This morning got off to a rough start. Thing Two had climbed into bed with me last night, and Thing Three had come in, an hour later, and camped out on the floor. This is a rough time for the Things, and Things Two and Three have the hardest time expressing themselves, so they often end up (especially Thing Three) sleeping with me, or near me. But when both of them pull up camp and head into the Mother Bedroom, it's rough. I get little straight sleep, and I feel cranky in the morning. That would be this morning.
Normally, this would be manageable on all accounts. I'd get up, put on my slippers and make coffee, then get the kids breakfast while alternating between telling them to eat and telling them to get dressed (this confuses them, which always reminds me of several late 80s video games where the Hero would confuse lesser Bad Guys as a means of defeating them. I think someone needs to remind me that parenthood is not sponsored by Nintendo). But this morning, Thing Two cried in bed, saying that he missed me. "I know buddy," I said. "I miss you too." This is true, and the weekends that The Man has them are the hardest on me. This is because I have such a deep need to be away from them after single parenthood for two weeks, I so deeply need me time, time when someone isn't asking me for something or demanding something from me or wondering aloud about space and asking complicated questions about God and Jupiter that would make Carl Sagan scratch his head, or isn't walking into the bathroom while I'm showering or peeing. At the same time, I miss them. It's weird, this whole thing--the business of being a single parent with another parent involved. I have bigger chunks of free time, but the con is that I miss them all weekend, and the missing them is quiet, subtle, not something to cry over, but more like missing something that is part of you, so that you go around and call out their names, or call your boyfriend's dog Thing One or Thing Two or Thing Three, and you realize it's because you need to do it, call them, talk to them, because they are your children.
So I understand missing, what it means to miss someone, and I hugged Thing Two, and told him I'd pick him up from after school care as early as possible today, but that I had a lot of work (25 papers to grade, gah) so I wasn't sure how early I could do it.
Then Thing Two got a bloody nose.
And by bloody nose, I mean Bloody Nose. I mean a gusher. I mean blood down his face and chest, blood on the floor and the rug, blood in bright splashes across the bathroom sink. Thing Two screamed. He sobbed. He was terrified--I mean, a bloody nose, it looks to a six-year old like he's bleeding to death. I held him for a long while, put a wet washcloth to his nose and held it there, and then stroked his head. I cuddled him. He whimpered a little, and settled against my body the way only a child can to his mother, remembering the curves, the way the arm cradled his head. We sat like that for a long while.
And then his nose started bleeding again.
By the third time it started bleeding, after a long 5 minutes of not bleeding, he was wound up so tight I could have spun him into next week. And yet. And yet. The kids have school. They have to go. I need them to go so that I could work. So, I did what any mother would do. I got the nose to stop bleeding, dressed him, and put him into the car.
By this point, we were 15 minutes late for school, but I figured we had a good reason--a good reason always being copious amounts of blood flowing freely from any part of one's body. Thing Two was more or less calm, was clean, and had all his school stuff ready. Thing One could barely contain her annoyance at the whole situation--being Almost 8 means that she thinks she's above delays due to the petty lives of her younger siblings.
Then we pulled up to the school, and Thing Two let loose a cry that I have seldom heard outside of a horror movie or a dentist's office. He was terrified. Terrified of me leaving him there, terrified--after the weekend with his dad, then Sunday with me, then the bad sleep and then the bloody nose and the late starting morning--so that he could not conceive of losing sight of me for two minutes, let alone an entire kindergarten day.
Thing One went inside, and I took Things Two and Three. We got a tardy slip. Then we sat in the hall while Thing Two sobbed. His teacher came out--she's wonderful with him--and we tried to separate him from me, but it was a no go. He screamed like we were killing him. "I miss my papa," he screamed. "I miss my mama and papa." And suddenly, I felt like the worst parent in the world. I should have waited to divorce, I thought. I should have waited until he was in first grade.
My own fear. My fear of being a bad mother. Of not being good enough. Of making irrevocable choices that are terrible, wrenching, that tear us apart. Of not making the terrible choices that need to be made. Of course the idea that if I had waited a year it would have been easier is ridiculous. But that is fear. We can't think our way out of it. If we could, it would be easy. It's irrational and real at the same stupid time.
The teacher and I decided to get the Behavioral Specialist--a sweet guy who looks to be about 25--for Thing Two. He came, and almost instantly, Thing Two calmed down. He's hung out with this guy before when he's gotten wound up in class. And it was as though Thing Two needed several adults to help calm those fears, to remind him that the world is stable, safe, that Mama is coming back for you, that The Evil Witch won't eat you. The way we call friends, multiple friends, to tell them when we are sad, scared, too paralyzed to act.
Thing Three and I left, and as I buckled her into her car seat, she started whimpering. "What's the matter?"
"I'm afraid of monsters."
I know what she meant, why she made that leap. You're around someone who is afraid long enough, you absorb some of it yourself. But you cast it out into the world in your own way. Fear of never seeing Mama again turns into a fear of monsters. Like the fear of being abandoned turns into a fear of never being loveable.
This is the crux of the fish or cut bait with The Sweet Boy and I. My fear? The fear of abandonment. And when I say abandonment, I don't mean that he's going to leave me at some truck stop in Yreka. I mean that he's going to dump me out of nowhere, or suddenly become stoic and sullen. And The Sweet Boy? For all of his loveliness, for all of his delight and joy in the world--you should see his face, his wide, happy grin, really--he believes, in his heart of hearts that he's unlovable. Who could love a broken guy like me, he says. And when he says it, it isn't a question.
This is why we're here, where we are now. I can't be abandoned, and he thinks I can't love him, that no one can. The other night, during one of our long talks, he hinted at the fact that his disability will someday be worse. I know, I said. Your body can't take this prosthetic and what you demand from it forever. Someday you'll be in a wheelchair.
Do you know what that would mean for you, if we stay together?
I think so.
It means you'll pack me up, get me a room at the VA, he said. And that will be that.
Does it matter that I told him I'd never do that? That I couldn't? That when I think of the future, I think of it as a foreign country, a place I will love for its strangeness, and will often be confused by, but that I will love all the same? It may matter to the narrative here that I said it, that I held his face in my hands, told him I'd never abandon him (because I couldn't, not me. He doesn't understand that our own fears dictate what we will and won't do to people. Which is perhaps why we often work so well together. I feel absolutely loved by him, probably because he wants to live in a world where he knows he's absolutely loved), but I'm not sure he heard what I said.
We, all of us, want to believe that we're bigger than our fears, or that we can think our way out of them, or that at least we stop being afraid of bogeymen by the time we grow up. And then I see Thing Three, crying about monsters in the early morning sun, when the threat of monsters is so far away, and I realize how I'm the same, how the Sweet Boy is the same. We've just substituted abstractions for bogeymen, replaced the tentacled-beast under the bed with Intimacy, Abandonment, The Ability to Be Loved. I want to write that Love is Enough, or some other platitude, but it doesn't address this question of fear. How do we stop being afraid long enough to get what we need? I don't know. I don't know. But this is where I am with The Sweet Boy now, perched between these two terrible fears.