Kristine Haglund is editor of Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought and blogs at By Common Consent. She earned bachelor's and master's degrees in German literature from Harvard and the University of Michigan, and hasn't decided what to be when she grows up. She lives in Massachusetts with Peter, who is starting high school this week, two other magnificent children, and a stinky but beloved dog.
I remember watching my firstborn son sleep. Despite the haze of exhaustion that blanketed my fragile consciousness, I didn’t want to miss a single one of those newborn sleep-smiles. I remember feeling pangs of—what?—jealousy? betrayal? when his eyes flitted back and forth under the blue-veined lids. He was dreaming, his infant neurons visiting worlds I could not see. I intuited, though I could not have given words to the feeling, that he was leaving me, continuing the long farewell that began the moment his tiny, slick body escaped mine.
My own grief at that first agonized separation was the part of motherhood that most surprised me, that surprises me even now when my delight in the unfolding of my children’s personalities is shadowed by the sometimes desperate wish for them to stop, to please, please wait for me, to keep holding my hand, to let me come with them. And the sweet longing to enter their dreams with them has, I fear, an uglier shadow side—I want them to stay with me in MY dreams.
As a child, I had vivid and specific dreams about the family I would have when I grew up. I was a musician and would-be conductor, so I planned to have 10 children: a string quartet, then a pianist, then a wind quintet. All their names would end in “yn”–Megyn, Justyn, Robyn, Eryn… (What can I say? It was the 70s!!) I filled an old lesson planner from my mother’s days as a school teacher with elaborate practice schedules—I drew up plans for a dream house with shared bedrooms for the children, a big reading room with no furniture but bookshelves and giant pillows on the floor, and 3 practice rooms at the far corners of the house so that all of this practicing could happen simultaneously. I read up on Crock-Pot cooking because I knew that after school time would be very, very busy (all of the children would play at least one sport and be heavily involved in church and community service, too, of course). I wish I were exaggerating!
I was slightly more sane by the time I actually became pregnant, and first trimester nausea made me think that, really, the Brahms horn trios are very nice, very nice indeed… But it still remained the task of my first baby to help me let go.
Even before he was born, he had his own agenda. I had to be induced twice, because he would come in his own sweet time. We had planned to name him Benjamin, but his father and I both knew the instant we saw him that his name was Peter, a name which was on neither of our short lists, and which we discovered only later was the name of my great-great-great-great grandfather. He was teaching me the lesson I needed most of all—that every child is a miraculous being, who comes (in the gorgeous words of Stephen Spender) “from corridors of light where the hours are suns/ Endless and singing.” They are no more my creatures than the flowers or mountains or oceans are mine. As I fell in love with him, he taught me how to love, how to make safe space for his dreams and share mine as gifts rather than wielding them as weapons.
As it turned out, he has an autism spectrum disorder, and my calendar was filled with doctor and therapist appointments instead of music lessons. His dreams are of tools and gears and gadgets and impossibly complicated machines. (Once I found him curled up in bed with a pair of bolt-cutters!), and he hates to talk about them almost as much as I love, love, love to talk, talk, talk about mine in florid detail. The bridge between my dream world and his is tenuous and rickety—the winds blow hard between us, and we both stumble a lot. But sometimes, on clear days when love burns off the mist of my expectations, I catch glimpses of his horizons, more beautiful than I could have dreamed.
Have you ever wanted your children to stay with you in your dreams?
Do we share our dreams with our children as gifts or wield them as weapons? Since it's probably both, do we do the gift piece more often?
When was the last time loved burned off the mist of your expectations?