Monday, May 19, 2014

Dragon Mama

My mother nursed all six of her children. She spent twelve years breastfeeding, sometimes two babies at once. 

In my early memories, Mama always has one of my siblings latched on for “baa baa” (like the sound of a bleating sheep). This was a name my oldest sister came up with and it stuck.

Mama was efficient and managed many things simultaneously, which was necessary with so many children and no shortcuts. She homeschooled, baked bread, sewed clothes, entertained friends. There was baa baa and spelling lessons. Baa baa and bedtime stories. Baa baa and adult conversations while her friends griped about work trouble and took comfort in beer and cigerettes. Mama listened. She never smoked and hardly ever drank.

Mama’s friends regarded her as an incarnation of the Madonna. And she could certainly be painted as the Holy Mother in broad strokes. But having been her child, I know that depiction to be too simple. While it shows Mama’s nurturing, it disregards her wrath.

Her anger came on swiftly and was over as soon as she made her point. Mama nursed us all through our teething phases and beyond. Inevitably, each of us tried out our newly cut teeth by biting Mama. 

Her reaction was always the same. She pulled away and unleashed the roar of a waking dragon. I witness the startled expressions on my younger siblings faces that gave way to scared cries. In a matter of seconds the dragon disappeared and the babies were comforted with the offer to nurse once again. They went back gently.

We were smart babies; we learned quickly and early how not to use our teeth.

Mama was a natural mother but not a saint. When I went to college, I studied Spanish in northern Chile. I learned about Incan culture and their mother goddess who reminded me of my own Mama. For the Incas, the aptly named Pachamama often appears in the form of a dragon. She invokes fertility, oversees planting and harvesting — and causes earthquakes when she feels disrespected

Friday, May 2, 2014

On fear

I dreamed last night that some one was spying on me while I lay in bed. They were peaking in my mailbox and then directly at me through a gap in my curtains. 

Upon waking, I wondered why that scenario arose. It's not one I expend much anxiety on anymore. As a child, I was much more fearful of people lurking just out of view. I spent a good bit of mental energy worrying about kidnappers. After my parents went to bed, I would sneak downstairs to make sure that the doors were locked. 

My mind could be particularly cruel. It created the Toilet Witch. She looked much like any other witch — long nose, green skin and warts — but was unusual in one regard. She lived just below the toilet bowl. The flush was her doorbell. When summoned, she would emerge and pull children down into her underworld. I got in the habit of opening the door before I flushed, and then sprinting from the bathroom like a hunted animal. 

I now tell stories about the kidnappers and the Toilet Witch. I laugh about them like they were silly juvenile preoccupations.  And they were. But those feelings of terror and anxiety have never left me. They've simply reattached to threats that seem more real to my adult mind. Current fears are always more difficult to discuss than the ones I've pondered, calculated the likeliness of and then moved to their rightful place in my hierarchy of things to fear. For example, the Toilet Witch no longer figures into my schema at all — she's not real, I've learned. And kidnappers appear near the bottom of my list. I'm well past the age of their target group. 

What's more difficult for me to discuss are the fears that have replaced those earlier ones. At 29, I'm afraid of discovering that my mind is in fact vacuous and of dying from suffocation. Both are tied to real experiences. As an asthmatic, I've had horrible, sleepless nights where I simply could not get enough air. The vice grip around my chest would not ease. I know that sweaty terror, but have always rebounded. I'm afraid that one day, especially when my body is old and weak, I  won't.

But my greatest fear lies in the suspicion that my mind is dull. This figures into the trouble I have starting big writing projects. I worry that I'll get halfway into the project and find out that I actually have nothing interesting or original to say. This anxiety drives me to avoid writing. It sends me in search of distractions like Facebook. It's the voice that tells me when I get home from work to be satisfied with just watching a movie and going to bed. 

I realize that fear will find me no matter what. It finds me in adulthood and in the world of my dreams. I think it finds everyone. It's customized. For me, it takes great courage to pick up a pen. I confront fear with every sentence I start that I don't know how to finish.