Wednesday, June 10, 2009

A Nightmare

I'm not sure I will even publish this post. But I have to write somewhere.

I was babysitting two children that I babysat before James - an almost four year old girl, and a two year old boy. They were taking a bath, and the water was running, and I had shut the bathroom door. Meanwhile, I had some receipt for something on the Internet, and I needed to return it, or make sense of it, or something, and I was searching all over the house looking for a companion receipt. I sifted through piles of random papers that had fallen off of surfaces and lay scattered on the floor in so many strata of detritus. As I searched, and ran back and forth to the computer, their Mother arrived at the house. We chatted casually about buying Tupperware on the Internet, and she talked to me while I looked for the receipt. As we adjourned back to the computer, I suddenly recalled the children, and had a horrible feeling something had gone wrong. I ran into the bathroom, and there the two year old boy was, lying peacefully still, under the water. The four year old was sitting in the bath too, but she hadn't come to get me, or moved. I knew as I saw him there, that he had gone.

And then I woke up with a lurch. It was four am. And I could not close my eyes again, as I saw every time his pale, white body, lying in the water, like poor Ophelia. Eventually I rose and went and read my modernist semi-Utopian novel, The Glass Bead Game, by Herman Hesse. And the second page in from where I was had the main character ask another if dreams mattered, if they meant something. And his answer was they always meant something, always should be marked and remembered.

And I'm never giving my children, or anyone's children, a bath again. Never mind that I have never left any child in the bath with a door closed, ever. But now I feel that death is courting me, my children, any child. I know I am not superstitious. When it is light outside, and I am not pondering upon mortality. But at other times, my non-rational inner mind is quite willing to knock on wood to satisfy the demands of superstition. I can quite convince myself if I turn around, there will be a ghost, watching me. Or other strange supernatural phenomena. And that any dream I have, of which there are many, and all of them are vivid (although not usually this morbid) could, perhaps, have larger portent than my fevered mind.

I hate it when Authors include long, extended dream sequences in their books, and I'm never sure if these are just supposed to reflect the state of the mind of the main character (who, it must be inferred, has a brain that makes no sense whatsoever in the subconscious), or if they are foreshadowing a future plot point, or whether the author sat down and by mistake recorded their own dreams as a method of breaking the writer's block, and just forgot to delete them later on. The idea that the insight into dreams will answer life's questions or provide insight into the future is laughable. Except when it's not. Like at four in the morning. It may have been a senseless nightmare, but it felt real to me. It is a stronger memory than many of my real actions yesterday were. A dream caused Dennis to date me in the first place. A dream was part of the (many) reasons I decided to marry Avram (just a little tidbit to keep you Saga people going). Another dream was the main impetus when I almost broke off our engagement. I am very susceptible to my nighttime musings, whether for good or ill. Lehi moved his family to the wilderness from a dream (although this one was unequivocally sent from God, and mine aren't.) Dreams can have meaning. And I always fear, what if mine have suddenly transcended to the state of sleeping visions?

I had a music teacher who had twins, and her oldest daughter was watching them one day when they were about nine or ten months old. She was giving them a bath, and left the room just for a moment, and came back, and one had drowned. I still remember my music teacher talking to my Mom about this experience (by this point the remaining twin was about six to eight years old), and saying how before the funeral, the mortician brought their son to her family, and they all took turns holding him. She said (she was LDS) that the Spirit was so strong, and she could feel his presence as she held him - not in his body of course. And it was a very peaceful moment.

I know that tragedies happen. And I know that we grow through the trials that we have before us, whether they come through sheer accident, or through our own choices, or by some grand design by God. Thus far in my adult life, all of my trials have been very...impersonal. First I spent years agonizing over who to marry. But ultimately it was only a problem because I knew I could marry any of my choices - that God did not care which one I picked, because I could be happy with all of them. So really, it was a very impersonal, minuscule (and yet heart wrenching) trial. And since marriage, the only real continuous trial has been money, has been being starving college students. An even more impersonal trial, that I know shall pass, and I even know when. Sure, marriage and children have been events in my life, and not easy ones at that, but I have not felt tried beyond any capacity I have had by them.

