What I hate is when I am walking through a park with friends, feeling really on top of life, then I trip over a branch … And my fall is broken when I wake up and find myself trapped in my kid’s bed, arm locked under her sweaty little head and I have drooled all over her favorite stuffed bear. But now I’m awake, at 11pm. I decide to have a bath and a glass of wine.
With ninja-like stealth, I extract myself from her bed and stand up, on our dog. He howls, I cuss, apologize, and shush him all at the same time. As that is happening, I trip over the towel my kid left on the floor after her bath time and stumble into the wall with a thud.
At this point, my kid throws her arm across the bed and dream-sings, “All you’ll ever be is mean,” and I wait for it. That moment where my night goes from finally able to relax to being re-trapped in the cycle of Putting The Child To Bed. But somehow she stays asleep and I send a little prayer to saint Taylor Swift, because her song has made my child’s dream world exciting enough to sleep through the chaos of my parenting and kept her away from dark dreams that are shadows of our reality.
One night, at 7 years old, she woke terrified because she had been left on the side of the highway and I had been taken by the police for speeding. This was in the weeks after Sandra Bland was arrested and soon found dead in her jail cell.
The next truly scary dream came in the midst of the ICE raids in 2017. One night, after listening to coverage on the radio and hearing me talk with friends about documenting the raids, her sobs woke me. From another room, I rushed to her and had to work to wake her from the fear.
“They were taking undocumented immigrants away and we were helping the immigrants, so we were running, too. We were all camped in the woods with the pecan trees. But they found us and people were running and there was a field, so they ran to the field and the people chasing us were spraying a smoke that if you breathed it you would die.”
I held her closer, kissed the top of her head, still damp and sweet with childhood sleep filled with lost innocence, “You are with mama. We are in our house. It’s safe baby. You can finish if there’s more. Let out your story.”
She snuffled hard, took a breath, and continued, “There was also a hole in the ground and my teacher was trying to help people, but there were chains going into the hole. If you fell into the hole, you could only get out if you climbed the chains. But you had to sign a paper with one hand to say you belonged here while you climbed out with the other hand. And there were portapotties and I hid in one. Then, you woke me up.”
Our media culture seeps into the subconscious in some mighty fierce ways. But it is a media that is covering what our world has become. My daughter is ten now and she can ask enough questions to keep her dreams safe, but the fact that she has to ask those questions breaks my heart. The fact that when she was 8 her subconscious figured out that staying in this country as an undocumented person and working to become legal was tantamount to climbing up a chain, out of a pit, with one hand with a toxic gas encroaching on you. The fact that she hears enough reports of police taking people to jail over traffic violations and innocent children being killed or abandoned that she dreamt of being left on the side of the highway. Scared and alone.
As a parent, my one job is to keep her safe and alive – that she may become a good person with a full life. I think I do a damn good job of that, but having to go up against a world full of discrimination and hate makes my job way more complicated.
I’ve had people catch their breath when they learn that she was allowed to see the making of Lord of the Rings at 6 and we started watching Gray’s Anatomy when she was 9. “That’s all so graphic, so adult. She needs to keep her innocence,” they gasped.
I don’t know where these people are getting their news, but from what I’ve experienced, NPR during the 7am drive to school is far more disturbing than make-up artists explaining how they created the Orcs or Meredith Gray laying out the trials of relationships.