The little old lady was batshit crazy, and she lunged forward and bit my son’s ear.
I raced him to the hospital, wondering why I didn’t stop her, upset and scared, trying to be strong.
Then I woke up, shaking.
Dreams like this, terrible dreams, are happening more and more often lately. They interrupt my nights and haunt my days. Dreams where I watch one of my sons drowning happen more frequently than I care to admit.
Always in these awful dreams I am helpless and remorseful. In these dreams, the “Why didn’t I just…” ball of lead is in my throat. I wake up with the metallic taste in my mouth.
Dreams beg to be analyzed. Naturally I ask what these horrible scenes are about, what is my heart trying to say? As I slumber, what am I trying to process? The helplessness, the uselessness…they are a part of my parenting, too.
And I know. I am in The Next Phase of parenting. Today, my boys are six and four. There are no more toddlers running about. No more baby spoons, bibs and bottles. Sesame Street is out, footed pajamas left their drawers long ago. Life for them is different. Life for me, as their parent, is drastically different.
Until now, my life as mom was the story of keeping them safe from hazardous materials that could take off limbs, singe fingers, cut deeply, and slam teeth. I worried about breastfeeding, sleeping habits, getting enough vegetables down their throats, and immunization schedules.
I felt wildly connected to my kids. We were tethered tightly and the cord that held us was about their basic survival needs. We were in the thick of it together, we were surviving together, and we were figuring it out together. They were figuring out how to live; I was figuring out how to parent.
Life was exhausting in that phase of parenting. We had schedules and routines. I was constantly designing sticker charts and creatively finding ways to get them to help clean up their toys. I wanted to be sure they recognized their letters and colors at an early age. I never slept through the night and the slightest fever found me sleeping, smashed against a hot little body, in a single bed without a pillow for the rest of the night.
Now the tether is a different material entirely. Still there, still binding, yet changed.
Mothering now is a responsibility to develop my kids into reasonable human beings. They sleep through the night but my dreams remind me of the sizable pressures of this and I wake myself with sobs.
My sons know how to eat. They know the rules, they sleep well, and they use the toilet. I did it! But I can’t sleep because my job is truly just beginning. With this new milestone, my role as a parent has become fearsome in deeper ways.
I am not the human being I want to be yet. How can I help someone else become the human being they were meant to be?
Dreams about batshit ladies biting ears started a few months ago. My son was kicked in the chest at school over a made up club. Someone had created a playground posse and my son wasn’t allowed in, so he was kicked. He was, as kids are, completely fine and not at all emotionally bruised. The teachers did what was appropriate. All was well at the school and I have no complaints or “should have”s to write about.
But no one asked about me. I was not okay, I was emotionally bruised. He got kicked in the chest; I got kicked in the heart.
I am sending my boys out into the world and it is cruel out there. There will always be a club they won’t be allowed into, clubs I can’t help them navigate. At this phase of parenting, I can’t be there to say in a sing-songy voice, “Let’s all play together.”
I am no longer in the game, I am the sideline coach. I analyze the plays with them afterwards to determine what we can learn together. The tether between us has a lot of slack in it and sometimes I feel like it is only attached on my side.
I hate that.
Being a sideline coach, the driving and the waiting for information to be shared, is suffocating. Before, in the previous phase, we drove a lot but we always walked through the door together. I saw everything that happened.
Now, I drive them and watch from the car as their little backs skip into the building without me. The door closes and I drive home. Alone. I float listlessly without that tether. They take a piece of my heart with them; they make me whole.
All I can do is hope and pray that my coaching prepared them to be good human beings in whatever situation they encounter. I can sit down at my computer, write my heart out, and watch the timer tick down to the next scheduled minute I have to get in the car to get them and take them to their next place. When I see them again I snatch on to that tether like it will save me.
And so, at night, I dream terrible things. I feel the concern and the terror of the “what if” moments. There are moments when I won’t be there. There are moments coming where the tether between us will be nearly invisible.
But I also know that the dreams are just dreams. I love being a mother, I want to hug the tether between us because it keeps me rooted. The dreams I have for them in my reality are more beautiful than any night terrors my subconscious delivers.
When the pieces of my heart return to me, life shines as bright as their faces.