Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Road to Resilience

I haven’t written in a dog’s age-- nothing coherent enough to post, anyway. I guess life has taken it out of me. I’ve been in a fog. The fact that I live on an island so often shrouded in fog is not just physical; it’s metaphysical, and metaphoric of a state of mind. Like the fog, sadness has seeped into everything. It clings to surfaces like the droplets of dew, hanging on, leaving a mold.

The glass of happiness tipped over six weeks ago, when a long time friend’s seven year old son drowned in the waters off our north shore. On a brilliant afternoon at the end of summer. While at summer camp. Inexplicably, and unnoticed by anyone, Will’s bright light went out. And whole worlds were plunged into darkness.

Perhaps a price for living in paradise is complacency. We tend to become inured to the danger that lurks around us. Whether it’s the actual water that surrounds us, or just the sense of isolation that it fosters, we have challenges that are unique to our environment. We have our share of tragedies. You could say that about any small town. But because our community is small and isolated, because we live close to the elements of nature, because we are all so interconnected, we take our blows collectively. Grief, like the mold, touches us all, and blooms in our souls.

This recent loss really hit close to home. Not only because I myself have a young boy. That alone would cause it to strike at the heart of my fears. But because the parents this happened to are my oldest island friends, the very people who first brought me to Nantucket fourteen years ago, when they were married. And also because it was only a little over a year after my own sister’s sudden death, when she jumped from the roof of her coop apartment building in Brooklyn, when my baby was only eight months old.

When little Will died I found myself cut loose, adrift in an abyss of immeasurable sadness.

I have learned a lot about myself, and about grief, these last several weeks. And I have been learning about life. It takes its toll. And there is not enough straw and mud in the world to fortify my house against the harsh winds of the Big Bad Wolf. The winds will come. The walls will falter. The resiliency must come not from the beams of our houses, but from the architecture of our hearts.

In my own life, I’ve known too much of loss, too much of absence.

I guess this is why at night I take my child and return to the wild. We go back to the proverbial outdoors, where the fog lifts and the starry universe holds us beneath its canopy of clarity. Together we lay down next to a river. The river flows, abundant, unending. It runs through us as the moon glows and the stars shine and crickets chant nocturnal rhythms. It comes both from me and from beyond me. It flows as food for my child, quiet white milk that sustains him. Sometimes it tickles a little. Sometimes it is just a soft feeling like silk, or the smoothness of his feet after bath against my leg. Other times I’m aware of his breath and effort. We curl together in an enduring embrace. Later he’ll turn away for a while. And then maybe throw his little leg over mine. Maybe turn his face toward mine. We’ll lie like this, in the warmth of touching skins, exchanging our breath, as the planet rotates and the first dawn light rises. My two year old may nurse again before he climbs down from the bed to start the day.

Oftentimes I feel in the minority as a mother who nurses and co-sleeps with her toddler. Talk of bottles and cribs and toddler beds elude me. While I do have a couple of friends who admittedly co-sleep with their babies, they are just a few. And the older my son grows, the more alone I feel in my position. I found myself being apologetic about it, in a recent conversation with a friend, calling it a “bad habit. That’s why I decided I have to write about it.

In fact, choosing to nurture my child skin to skin throughout the night has been one of the best decisions I have made as a mother. In fact, because Cayce is active and adventurous throughout the day, making social connections, trying out new words, scaling heights and launching somersaults, he really needs the time at night to refuel.

Is it because of all of our nighttime skin to skin that words and people stick to Cayce like glue? What is language, but an effort to connect, an extension of skin to skin? What are words but an expression of love? What is intelligence itself but a manifestation of the bonds of love?

Co-sleeping and extended nursing are the two things about how I have mothered that I wouldn’t change. You might think I’m clingy, that deep down, I’m afraid of dying, or of my child dying. You might be right. But I want my child to grow up with a stronger feeling of security than I ever had. And so far, as I watch my two year old grow and flourish, I feel that I am paving him a road to resilience by loving him today as if there is no tomorrow.


Megan said...

First, Rachel, I am sending you hugs from our Vermont kitchen this morning. I did not know about your sister's death and I am so sorry. And I did hear about the child who drowned. A 2-yr-old drowned up here this summer, just wandered off for a SECOND. That is all it takes sometimes. It hurts now thinking of it all.

As for the co-sleeping, I am completely with you, sister. My now 16-yr-old and I had 3 years of it and Avery's now 2 and he is Mr. Night Nurser. My husband said he can't imagine NOT sleeping all together for now.

I may have told you that William Sears was our pediatrician in CA years ago. I was a single mom and he was so kind and mellow and reassuring and supportive. It's sad when some folks speak ill of him and his ideas, since he is person is so gentle and believes each family's decisions are theirs to make. I just naturally did what he thinks is best! So of course we got along:)

Anyway, you and Cayce are always welcome here to visit if you wish to get some leafpile/snow time.

Thanks for wriitng. Love, Megan

Rachel Dowling said...

Thank you, Megan, for the virtual hug, the sharing of your co-sleeping experience, AND your invite to Vermont. How awesome about William Sears... I am recalling that you did tell me this when we talked at the playground... He's one of the sons of Dr. Sears Sr., right? Curious whether he broached the topic with you, or was it the other way around? The Sears and Sears books have been HUGE guides for me in my parenting style.

Full disclosure: I wish we could sleep all together like your family.That doesn't really work for us,as K is a super light sleeper. So we break up into a couple of beds, most of the time. Still, it's better than putting the little one in a crib, for us.