Sunday, March 20, 2011

Shadows in the Closet: Life and Birth Lessons of a 3-Year Old

There have been nights recently, particularly ones which Glen has been away and it has just been myself and the kids, that Ethan has cried out into the dark- afraid to close his eyes for sleep, and fearful for “the shadows in the closet.”

I’ve never been an entirely compassionate mother when it comes to these matters. Not to say I am not a compassionate person or mother in general, but in cases such as this, I am very much logical, and perhaps stern in not playing into figments of the imagination. “There are no shadows in the closet, Ethan. Close your eyes and go to sleep,” I have been guilty of saying from down the hall, from the comfort of my own bed. “Yes there ARE, Mom! The shadows in the closet are scaring me!” Only with my continued insistence, did he eventually let it go and go to sleep.

And when it happened again, the same scene would transpire. Ethan would cry out against the shadows which he was sure were lurking in the closet, and I would again assure him that there was no such existence- that there were no shadows hiding in the closet, nor would they or could they harm him. “Go to sleep Ethan, there are no shadows.” Logical to me. Simple for me to say.

What didn’t dawn on me at the time was that I wasn’t fixing it. I wasn’t acknowledging or even recognizing the problem. I was diminishing it to nothing, to hardly an existence and just merely sweeping it under the rug. But the problem with sweeping things under the rug is that even though they are hidden, they are still there- Still existing, still just beneath the surface, ready to rise up and be exposed at any given moment. It’s a temporary fix, if even that.

As if orchestrated, soon after I had a prenatal appointment with a mom who was on her second baby, due any day.

“How are you feeling,” I asked her?

Surprising to me, “Fearful,” was her response.

And in that instant, as my mouth opened to form my own response, I thought of Ethan’s shadows. I had so many thoughts go through my head in a fraction of a second, but yet it all came together and made sense to me. I thought of the beautiful birth this mom had had before and wondered why now she would be fearful? I wondered what exactly she was fearful of? I thought of how easy it would be to just give her generic reassurance and to say, “It’s alright. You can do it.” But I realized, in that fraction of a second, we are all like 3-year olds with shadows in our closets. Particularly women preparing for or experiencing birth.

Sometimes our fears may be completely illogical. Sometimes they may be silly. Sometimes they may be legitimate but exaggerated. But no matter what they are- how exaggerated, silly, or illogical, at the end of it all, they are REAL. If only to us and no one else. Those feelings elicited are genuine and something that can’t be discounted or ignored or swept under the rug.

Of course there really were no shadows in the closet for Ethan to see. But what Ethan was afraid of was the darkness. And what is to be feared about the darkness is that, because we cannot see what is right in front of us, it becomes unfamiliar. He wasn’t afraid of the shadows per se…he was afraid of the unknown. As was that mom.

So what did I do? I applied my new-found life lesson of my 3 year old. I took the time to hear her. I acknowledged her feelings. And I acknowledged that yes, the unknown is scary. Doesn’t matter if it’s your first or your tenth baby. Each is different, with a host of different experiences and emotions. I focused on the positive. I didn’t discount feelings. I didn’t sweep it under the rug.

And the next time Ethan brought up the shadows in the closet, I did the same. Yes, there very well might be shadows in the closet. How do I know anyway? But did he think maybe they could be nice shadows? Focused on the positive, listened to him, and acknowledged his feelings. In the end, as with that mom, it made a big difference to how the unknown came to be perceived. Either way, the unknown is the unknown. There are certain things in life that will remain that way, out of our control. We can only perceive it a bit differently.

So thank you to my energetic, imaginative, beautiful 3-year-old for the continued life lessons.