Saturday, February 21, 2009

At Sea

week of February 15 to 21

My young son says he can’t go to sleep, can’t lie down in his bed.

“Why can’t you?”

“I don’t know.”

“Are you feeling sick?”

“I don’t know.” When I insist, he trudges off grimly, teeth brushed and prayers said. But then just as I’m falling to sleep I hear him running from his room to the kitchen, back down the hall, back out toward the front door, frantically mumbling, “I can’t. I can’t.” His eyes don’t see me when I catch hold of him and his voice rises, “I can’t. I can’t.”

“Can’t what? Wake up. What can’t you do?”

“I can’t.”

So I carry him back to his bed and rub his back, until he shudders and begins to relax, his shoulders softening and his breathing slowing back down. And I worry.

The next morning he doesn’t remember sleepwalking. After school, though he comes in and sits down beside me. He says,“I know what I’m feeling. Despair.”

Wonderful. I almost want to laugh – such a Victorian word.  This is the thing about wordy children - they can name their monsters. "Why do you think you are feeling despair?"

“I don’t know.”

“What’s going on at school? Are you worried about anything?”

“Nothing. Nope. I don’t know.”

I don’t know either. From the outside he looks like a fine and normal little nine-year-old.  I poke a bit more, but can’t find anything really. I just talked with his teacher, who is happy with his work. He’s played with friends in the afternoons. He's suddenly decided this week - in a fit of ambition after hearing a song he liked at the recital last weekend - to commit himself to his piano practicing – and now has me sit down with him each day and teach him out of his sight-reading book.

Is the extra effort fevering his brain? Or is it because he overheard me last week talking about how I get so weary sometimes I just want to go home?

“You are home,” he piped up.

“I know,” I’d said, cupping my hand under his jaw and hugging his head to my side.

Having a mother who is a psychoanalyst means I don’t want to ask her – Is this normal? Is it my fault? Will he get over it on his own?  I'm not sure I want to know what she would say.

The next night, the same thing.  The running, the blind eyes, the shuddering into deeper sleep only when I hold him.  Despair.

I am at a loss how to fix this.  Did I mention some weeks back that this was the month of the plagues – cold sores, warts, infestations? My son’s share is ringworm which the advice nurse tells me is infectious enough that I won’t let him curl up in my bed. His dad is still away, working out of state this week. Life is not good for my son.

So I sing to him – Lead Kindly Light, How Firm a Foundation, Speed Bonnie Boat – only the solid songs and safe songs. I don’t sing the Great Selkie or other sea songs of abandonment, unfaithfulness, death and fate:

What hills, what hills are those, my love,
Those hills so dark and low?
Those are the hills of hell, my love,
Where you and I must go.

Well, not until the middle of the week when I’ve sung through all the safe songs and slowly all the other songs start seeping back in. Every night now, he wants to start out with How Firm a Foundation:

When through the deep waters I call thee to go
The river of sorrow shall not thee o'erflow.
For I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless
And sanctify to thee, and sanctify to thee, and sanctify to thee,
Thy deepest distress.

But then he says, “You choose.” I sing,

I have a family here on earth.
They are so good to me . . . .

I sing,
Twinkle, twinkle, Little Star,
How I wonder what you are? . . .
I sing,
I am a child of God
- and He has sent me here.
Has given me an earthly home
with parents kind and dear . . .
(Except, aren’t my brothers and I almost audible, singing in the background, “Has given me Unearthly Home with parents kind of weird”?)

I sing,

An earthly nurse sits and sings
And aye she sings by lily-wean:
“It’s little ken I my bairn’s father.
Far less the land that he dwells in . . .

And my son falls peacefully to sleep at last to the ballad of the dread pirate Henry Martin:

Sad news, sad news to old England came,
Sad news to fair London town,
There’s been a rich vessel –
Now she’s castaway, castaway, castaway
A-a-and all of her merry men . . . Drowned.


I should be singing about bunny rabbits. Except that the most frightening children’s book I ever read to my children was The Runaway Bunny. None of us liked it that no matter how hard the bunny tried, he never could get away from his Mega-Mum. Never could go away to come back on his own terms.

By the end of the week, I’m hoarse and then voiceless – though not from the singing - I'm just coming down with whatever's going around.

“I can’t,” I sorrowfully whisper when my son asks to be sung to.

But his sisters know all my songs. And Friday night, from down the hallway, I hear my elder daughter singing softly,

Speed, bonnie boat, like a bird on the wing
Onward, the sailors cry.
Carry the lad that born to be king
Over the sea to Skye . . .

1 comment:

Mrs. Organic said...

"...with parents kind of weird."

I'll never think of that song the same way again, you've expanded my horizons. :) You've inspired me to learn more songs.

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