When my daughter came into our room to seek refuge from a bad dream, I was already awake, from winter night coughing, or the boring old reason that my sleep has always been a little broken.
Asked if she wanted to talk about it, she shook her head, which was the right thing to do. It was a bad dream, not real, what could there really be to say? She stayed awake tucked into my arms for some time, and never seemed to relax her body, despite the solace of her mother. Back in her own bed now, I can hear her coughing.
If she is like me, the thoughts are not gone, and she will be awake for a while. But she isn't me, writing in the middle of the night, when I am most awake. And I want to remember that, to keep it in focus: she is not me. Maybe she will never feel her heart racing when there is no tiger chasing her in the jungle. That's my thing.
Not a tiger, though, it's always something else. Usually, it's the stranger danger fear that I can hear someone entering our house, with who know what kind of psychotic intentions. It broke my heart to hear her, a few weeks ago, when she had trouble sleeping, say that she was afraid someone would come into our house. But because she is six and doesn't even know the words rape or murder, her worry was that someone would come and take her stuff.
That night, my husband comforted her, told her that the doors are locked and the windows are locked and no one is coming. And because he can say that without a second thought, he could make jokes about people getting into our house in our grocery bags or some other silly way. And he got her to laugh.
For me, it’s not that simple. My anxiety hangs its hat on this fear that someone will break into our house and take away my safe place forever. When I was little and we lived in the mountains in the middle of nowhere, I would stay awake at night, thinking someone was coming to kill me. The only calming thought, the one that let me sleep, was to give up. "I don't care. Let them come and kill me in my sleep. I'm too tired to stay awake. I don't care if I die."
Long before I was a mom, for no reason traceable back to reality, I was afraid of being raped. It was the worst thing that could ever happen, worse than being killed even, because they make you live when it's done.
My solution to this problem--the imaginary problem of “what would I do if this really happened?”—my solution was that I would chose to kill myself. If the worst happened, I would simply end my life. And then I wouldn't have to live as someone with a memory of rape. So, problem solved. I can hear the silly song from the hipster kids show Peg Plus Cat, "Problem solved. The problem is solved. We solved the problem. So, everything is awesome. Problem solved."
Maybe not the best solution, but it was clean and simple and it would let me sleep again. It could pry the fear out of my head and I could let it go. "Let it go, let it go. Turn away and close the door... I don't care what they're going to say. The cold never bothered me anyway... It's funny how some distance makes everything seem small..." Pretty sure I'm butchering those lyrics, but I love the freedom of that earworm song. I’m so glad for anything, Disney princess or not, to show my daughter how to be so brave and so free. So... not me.
But my grand solution to this imaginary problem—to just choose to kill myself—has hit a snag. It no longer works. I'm a mom now, and my tiny people really need me. Suicide is no longer a solution, it's a new problem: my kids, without their mother, would surely suffer. I can't just go around killing myself off to get some sleep.
The demons are different now anyway. Now there is something worse than the worry that I would be raped. There is my daughter. And my son, though I don't usually worry about him, because he never seems worried about anything. I worry what would happen if my daughter was raped.
My suicide pact is no kind of get-back-to-sleep, duct tape and cardboard, dumb-ass-solution to that nightmare anymore. Now there's something even worse and there's no solution at all.
My children walk outside my body, and there's nothing I can do about that. So, now I have this really huge job of staying alive no matter what. And my anxieties, the old ones and the new, are left to float on the surface of things, with nothing to tie them down.
My biggest, most ambitious goal as a parent is to raise kids who don't suffer from anxiety as I do. But how to fix them when I can even fix me? How to teach them to be the resilient person I would love to be?
It hits me now, midnight epiphany--the solution to this six-years-and-counting problem of motherhood: I need to fix me. It's the only way. Which is as good as no answer at all, because I can’t just “fix me.” I know that I haven't realized this until now, because it's not the solution I was looking for.
I have been searching for some kind of quick fix, top-ten-list solution. I wanted something to fix my kids before they break. They’re so... happy. I don’t want to break them. I don’t want them to break. I've been searching for someone who would to tell me that if I could just teach my daughter how to listen to a scary story and not hold it inside of her after, if I could teach her to make it through the scary part of a movie and not be left with a knot in her stomach, if I could teach her how to shake this imaginary intruder, she would be set free. And I would win. I would defeat this thing that holds me. I would not let it continue to the next generation. I would finally be the one to break the link. But if the way to break the link is to fix me... Well, frankly, that sucks, because I've been working on that one for the better part of 40 years with no end in sight. So if that's the answer--to fix me--are we both out of luck?
And then, there it is again: I could give up on myself, but I cannot give up on trying to make a better life for my kids.
It's the American Dream. It's the golden rule. Leave things better than you found them. It's all I can do. Maybe Elsa will help... "I don't care, what they're going to say. The cold never bothered me anyway... The fears that once controlled me, don't capture me at all..."
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