Thursday, July 3, 2008

Bad Dreams about Daughters (not Sons)

I smiled when my 91-year-old mother called me at 7:30 am (she doesn’t usually get up that early any more), and only said, in a sleepy voice,

“Are you all right? I had a bad dream.”

“Yes, I’m fine. What was the dream?”

“Oh, good, alright then. I’m going back to sleep. I’ll tell you later.”

When I’m upset or concerned about something, usually in my own life, I, too, will have a bad dream that involves my daughter. She’s so used to my calling to check in on her after one of these dreams that she tolerantly simply listens and then asks me what I think the dream means.

Of course, usually it is about myself, or whatever worries I might have. But the precious daughter, whom I adore and love and want the best for and have always wanted to protect, epitomizes the fears that emerge in the nighttime iteration of a home invasion or a snatch off the street or the bad guys running down the streets, shooting wildly, or some other such vivid enactment.

It is hard, and yet so important, to recognize the separateness of the daughter, to allow her her own responsibility for her life and the resulting consequences, especially the ones none of us can control. My son, kicking and screaming when he was sixteen, brought me to the realization of his own independence, his own responsibility early on. Most especially, he brought me to my belief in his ability to handle life, or perhaps more importantly, to acknowledge the possibility of his death, which, in fact, means he holds his life in his own hands. To be responsible for his life, other’s lives, including, later, my knowing that he would support me and his family in any crisis at any moment, fully and completely.

My daughter took responsibility for herself in a way that usually did not conflict with what I considered my responsibilities, and she didn’t quite need to kick and scream as did my son. And yet, and yet. After the first ten years or so of my children’s life, I finally didn’t have to quickly skip over any headlines that indicated an article might be about child abuse of one sort or another. When my daughter turned twenty-one, I let myself be absolved, in an odd emotional way, of the responsibility to always protect and to ward dangers away from her that I had felt uppermost for both my children being the primary caretaker in their lives as they were growing up. What helped, certainly, was to know that by the time she was six years old, she had a crystal clear understanding of herself, the person, that she knew the world and her place in it in a way that I could only envy. My son, too, had given me the lovely clue, when he was a year and a half old and decided exactly the point to jump down from a sloping wall, that he could judge the physical world and his own ability within it, better than any other.

With gratitude, to accept the bad dreams that emerge in any case, and to revel in the good ones.

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