Is it possible to qualify fear?
Does it make sense that while, of course I fear that someone could harm my child, my most gut-wrenching fear is that somehow Graham will come to harm as a result of my failure as a mother?
To be a parent is to be afraid that a boogeyman lurks around every corner. That’s a given. But it is stories like this that reach inside my heart and squeeze.
Last week a 17-month-old baby died after being left in his mother’s car when she forgot to drop him off at daycare. She only realized she had left him in the car when she returned to it after finishing her seven-hour shift as a waitress.
Stories like this break me apart because they force me to search a deep, dark corner of my soul and confront my worst fear and my reoccurring nightmare: that I am that woman.
Let me explain.
When I was about ten years old I became completely enamored with horses. I wanted a horse in the worst way and the acquisition of one soon became my obsession.
My father was skeptical that I was mature enough to handle one, but I promised to get up before dawn to feed and water it. I begged, I pleaded. I vowed to devote myself, night and day, to the care of that animal.
My father finally relented and called a farmer who kept Shetland ponies up the road. We acquired Star, a frisky stallion who had never really been ridden and was used to roaming several acres unfettered, with a number of adoring mares.
Not surprisingly, it was a bit of a disaster. Star didn’t like being ridden and he didn’t really like me either. His care was a constant struggle. I got up every morning and tended to him before school. I raced home to graze him every evening. I spent countless hours trying to break him into a saddle and was nipped, kicked and thrown for my efforts.
After about a year my father suggested that perhaps Star would be happier back in his old home. I feigned sadness, but mostly I was relieved. Star was too much for me. While he had never, ever been mistreated, I was simply too young and immature to shoulder the responsibility of his care. So back he went and that should have been the end of the story.
But it wasn’t.
The nightmares about Star started when I entered the teenage years with all their attendant pressures. They have continued on a semi-frequent basis until less than a year ago. They are always the same; I am enjoying myself with friends, laughing and carefree when suddenly it hits me, Star! I completely forgot about him. It has been days, weeks since I have tended to him! He must be starving, perhaps even dead!
I awake, gasping for breath, overwhelmed with guilt, fear, and a crushing sense of shame and inadequacy. Even after reality sinks in, I am shaken to my core.
These kinds of dreams, I am told, are common for people like me: people who have inordinately high expectations of themselves. They are textbook, really. It doesn’t take a psychoanalyst to determine that Star is symbolic of my fear that I will let down someone who depends on me.
What does this have to do with Graham?
In a practical sense: nothing. My child could not be more loved or better cared for. But in a metaphoric sense: everything. Motherhood is fraught with feelings of inadequacy and anxiety. Of fear that somehow we are not meeting the needs of our children.
In the dark recesses of my soul I fear that Graham is my Star. He is the responsibility I will never be able to live up to: he is the gift I do not deserve.
And while my heart breaks, shatters really, to think about that dear little boy who died when his mom just forget about him, I can’t help but also feel shattered for his mom - the woman who is quite literally living out my worst nightmare.
Saturday, November 3, 2007
Is it possible to qualify fear?