And I know that God does not work like this, but sometimes I worry that my life is too easy. Things go too well. I recently read a blog post by DeNae at My Real Life Was Backordered about what your life was imagined to be when you were 20, and what your life really has been about. Several of the commentators expressed dis-satisfaction with their life as it is, and even more expressed happiness where they were, while acknowledging that their life had not gone according to their youthful plans. Whether through lack of marriage, infertility, job losses, divorce, or even just being a stay at home Mom instead of having a glorious career, time and again women talked about the different-than-expected tracks their lives had taken.

Now, I am not so far removed from 20. But even back into my teenage years, my life has progressed very much the way that I have always planned. My mother, whose life has been one of those that has been hard, and now is happy, but not at all the way she ever foresaw it being, always has had a habit of telling me, when I would time and again express to her, while being a youth, of my broad and shining futures mapped out in my mind, she would say, "I hope that happens for you. I really do." And I read, whether it was there or not, an implicit belief that she, at least, did not think my future would go according to plan at all. Some things have changed, but only because I too grew and changed, and the changes have mostly been surface fluff, pleasant to dream about, but never the real substance of my desires.

I remember telling a high school teacher of mine that I wanted seven children. I have always wanted a large family. She was flabbergasted, but I remember even then, as a high school junior, being very set in my ways as to my future. Of course, along with this I wanted to be married in the temple to a nice, righteous young man with good career prospects ( I may not have put this last qualifier into so many words, but I always knew I did not want live my life as I grew up, in a tiny house with children bursting at the seams, with never enough money to cover the needs and wants.) I also, as was expected of me through high school, had career plans as well. I was get my doctorate in something relating to the Near East, and become a professor (all while balancing seven children. I knew somehow the two could come into conflict, but I never chose to think it all out).

When I went to BYU I told a friend of my roommates that I was not going to get married until I was 26, and had my Ph.d. (a doctorate in only four years, my I was going to be precocious...) He laughed at me, while I insisted that I was serious.

By the time I was twenty, and a sophomore, I had already realized that although I loved academia and learning, I did not desire to get a Ph.d. - I did not feel I had anything to say, anything to add to the corpus of learning. Plus to be perfectly honest, I only had an A- grade average, and so I knew I would not be very competitive in applying to grad school anyway. By that time I had fallen in love twice, and knew that finding someone to marry would not take until I was 26, but rather it would be a miracle if I managed to finish school without getting married. (I had 3 1/2 credits left to finish when I married Avram). But in the essentials my plans for life had not changed. I still wanted to be married, and have children. And be academic, somehow.

When I took the interview for the study abroad to Egypt my Junior year, and the Professor Dil asked me what I wanted to go into in the field, I gave my then standard "academic" answer of becoming a librarian at a University, working in the Near Eastern and Religion sections (this was my back up plan in case both Avram and Dennis fell through). He responded that good librarians who knew the languages were always needed, etc & etc. Then I finally burst out that what I really wanted to do was to marry someone who was interested in the same field I was, and then he could be the academic, and I could just journey along with him, and experience the cultures and languages and history of the Near East, and it be a part of my life.

Then I married Avram, and had two children, and he's getting the Ph.d. in Near Eastern Languages and Cultures for us both, although I do feel very connected to it all, and get to be his number one editor for all his papers, and sometimes I even pretend to read Biblical Hebrew with him. And my life is exactly as I planned it. I never had to work at getting married, or getting pregnant, and even my pregnancies and labors and child raisings have gone according to plan (although I have had one miscarriage). Except I couldn't cut doing cloth diapers. But I hardly think the method of covering my children's bottoms as qualifying as a major life plan change.

So what if the fates have been saving it all up? Clearly I am in for...something. Unless maybe I was just wiser than most 20 year olds, and knew what I really wanted and needed. Right. It makes me nervous, because all I really want if for Avram to get his Ph.d. and then get a Job at BYU as either a Hebrew or Religion teacher, and then I want to move to Provo, to a home in the tree streets with dormer windows (good luck on that one), and live there, raising children and perhaps getting a master's degree in Anthropology, or become a department secretary, and through all of this I would like to be a foster mother, as well as a regular mother, until I die a ripe old age. And so far, all signs point to this as a good possibility. Sure, I cannot guarantee Avram will get a job at BYU. But in the religious field, at some point in his career, if Avram desires it, I am sure he could go to BYU, because in LDS religious scholarship it is a field mostly pursued through BYU.

