Dragon Moms & Guardian Angels

Making the decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body Elizabeth Stone

I had the dream again the other night. This time we were at a large outdoor event. The sun was setting at an ominous rate that is possible only in nightmares, and I was aware that danger- a riot? fight? kidnapping?- was near. I hightail it to the exits,  and find I only have two of my four children with me. My babies have fallen behind. As I peer into the menacing sea of people, I feel a familiar panic building and wake myself up. I say familiar, because I have had this dream before. The circumstances are not always the same, but the overall theme is disturbingly similar. I have lost a child; in water or in a crowd. The dream always ends with my subconcious  revolting at the feeling of grief, and I awake abruptly.  Each and every time, I get out of bed and check on my children. The rhythmic rise & fall of their chests as they slumber is the only sight that immediately cleanses the disturbing images from my mind. These dreams visit me a few times a year, and always catch me off-guard. But since my first was born, they have been vivid enough that  I can never fully relax whenever my children are near a large body of water, or in an unfamiliar crowd. 

The fact that I am sharing this particular fear is a big step toward letting it go. For years, I would not speak of these thoughts, as I am superstitiously wary that my voicing these dreams/thoughts will somehow cause them to materialize. Plus, it does not make for the best playdate material…”So, enough about potty-training…have any of you ladies ever been plagued by the thought that your child could be harmed at any given moment, and your life forever changed?” Yeah. Pretty sure that would have got my children blacklisted from any and all future birthday party invites. So I quietly took in accounts of tragic loss as one tends to let their eyes linger for a moment when passing a car accident on a freeway. You take in as much as you can stomach before glancing away…a mix of morbid curiosity & thankfulness-that it is not you who is experiencing misfortune. 

A few months back, I came across an article that just may be one of the most powerful pieces of writing I’ve ever read. Entitled Notes from a Dragon Mom, it tells the story of a mother who is coping with her son’s terminal illness. He is 18-months-old, and is not expected to live beyond his 3rd birthday. She tells of how most parenting advice is given with the future in mind; school readiness so that your child may succeed in college, healthy eating habits so that they can ward off disease as adults. Parents of terminally ill children do not have the luxury of looking forward to a sunny “someday”, but in a sense, that affords them the ability to fully concentrate on the here and now. The million and one  seemingly insignificant moments that we rush through or sidestep when we are in a hurry, are moments savored by “dragon parents”- brushing a wayward wisp of hair out of your childs eyes, the tenth hug at the end of a long good-bye, letting the lengthy bedtime routine turn into a night of rocking & cuddling because, well, there really is no point to rushing when the place that you are rushing toward is so grim… The line  from this piece that will forever stay with me is this: “parents who, particularly in this country, are expected to be superhuman, to raise children who outpace all their peers, don’t want to see what we see. The long truth about their children, about themselves: that none of it is forever.”

I remember an evening back in 1998 when I met Marc Klass, the founder of KlaasKids Foundation, which provides law enforcement communites with a website to quickly create and distribute missing child flyers, among other services. His daughter, Polly, was all of 12-years old when she was kidnapped from her home in Petaluma, CA & murdered in a crime that gained national attention. When I met him, my oldest son was nearly a year old, and I recall staring at Mr. Klass in awe thinking, “How on earth do you go on…breathing, eating, functioning…after losing your child?” It is both terrifying, and comforting, to think that the human spirit can survive through such an ordeal. It is not a thought I care to ponder for a prolonged amount of time. But I admit, each & every time I meet a parent who has lost a child, I am amazed at their ability to survive…that they did not collapse under the weight of that enormous grief and disappear.

A small framed print hung by the doorway of the room my sister & I shared throughout our childhood. It was an image of two small children huddled together, crossing a rickety bridge. Guarding them, was an angel, with her arms protectively outstretched, and a gentle smile on her lips. I keep that picture in mind when sending my children out into the world each day… as they leave for school, for a bike ride, to a friends house, on a cross-town trip with a relative. Life is fragile and beyond precious. As I write, my children are all soundly asleep in their beds. And for that, I am grateful.

Beauty, Beast, & the Bike Ride

And they lived happily ever after...

My all-time favorite Disney movie is Beauty & the Beast, hands down. I mean, who wouldn’t love a wicked smart brunette who is as brave as she is beautiful, can break into perfectly pitched sonnets at the drop of a hat & has the ability to see past cosmetic imperfections such as a hairy hunchback & gnarly underbite to recognize a true gentleman underneath?(An added perk: that ten story library that Beast gifted Belle. I just might be willing to look past  the blackmail and involuntary imprisonment she endured if it meant inheriting 10,000 leather-bound books in a sunlit castle.) Anyhow, flaws aside, I still think that movie rocks. And so it is with fairy-tales. As girls, we eat them up—the romance, the music, the “happily-ever-afters.” We overlook the problematic sub-plots (such as the fact that Ariel gives up her family AND her voice to get her man) to enjoy the more comforting aspects of the stories—that true love never dies, that fate conquers all, and that once you overcome the initial obstacles, everything else is smooth sailing. *SPOILER ALERT* If you are a young star-struck believer in relationship utopia, you may want to stop reading.
I used to think that relationships were a skill similar to riding a bike. Tricky at first, with some bumps and falls in the beginning, but once the balance and flow was mastered it was easy riding. Then I met reality. My husband and I first started hanging out when I was 18 with an 18-month-old child. Friends at first, we gradually became more and have been together since. He is a wonderful father to all our children, and we basically grew up together: maturing, compromising, and learning along the way. It HAS been like a bike ride, but more like mountain biking. We’ve covered off-road, rough terrain that requiries endurance, strength, and at times, self-reliance. The coasting periods are wonderful, a time for renewal, and a chance to take in the scenery. The uphill paths can take your breath away. I have enough friends in long-term marriages & relationships to know that this is pretty much the norm. Family life is terrific and trying all at the same time. We muddle  together through the monotony of everyday existence: homework battles, chores, finances. But when we collapse at night to relish in the beauties of the day,  we realize it’s pretty beast (as my 15-year-old would say).  I know there is no happily-ever-after looming on the horizon…  there are sure to be days ripe with trials and triumph, and I’m okay with that. But there is a message I want my young ones to take away from this, someday when they spread their wings and fly away from this nest…and that message is this:  If we give up easily when things get ugly, we may never get around to witnessing the amazing transformations that can take place down the road…