May 18, 2015

The One Who Keeps Me Up

Sometimes I'm in bed, floating in that dreamy headspace just before sleep, when, from out of nowhere, my thoughts turn to distress. In a millisecond, a sudden, anxious nightmare plays out—the worst possible visions of my innocent child getting hurt. It startles me to consciousness, and I lay there, heart racing, reviewing the scene in my mind... he ran into the street without holding my hand, the car is coming too fast, he didn't look both ways... Stop, I tell myself. Stop. It's just my mind playing tricks. Back to sleep I try, but all too often the nightmare continues or repeats itself, replaying every detail until I'm left sweating, fully awake with a knot in my stomach.

I've endured these pre-sleep nightmares for about 4 years. And, assuming I might be mentally insane, I never mentioned them to anyone. But, since this is a year of honesty for me, I decided to tell a few friends last week. To my surprise (and immense relief), they said they suffer from exactly the same thing; sudden, nightly, gasping thoughts of worry for their children.

I've never indulged these intrusive nightmares with further analysis or worry. I now know it's just anxiety working its way through me, via a complex network of fears and responsibilities I feel as a mother. Maternal stress. I get it. However—there is one detail that always strikes me about these nightmares. It's one small aspect, but significant enough that I can't ignore it. And, in full disclosure, it's hard to admit.

The truth is that I've never had an anxiety dream about Wesley. Or Edith.

It's always Chandler. My sweet five year old—my little Charlie Chaplin—is the one I worry most about. I'm not sure why; it's certainly not intentional. It's just how it is.

How do I say this? He is that child—the one that cuts to the core of me, every day, on every level. I love my other children just as much (and on some days, I prefer their company—believe me), but he's the biggest challenge I've faced as a mother. And despite my reluctance to give over that much power to a child, I know he is the driving force for most of my days. He is equally the sweetest child I've ever met, and the most demanding. I have to accept both parts, because that is who he is.

It's hard for the outside world to understand the whole of him; he's complicated. He has an unusual drive for creativity and perfection for his age; a nuisance at 5 years old, particularly since his peers don't understand his standards. So he hits them. He might even bite. The consequence of building a (truly remarkable) Lego skyscraper in a room full of inquisitive pre-k kids.

"Use your words," we say, on repeat. "I DID," he insists, "They didn't listen. But look at what I made!" Much of our days are filled with beauty and discipline, beauty and discipline; a markered masterpiece followed by a long talk or time out.

This boy is the reason I have gray hair and have read every parenting website and book. He's strangely clumsy and sensitive for such an active, extroverted kid. He gets hurt so frequently that I often do not flinch when he screams. (I'm the mom ignoring their crying kid at the playground.) His cry has one volume: ear piercing. I'm almost certain he is the cause of some recent hearing loss. When he's really chatty, his speaking voice can be heard for blocks. And let me be clear: he wants it to be heard for blocks. He wants you to look at him, standing in his self-induced spotlight. And thank goodness for that, because charisma practically pours out of this kid. I can't keep my eyes off him.

He says he wants to "grow up fast." He shares with me his dreams of playing drums, traveling on road trips, living in Hawaii and visiting Bora Bora. "Chandler, you can do that. But you are only five. Enjoy it." I say, holding back tears of dread for when he is old enough.

Chandler carries with him the burden of being the one to whom I give my deepest love, but also open my deepest wounds. He knows I would carry the weight of the world for him. And I do. I know this is as exhausting for him as it is for me. We let each other know these things in various ways, and it's not always pretty. Or quiet.

A few weeks ago he told me he had a nightmare, and I could hardly believe his words. "Mommy, I was crossing the street and forgot to hold your hand. You screamed for me and I ran back to you."

"Chandler, please, please always hold my hand," I reminded him urgently, forgetting to say all the appropriate motherly things, like 'It was just a dream,' or 'That must have been scary.'  Because I worry so much that one day he will forget to hold my hand, and—even worse—he might not run back to me. And I need to make sure he does.

I suppose that's why he's the one I worry most about.


  1. Magnificent. Your "the year of honesty" is making me want to follow suit. Get this submitted to some parenting blogs and magazines.

  2. Danielle, you are breaking my heart! I have the same late night anxieties, and the same deepest love & worry for my middle boy! Except I could never have worded it - or even defined it - so well. I commend you on your clarify of thought in a house full of youngsters & thank you for sharing this insight. Helen