My son is afraid of the dark. It’s a remarkably simple, common fear, but surprising to me in a way I can’t quite explain. My strong, brave, smart child is afraid of the dark. I’m part disappointed, but also in awe. I’m disappointed that he can’t look past the reality of the dark. Like when my husband asks him the question, “What is in the dark?” and he responds with, “The same things that are there in the light.” He gets it, he does, but also he doesn’t.
With the lights on he’s fine, he can plainly see the trees, or that building, or the closet doors. Then the light goes off and his creativity (and anxiety) starts to rise, and before he can stop it, the realities of the dark: the trees, that building, those closet doors, become dinosaurs, and scary people, and tigers ready to pounce. It’s really a fear of the unknown, in a place he knows. And aren’t we all a little afraid of the unknown?
I was in therapy last week and I told Patsy that I was afraid of what our world looked like when this was all over. “This” being the pandemic, the current administration, the hatred in our world. She nodded in agreement. “We all are,” she said, coolly. “We all are.”
I guess I’m still afraid of the dark too. We all are.
I had a breakdown the other day. It had been stewing for days. I felt it, as one does, gaining momentum with each thing I did. I had to wash the dishes by hand (because the dishwasher is broken) and I cut my hand. Then I started to make lunch and I spilled the sauce. Then I dropped my phone. Then, then, then… Shit hit the fan. Finally I decided I was not doing a damn thing for the rest of the day. I was going to park it on the couch and watch a wildly entertaining documentary. So that’s what I started to do, then things got complicated.
I choose “McMillions.” Jerimiah was sitting next to me, trying to figure out my mood, but I didn’t say a word. Jackson came downstairs from doing school work and asked if I would ride bikes with him. Nah, dawg. I told him. I’m not feeling bikes. Then I immediately felt bad and tried to compromise. I asked if he wanted to take a walk. No, he didn’t. He just wanted to ride his scooter alone outside, so Jerimiah and started the show. A couple minutes later I started to feel like a shitty mom, as one does. I couldn’t concentrate on the show. I could only worry that he would talk to some random person walking down our cul-de-sac. Or that he would fall and hurt himself, which meant I’d have to take him to the ER, which is bad news bears right now, considering they are literally turning out conference center into a makeshift hospital. (We will be at 20,000 Covid-19 cases before the week is up.)
Then I heard him talking and asked Jerimiah to check on him. When he did, Jackson came to the door (he had been talking to Siri, telling her to change songs) and then I overheard Jackson say to Jerimiah, “Tell Mommy we can go on a walk now.” At this point it had been a good thirty minutes of me stewing in place, while this show played in front of me. Thinking about how horrible of a mom I am, how my son wanted to spend time with me and I didn’t oblige. Instead I watched television. Then my guilt turns to anger as it ALWAYS does, and I reacted way too strongly.
Jerimiah came back in and I said, “I can’t believe he wants to walk now! I offered that up half an hour ago!”
Jerimiah listened politely, as he does, and suggested we do take a walk because it might be good for all of us. The sun was setting fast at this point, so I mumbled something about “It’s gonna be dark soon,” then went upstairs to put real clothes on, not pajamas. Meanwhile he tried to get the dogs leashed up, since they had heard the word “Walk” one too many times and were freaking out.
When I came down Jerimiah told me that Duke was refusing his harness, and I may have screamed, “LEAVE HIS ASS HOME!” I was totally spiraling out at this point. Jerimiah was like, okay, and we walked outside. There we were met with Jackson and some “scooter” issues and I was like, “You’re the one who wanted to go for a walk!” And I could see the tears start to well up in his eyes and I thought “SHIIIIIT!” But instead of apologizing right then, I let us all go with me into this spiral.
Duke was barking at us from inside so Jerimiah asked if he should go try again with the harness and I said, “Sure!” In a really high-pitched, super fake-singing kinda way. Jackson knew the situation at this point and was looking upset. Duke wouldn’t cooperate and when I saw Jerimiah walking down the drive I knew he was now as angry as me, meanwhile Jackson was on the verge of tears, meanwhile I was totally at the bottom. So we walked.
One cul-de-ac over Jackson broke down. He was telling me that he was sorry he had ruined the evening, and I thought, “Holy hell, Missy you are legit the worst mom on the damn planet.” We stood there in the road as I hugged him and told him that I had been a mess all day and none of this was his fault. Then we walked more.
When we got home that night I went to the bathroom then came downstairs in tears. I told them I had to talk to them. They sat, stone-faced and listened as I explained where I was. I explained how I wasn’t sleeping. How I was trying, so hard, to keep my shit together for them, but that I just couldn’t anymore. How I felt like Jackson deserved a better mom sometimes. And I truly, really felt that way. I truly had felt at the bottom that day. All day. And instead of reaching for help, I went further down into myself and had come out so bad on the other side.
Jackson was crying at this point, saying that I should never say that again. That he would never want a different mom and it scared him. That he was scared. For the first time since this has all happened he admitted to being scared. I have tried to have a lot of talks with him about feelings, but he would never budge. It all came out that night. I told him about how my feelings of guilt morphed into anger. About how it all stems from fear. About how I take a pill, everyday to try to combat this, and even so it doesn’t always work. He nodded in understanding, even though he never could, and I hope he never does. Just like I hope I never turn into my own mother, who would bottle all her fear in and then blow up at me in screaming anger. I strive every day not to be that person. Like how Jerimiah strives every day not to bottle up emotions, not to be mean, not exhibit any of the behaviors he saw as a child. It is tough work, and sometimes we have breakdowns. All of us. And that’s okay. I would rather have my child witness my truth, then shove things down, down, down. Then we sat there and hugged for a long time. Went up to the bed, and all slayed together and read books until we fell asleep.
Afterward I wondered about you all.
During my breakdown my husband listened intently. My son cried with me. My family took care of me. Allowed me to lose it, then helped put me back together. But I wondered: What do people do when they don’t have a family that is supportive? When they don’t have friends that will listen? When they don’t feel comfortable sharing their truth with the ones they love? How are people coping right now with families they are stuck with, literally? Family members they can’t stand to be around? Why and how are people in relationships with people who don’t make them feel loved and wanted, even at their worst?
I can’t imagine it, y’all. And please, please, if you find yourself in one of those situations, please reach out. To me, to someone you love, to a therapist, to a medical professional. Because we can’t risk it. You can’t risk it. Times are bad right now. They are for most of us. You are not alone. You. Are. Not. Alone. Even the best, most chill of us (like my husband) need to break sometimes. And we should be allowed to do that with the people we love standing behind us, catching us, and putting us back together.
I’m gonna leave some numbers here for you to call if you need to. And I’m going to leave a reminder, one that my son told me, “I am scared. I am scared that I will lose people I love. I am scared about what the world will be like when this is over. But no one can replace you.”