and I let it shut me down, shut my son down, shut my husband down, shut life down.

Here's to opening up again, to dreaming new dreams, come what may.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The hidden boy

The one on the right, in the red shirt, is my son, Cutter, recently turned ten.

He doesn't like his photo taken, so I don't often see him on film, though I do "see" him, and saw him, and myself, quite clearly on the morning of his birthday. This was the first year Cutter chose to have a party which we put together as a family, as opposed to a package deal somewhere like Craig's Cruisers or Chuck E. Cheese. The day before, he and I traveled to the grocery store to pick up the supplies needed to decorate a park picnic area, to make dozens of miniature angel food cakes, to have an all-out Nerf gun capture the flag battle. That was when I first noticed something was slightly off. As I muttered aloud to myself and Cutter about ingredients we needed, or decorations I couldn't find, he said quietly, "I hope this is going to be fun." I asked if anything in particular was making it seem as though his party wouldn't be fun, and even as I asked, I had an inkling it was me.

I have never particularly enjoyed my own birthdays. They have always been very high stress for me, a day built up to be everything I'd ever dreamed of, a sheer 24 hours of perfection: just right gifts, absolute happiness, world peace.

So you might imagine my surprise in that grocery store when I realized that that was exactly what I was trying to give my son - and he was feeling it, not in a good way. From that moment, I told myself I would relax - and the change allowed us both to let go of expectation, to get silly in the candy aisle, to admire the newest Nerf items in the toy aisle, to pick all black balloons in the party department.

On to his birthday morning, where I continued to try and give Cutter exactly what I had never wanted. He'd recently expressed an interest in BMX biking, jumping off of ramps, doing wheelies; a somewhat difficult task on his mountain bike. So I thought, let's offer to get him a BMX bike for his birthday. The second the words were out of my mouth, it was like looking into a mirror, seeing a place I'd been many times before. His face shut down, even as he tried to reassure us that that was what he wanted.

Joe, my dh, and I instantly let Cutter know that we could get something else for his birthday, that the bike was just an idea. The more we tried to reassure, the more he cried and insisted that was what he wanted. We agreed to stop talking about the gift for a bit and we went our separate ways.

Growing up, I had been (perhaps am even now) considered "difficult to buy for" among the family. At the same, I did not want to hurt anyone's feelings by saying I did not like whatever gift had been presented. Not a winning combo on a day declared to be about absolute happiness. This was the mirror I saw in Cutter's face, the recognition of those conflicted emotions. Shortly after walking away, I walked back and sat down. I told him about my experiences with gifts, and explained that those experiences are what led me to a place of not enjoying gifts, of asking his dad to stop giving me gifts. I let him know that my love for him was in no way bound up to any gift offered and that we should get him something he was truly excited about. I asked him if he felt bad saying he didn't want the BMX bike. He said, "Yes, some," and that he still wanted to get the bike sometime. I wanted to force the issue, to say, No, we never have to get the stupid bike, but that would have been denying a part of Cutter, that part that doesn't want to hurt someone he loves. So I said, "O.K.," and the day carried on. We discovered what it was that he would really love for his birthday and we had a fun day with friends at the park. There was no perfection, there was no implication that he was "difficult" and there was a whole lotta laughter and love.

And then just two weeks later, my birthday rolled up. In years past, I have dreaded it. The pressure of trying to figure out just the right thing to do on my day, the fear that I would be disappointed in any gifts given, the ignoring of internet and phone because I didn't want to have to be "up" because that is what was expected of me on my birthday.

This year, though, was different. This year I decided to focus on my joy at being alive in this world, to give thanks for the gift of this life, gift enough for a thousand birthdays. I wrote notes to loved ones, I held others in my thoughts, I bought two vegan/vegetarian cookbooks, I went roller-skating, I downloaded a beautiful video game and I ate some delicious Mexican food. The day was not extravagant, nor was it truly outside the realm of what would happen on any other day in my life. But it was transformative and I am thankful.