I hear rain on the roof--sliding down and into the gutters, a relentless dribble, continuous liquid pouring from the sky as I sit at the table writing. I have a headache, not piercing, but dull and persistent like the rain.
Stop. Tylenol or something like it. Must stop. The rain hears my intention and pours on with renewed passion. Head throbbing, must stop. My hand keeps moving across the page. Things are working in conspiracy around me--the birds chirp louder, calling, trilling, screeching, "Hey! She's stopping to take a pill." The music on the radio builds. It's a pleasant choral arrangement, classical. Deep voices belt out the finale. The singers hold notes till I imagine their lungs bursting.
Silence--sudden and calm. A velvet voice announces, "Ladies and gentlemen, you've been listening to Wild Rain Chorus in Hilo. And now we'd like to take a moment for a pill." [swallow] "Thank you for your support." I stretch my legs and turn off the radio--too much "non-commercial" interruption. I feel scattered and tattered today as it is.
My daughter had a most impressive meltdown last night. Actually, we both did. Todd is away in the land of spice, hot air and motor scooter pollution. Business in India. He hasn't been home to help me with the fragile emotional state I've been in lately. Last night, I was really alone.
Around 7pm, I pinned on the badge that says, "Mother of the Year" and proceeded to lose my cool. L flew into a rage that told me she was beyond any four-year-old understanding, barely able to control her body. Eyes wide and wild, spitting words of fire and hatred at me, L's hair was untamed, a sweaty mess around her pinched, red face. She tore at me with outstretched claws and I restrained her the only way I could--I sat on her. Well, I straddled her, tried to talk to her. Nothing. Really, what was I expecting?
I felt rage building and boiling in her tiny body, struggling under me. I searched her savage eyes, desperate for the calm and loving face of my daughter. But L was far away, perhaps because she was trapped. I am The Stranger and The Stranger is me.
I'm there. I shift my weight, taking care not to hurt her. I am afraid she will hurt herself, or me. Truth be told, I want to spank her, to tan her little hide. Her rage is soaking into me, flashing up to my cheeks. I feel the heat there, anger rising. Instead, I collapse and roll onto the bed beside her. Cool off. Time for us both to cool off!
I see Theo. His face is sadness beyond age six. He says to me, "I like Lauren, Mommy. She helps me do things." He is sticking up for his sister, but in a tender and loving way. And now I wish my "Mother of the Year" badge had battery flashers. I'd turn them.
"Honey, Mommy loves Lauren." I tell Theo. "I'm just really angry right now." I'm trying to reassure my son. I look over to Lauren, "I love you, Lauren. I do." She growls and throws a pillow at The Stranger. It appears I'm not out of the dog house yet.
Silence--long and awaited. The wave has finally passed. I coo to my daughter and she crawls up to my arms. We lay together, hugging and spent. Theo is there too. We cuddle in a close group on the giant bed. I love my children, but I'm not having the best "Mom" night. I wish I was. I drift off to a deep, sad and guilty sleep.
Darkness. I wrestle the sheets and dream of losing my kids in accidents beyond my control. In scene after scene, nightmare tears roll down my cheeks and wet the pillow.
In the first, Lauren darts into the WalMart parking lot. We are there to buy her a new pink dress, her favorite color. I'm searching my purse for the car keys and hear her laugh. She is excited and can't wait to get into the store. I can't find the keys! "Honey, stay right by the car, OK?" I call to her, but she doesn't reply. Then the sound of brakes and a thud. Lauren is hit by a car speeding in the parking lot. It happens every day. I should have been holding her hand. I am awake in the dark.
My eyes close and now we are on a fire escape. I don't know why we are up so high or where we are, but we are trying to escape. Todd is in this dream. Suddenly Theo loses his balance. Todd catches him--a close call. We are relieved, but watch as he then slips backward off the fire escape. He falls four or ten or twenty growing stories to the concrete below. I feel my arms stretching to reach his disappearing body. He slips past, eyes open wide, terrified. Falling. Falling. I scream and rush to him. Am I flying? He is there on the ground, crumpled. Is he OK? Someone is praying now--Lauren? I don't know if he will live. Startled, I am awake again. I roll over in bed.
Lauren in another dream. She is across a busy road. I am somewhere and notice that she is missing. Oh! There she is, on the other side of the road. How did she get there? I see she has been crying. She is searching for me. Her chin has a fresh raw scrape. She's hurt. I call to her and she sees me. Now her face fill with relief, but the cars are whizzing along the 4 lanes of busy traffic separating us. I point my finger and yell in my "You listen to me now, little Missy!" voice. "Lauren! You stay right there! Lauren, stay!" But she can't hear. Arms outstretched, she comes running toward me, oblivious of the cars, trucks, buses--the hissing danger of the road. I hear the screech of tires and the smell of burning rubber. A woman screams. I know a very large truck is just out of my view, but I can't turn my head to see it. My eyes are closed shut and my body is frozen. I see Lauren, the look of relief, coming to me. I am the one praying this time.
I wake bathed in sweat, my pajamas stuck to my shivering body. Warm children are on either side of me, just like we sleep when Todd is away. I feel for Lauren, safe in bed, warm breath. Her face is peaceful and lovely in the moonlight. Big hug. Theo is on the other side, gentle steady breathing, sleeping hot--radiating warmth to the touch. He has a Buddha-like smile on his lips. I hug him too. He turns to nuzzle me, "I love you, Mommy," he says, half asleep. Then a satisfied sigh and deep breathing.
I look at my children and fall in love with them all over again. I remember how I felt after each child was born. I remember how soft Theo's skin felt. I remember how tiny Lauren's fingers were. I remember that my heart felt too big for my chest. Love. Yes, so simple. And now, embraced in the arms of love and forgiveness, I let go. I cannot hold onto the rage or fear or guilt that consumed the air of our home. The stakes are too high.
Silence--full and deep. I have been baptized by the blood, sweat, and tears of motherhood, like many before me. In the great golden silence, I am able to listen and reflect on the wisdom of Eve. I hold hands with mother-defender, mother-teacher, mother-love. And this I know: Peace is available, the moment you believe.
Taking a deep breath, I remove the blinking "Mother of the Year" badge from my chest. It turns off, but the pin has pierced my heart. I know the badge will keep for another day, that The Stranger will put it on again. But for now, I put the badge away. I take another breath, breaking the stillness. Mother-love fluffs her pillow and sleeps the night in dreamless clouds.
~Essay by Piper Selden
"Go first in the world,
Go forth with your fears,
Remember a price must be paid.
Be always too soon,
Never too fast,
At the time when all bets must be laid.
Beware of the darkness,
Be kind to your children,
Remember the woman who waits,
And the house you live in will never fall down,
If you pity the stranger who stands at your gate."
Song lyrics from "The House You Live In"
Wandering Strange, Large River Music (BMI)