In my dreams

On Holy Saturday night, I dreamed that we were all on a ship that was slowly passing into another dimension. And as it went, I watched my family die. I specifically remember Alex, who was, on the one hand, lying in a bed beside me, but in the other dimension, he was drowning. And knowing that death was inevitable, I took his hand and whispered, “It’s okay, honey. Let go.”

After I was alone, I ran around, frantic, terrified, trying to pack the contents of the room I grew up in–to ready them to be given away. Things as banal as a bottle of contact solution reduced me to tears—the ordinary, mundane things that make life so breathtakingly beautiful. And my heart broke for missing my husband.

When I woke up, the warmth of the bed felt overpowering. I lay there, tense, thanking God with a passion and fervor that I haven’t experienced in a long time for the family I have been given.

A dream so vivid surely must hold a message from Heaven. But I couldn’t lie in bed trying to process it. Nothing would settle me down  until I got up and went from room to room, touching lips to cheek and hand to hand, covering small bodies and reassuring myself by those wonderful deep breaths a child takes when he is disturbed from sleep.

Still, I laid awake the rest of the night, and instead of greeting Easter morning with appropriate joy, I instead spent an hour and fifteen minutes shouting at Alex for not moving fast enough. Even at the time, I knew it was ridiculous. How could I treat my family like this after lying awake for three hours, unable to shake the horror of being deprived of them?

I know that images in dreams are supposed to mean something. Losing a baby, I once read, means that there is some dream that you have been ignoring. So what am I to take away from this experience? Is it a lesson in gratitude, or in balance, or a reminder that the synopses and queries of recent obsession are not nearly as important as I think they are? Do I draw from this that it’s not just time that I must balance, but what I spend time thinking about? That spending time with my kids wishing I could finish said synopsis or query is itself a form of ingratitude? That I need to live in the moment?

On Monday, I exchanged emails with a valued colleague who told me she thought I was being asked to fill a role that is “too small” for me—to “amputate pieces of self.” She didn’t specify parenthood, but that was how it registered in my mind.

It made me think of an interview I read with Elizabeth Gilbert.  The essence of motherhood, she said, is that you “take the thing that is most precious to you, and you cut it up and give it to somebody else who you love more than you love the thing. And we tend to idealize that, and I’m not sure we should.”

In case you’re wondering, Gilbert is not a mother. Has no desire to be—obviously. Looking at that statement again this morning, it’s so patently ridiculous that I wonder why I took such offense at it in the first place. Of course, you love a person more than a thing! How screwed up is it to suggest that any other order of priorities is appropriate?

I think the reason that quote struck me is that I often feel guilty for not sacrificing my own interests. This is a perennial topic on the blogosphere. In fact, one mother went so far as to say that selfish=good.

I guess the answer lies, as always, in balance. For me—and this is not a reflection on anyone else’s choices, only mine, with my unique situation as a person with a “job” that can be done from home—it would be unhealthy to go all the way to one extreme or the other. I could “amputate pieces of myself,” as my friend said, and devote my every moment to motherhood—to set aside all my other dreams, aspirations and gifts. Or I could stick the kids in day care and hit the writing full-time. Instead, I choose a middle course, which in some ways is harder, because it means that the choices have to be thought out and made every hour, every day, instead of being made once and then simply lived.

But the difficulty of my life is also what is so beautiful about it. In exchange for the constant inner tug-of-war, I get to have the best of both worlds.

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