I had a dream last night. It was not a good one, but they seldom are these days. In my dream, I had just my boys and we needed to get from one city to the next. A flood was coming and we had to cross roads that would suddenly get washed out by walls of water. We had to cross suspension bridges where the cables would start to twist and snap free. I was terrified and I wasn't sure how I would get myself, much less my children to safety. I wish I could say something in the dream resolved itself, but all I can tell you is that by the time I woke up to the pitter patter of little Bubba feet on his nightly foray into my room, none of us had been lost yet. I also remember being fervently grateful that I did not have to worry about getting my baby to safety along with my boys. Wherever she was in my subconscious, I knew she was okay.
Although I have not done any of those things, the dream and the feelings associated felt awfully familiar. It seems like the most unfair thing to go through a nightmare in my waking hours only to fall asleep and be tormented there too. I have had a lot of these kinds of dreams over the last eight months. I recall during the first nightmarish days of my crisis, while I was still desperately trying to hold my family together, I dreamed of being washed away by water down into a big drainpipe. At the last minute I caught myself on the edge, just enough to keep myself from going under but not enough to pull myself out. I felt like right then I had a choice. I could hold on for an indeterminate amount of time and hope for help. Or I could simply let go. Let it all go and just wash away. I remember deciding to hang on, but I was still horrified at the sheer temptation to give up. It was not an easy decision, dream or not.
Bubba always goes to sleep in his own bed and wakes up in mine. Without fail, at some point in the night, he wakes up afraid and makes his way into my room to crawl in on the "boy side." Half the time I wake up in the morning there without having heard him come in. Other times, he needs to wake me up and be reassured through being held that he is okay. He tells me he is scared.
I know how he feels.
"Does the idea of being physically responsible for the safety of all of us ever freak you out?" I asked J once after I had watched one too many episodes of Unsolved Mysteries. As I expected, it did not. He was brave about that kind of thing. Having been the victims of a home invasion early in our early marriage, I knew it could happen again. I remember thinking at the time that I was glad that if someone did so, it would not be me going after them with a baseball bat. Ironically, the bat now resides under my side of the bed (along with my cell phone on the bedside table) and the burden of keeping our home safe rests with me. This realization has prompted more than one nightmare.
I feel so inadequate and my dream last night was very apt. I have had this dream before, just different scenarios. Getting me and my children to "safety" feels like a task I am not sure I can do on my own. I know what I need to do, I know what my choice is and I know that others have successfully done it before me. But I also know that I am starting from a damaged place and I don't get any do-overs. It was daunting being a parent before, but helping heal my children and myself and get us all safely beyond this crisis feels about as scary as getting my children safely beyond the "flood."
I had no real idea how this would affect us. I had no idea I would have to watch my children change and become, by turns, fearful or obstinate or violent or depressed or just shut down depending on how they are choosing to cope at the time. And the worst part is that I can't always reach them. All I can consistently do is be as safe a place as I can. As in my dream, I remain grateful in a way that my youngest is beyond being hurt in the ways that the boys are. This will always be her world. As young as they are, my boys know it isn't as theirs should be. They know the difference. I am dedicated to doing whatever my kids need to get through this, and aside from the obvious solution, J is too. But some days it doesn't feel like any of us are making any headway. I know I need to be as consistent as possible for them, but that is easier said than done by 5 p.m. and all I want is the cavalry to show up and I still have bedtime to get through. Some signs of distress are painfully obvious and other times it is hard to pick out what is them just being kids and what is a result of fear and confusion. I am doing my research and addressing the obvious things, but I am also afraid of missing the more subtle things, or doing it "wrong." What I want is what is best for them, but how do I know? Is it better to keep to our same routine for stability on a week like this where a trip has kept J from them for a whole week? Or do I allow extra time with him out of "my time" because they need to see their dad? Every day I'm reminded that parenting was never meant to be a one person job. That's probably why it requires two people to make it happen :-) Also, not to put too fine a point on it, parenting like this sucks. It really does. And I know that now at least, my kids don't prefer being parented this way either. I want them to feel safe. I want them to feel secure. I want them to know they are loved. I don't have confidence right now that they feel any of these things for sure at the moment.
And selfishly, I miss the feeling that I am something other than a mom. My children are everything to me, but after a day of giving, soothing, loving and mothering, I put them in bed and have a hard time being able to nurture any of the other aspects of "me." I love being a mom and I would never trade it, but I loved being a wife too and I miss it. Maybe that's why a few nights ago, my subconscious gave me the one good dream I can remember having since last May. In it, J had been gone on a long trip and had just returned. We lounged around on the floor trading things that we had been saving up to tell each other during our time apart. That was it. There was nothing remarkable about it but it was so comfortable in its familiarity. I miss my husband every day, but just as much, I miss living with my friend. As could be expected, it was not fun to wake up from that one, but in a weird way it felt like a break. It felt like going back to a time when I was more than a one dimensional mommy figure getting through the day solely for my children. I could be grateful for that small tender mercy among the more anguished workings of my brain. It's amazing the little things you find you miss. I think I may have taken them for granted much of the time.
My resolve is to try to be more in the moment with my kids. They deserve for me to do more than go through the motions. Some days, I admit, I find that is all I can do and I end the day feeling horribly guilty. But I have no desire to look back and only remember how painful this time was. Junior will only be six once and Bubba three and a half, etc. etc. I have enough regret from all of this bestowed on me to last my lifetime. I'm just terrified of looking back and feeling like I did anything to fail my children when they needed me. Young as they are, I don't expect that this will ruin their lives, but I am alarmed at how they are reacting to the events of the last six months. It hurts to see them hurt. I know that statistically, this situation has the potential to affect how they handle and react in their own future relationships. Come hell or high water (and after last night's dream we have now encountered both :-) we are weathering out this storm together whether we like it or not. I know I won't sleep well until my boys start to. I doubt I will stop having nightmares before they do. I suppose all I can do is hold their hands tightly and get them safely across the bridge and then worry about the next step.
Wish me luck...