Sunday, February 28, 2010

Just Like The Stars

I'm sound asleep, having a bizarre dream about trying to return an open box of candy, when I feel a light tap on my shoulder.

Greta is standing there, her big brown eyes wide and puffy, looking at me expectantly.  "I'm scared, Momma," she says.

I glance at the clock:   5:45am.   It is still dark out.   I feel a flash of irritation - why does she wake me up?  Why not Steve?   I prop up on one elbow, try to swallow my anger, and ask her what she is afraid of.

"I don't know," she says.  "I want Finn to wake up and be with me.  I don't want to be alone."

Finn, I notice now, is sound asleep next to me.  He must have crawled into our bed last night; I didn't even notice.

"Greta.  You are seven years old.   You are capable of playing in your room quietly until we wake up.   Or go back to sleep.  Or something.   I'm tired, it's too early.   Go back to your room."

Her lip quivers and one tear rolls down her cheek.   "But Momma, I'm really scared."

I can't contain my anger.   I clench my teeth and say, "Go.  Back.  To.  Your.  Room.  NOW."

She hangs her head and shuffles back to her room.   I flop back into my pillow.   I hear muffled crying, soft hiccuping sobs.     Don't go, I tell myself.   Don't indulge her.   She needs to learn to soothe herself. 

I can't go back to sleep.  I throw the covers back angrily, and march down the hall to her room.

"WHAT IS WRONG?"  I yell.  

She is lying on the floor, wrapped in her blanket, head under her pillow, surrounded by all her stuffed animals.   She looks so big and so small.

"You wouldn't understand.  Go back to bed.  I'm fine,"  she says. 

I'm looming in her doorway, hands on my hips, crazy with fatigue and irritation.    I start to turn away, head back to bed, and I hear her say, quietly, "Just leave me alone." 

I freeze, and my anger melts away.   I lie down on the floor next to her, pick up her pillow and rub her head.   "It's okay," I say.  "Tell me what is wrong."

She sits up, sniffling.  "I don't know what's wrong,   I just feel scared."

We're quiet for a minute or two, and then she says, "Sometimes I start thinking about stuff.   I start thinking about how I'm here, I'm alive, and I don't understand why."  

My heart does a little flip-flop.   I understand how she feels - oh, do I understand - and yet she needs me to be her Mom, to give her answers I don't have.   So I just tell her the truth.

"I know what you mean,"  I say.  "I think about that sometimes, too."

"You DO?"  She rubs her eyes.  "Did you think about it when you were seven, too?"

"Yes, I did," I reply.   "Sometimes things we don't understand are scary.    But when you think about it, they can be really beautiful, too."

She thinks for a moment.  "Like the stars?   They are beautiful, and I don't understand why they are there, either."

"Exactly like the stars,"  I say.   "We don't really know why they are there, but we're so glad they are, aren't we?   They make the world a more beautiful place.   And so do you."

She yawns.  "I think I'll just play with my stuffed animals, now," she says.  

"I'm sorry I got frustrated," I say.  "It's okay to be scared.   It's okay to tell me when you're scared." 

"I know," she says.  

I tiptoe back to my bed, my heart in my throat.    If her anxiety were a bullet, or a train, I'd gladly throw myself in front of it to keep her from fear, from pain.    But, of course, that urge comes from my own fears of letting go, allowing her to figure the world out on her own and understand that anxiety and fear are a part of life: it's how we process them is that matters most.

She teaches me so much, I think.   We're learning how to face our fears together.  



  1. These are the exact moments I would experience when I was drunk or hungover and not realize what was happening, OR I would realize it hours later and make myself feel soooooo guilty over them. About being the worst mom ever.

    Now when I have these moments, when I initially act out of anger or frustration, I can quickly jump back in the moment, and not miss out. And I can also apologize for my actions, and be forgiven instantly by my kids.

    Kids do teach us so much....about fear and forgiveness, and so much more.

  2. seems our girls are a lot alike. though mine's a bit older (8 1/2) she teaches me daily.

  3. I tend to appreciate those lessons much more after 6:30am (though we have super early risers here!)

    Like Robin said, those moments, however early, are still so much more precious while sober. While you're in the moment. And they make us more present as well.. (I'm talking in circles now, which came first? The chicken or the egg?) ;)

    (and I saw your comment the other day - too funny about my Fynn and your Finn and the toothbrush/sink stuff!!)

  4. I think kids feel more anxiety than we did in our childhoods. At first I thought I had to have all the answers for my children but now I think (hope?) I am doing them a favor by questioning things alongside them.

  5. I had a remarkably similar experience last night. Only my boy kept waking up and crying, and not telling me what was wrong. I felt really bad, but I had to tell him firmly (ok, I shouted a bit) to stop crying and tell me what's wrong or go back to sleep, because there's nothing I can do if he doesn't talk. But when you're five, logic doesn't work.

  6. Oh Ellie, this made me so emotional. What a beautiful little soul she has. Keep talking together like this!

    Thank you for the reminder to pull out of frustration and listen.

  7. that hit home. i have an 11 year old worrier, too. and i panic at her panic. and like you, i would cut off a limb to spare her from those hard feelings. but you can't and i can't. we can only give them the tools for navigating their way through their own respective stuff. and i am far more present and capable of guiding her sober, than i ever was when i would drown out my own anxiety in a bowl of chardonnay. and i am hoping that she will see that there are hundreds of healthy ways to deal with feelings of worry and anxiety other than lighting a cigarette, or drinking a glass of wine. xo

  8. Kids sure do know how to cut right into you, don't they? Makes me feel somewhat guilty for some of the things I did and said to my mom when I was a lil one. I just want to keep them whole and happy. Such an aspiration, I know -but lord, do I want to do it!

  9. A powerful reminder that stuff goes on in our kids head that we have no idea of.

    I tend to think that they do not have the worries we adults have -- they have food, shelter, and a Nintendo DS. What could they have to worry about? But I remember lying in bed at night as a kid too.

    Thanks for the reminder -- Sydney is like Greta and I need to attend to that.

  10. Oh lady. Once again, I felt like I was reading my own mind and heart. Just the other day I told someone that I'm so scared for my boys. That I don't like knowing that alcoholism is genetic because it's on both sides and what if what if what if...and she said,

    yes, it might happen. But you're surviving aren't you?

    ugh, yes. but what if they don't?

    OK, that's a little off-topic. And also depressing. But it's about fear, I guess.

    Like others have said, I'm still struggling with those angry moments too, where I start to lose control, but it's just different now. I'm so thankful that I'm not trying to STOP anger, to be perfect...but I'm just feeling it and then moving into the next moment, like you did with your sweet girl.

    OH how I love your posts!

  11. Oh Ellie, this made me so emotional. What a beautiful little soul she has. Keep talking together like this!

    Thank you for the reminder to pull out of frustration and listen.

  12. That exact thing has happened with my kids so many times. I used to get so mad and yell at them in the middle of the night knowing that I would not be going back to sleep because of the sweats and heart pounding that the reverse of the alcohol sugars would have once awakened. (No sleeping pill would get rid of that problem after a while.) I have only been sober 50 some days, but I hardly ever get mad any more when they wake me up. I hug them and invite them into bed instead. They are only young once.I regret the last years I spent being impatient with them and not being able to let that anger go easily.