And it just seems all too easy. Are there really people out there living the exact life they always wanted? Or am I wise enough (I like this option. It makes me sound smart) to want what I can have? Only in pretentious books do dreams come as portents of the future, but at four am this morning I sure could believe that my personal Utopia is threatened. I just pray that I am never tested by the death of a child. Or heaven forbid, the death of another's child under my care. I believe in the eternal plan. I know that mine is an eternal family - death is not the end of it all. Just as I know in this life the specifics are not as important as the kind of people we become, how we shape ourselves out of the details that make up our lives. And that trials will come. Just let it not be this way, with sudden tragedy.

Oh, dear. I went to link to DeNae's blog, and her most recent post is about...dreams. According to her, I should not even be wasting brain space thinking about it. Hmmm....


  1. I've had scares like this too. Especially with Becca, who started out life as such a perfect child, I was sure she would be snatched back to heaven. I voiced my concern to Neil once, and he admitted that he'd worried the same thing. And then we both worried that our sense of foreboding was to help prepare us. Eventually we had to stop thinking about it and just live, but it wasn't easy.

  2. Wow, I'm really glad it was just a nightmare! That is terrifying. I really loved reading this post.

    I have often had many of the same thoughts, that my life has gone too well, that I must have something coming to me. I don't know...I feel like the prophets have said that we face such different challenges than the pioneers, but that ours will be just as great. Who knows what they'll be. I think the church is about due for some real persecution, though. Perhaps that persecution will manifest itself as a unique and personal trial in each of our perfect, "according to the plan" lives.

    Oh, p.s. I'm at now. I changed it.

  3. Super interesting insight into Thora. What a terrible nightmare. And what a great explanation of how you feel about it and dreams and plans and how you're life is going so far. I love how down to earth you are. Great perspective.

    Hopefully the not sticking with cloth diapers proves to be your major plan change-trial.

  4. I too have had some scary dreams but none turned out. When the Spirit is really talking to me, it has never been manifested in this way. Think of how the Spirit does talk to you and put more credence in that.

  5. There's nothing wrong with being happy and having your life go as you planned. I actually would say that I envy that in others. If that's what you have going for you then just enjoy it. Don't question it. It doesn't meant that things can't keep on going that way. Some people are blessed to have this happen. I would just count yourself as being one of them.
    I will say, as the mother of that 2 year old boy, I didn't enjoy reading about your dream of his death. After 4 bowel and 1 heart surgery and 9 months of Intensive Care, I've had my own nightmares of his death and been very close to losing him.
    Maybe, don't overthink it.

  6. I felt the same way when your mom would tell you or me or anyone of us that about our lifes plans. I hated it, mostly because I felt she should be encuraging us,and telling us, "it may be hard...but you can do it." But reguardless of what she said, you still did it. I remember her saying that both about me going to college after not graduating from high school, and about me going on a mission. But I did both even without her confidence in me.

  7. I just wanted you to know that you're not alone. My wife and I both had similarly intense fears for our daughter, starting from the time we brought her home, and continuing to her current pre-teen status (and after, I'm sure). When she was a baby, I used to get up in the middle of the night and check to make sure she was still breathing. I tried to make sure someone always had a visual on her during bathtime, or pretty much always, if I could help it. And despite our precautions, or maybe because of them, we both had vivid dreams similar to the ones you described.

    All through her growing up, I have been plagued with fears like you describe: most have been the product of my imagination, but a few have come from actual, scary threats to her health.

    No matter what the cause, I think it is the inheritance of parents to worry about their children — sometimes to a frenzied degree. The only thing that helps me at such times is to share it with my wife, to try to remember that God loves my daughter (and my wife) more than I do, and wants what's best for them more than I do. After I ask him to protect them, then I try to trust him to do just that. Please don't ask me how many times I actually succeed, but that's what building faith is all about, I suppose.

    As for the dreams, I have also found myself weighting some dreams more than others. I feel some have something important to tell me, and others are just my subconscious emptying the trash bin. The trick, I guess, is figuring out which is which.

  8. Maybe we all go through this at some point. I never worried about Rox but I've worry about Muns since about a week old. John too. I was actually glad when she turned into a terrible 2 because I thought maybe she was real and could stay. I have put the fear to the side of my mind (not the back, I dont think it would go there) and it sits there and makes me appreciate her a bit more and have a bit more patience with her, Rox too. Dosn't help that one of my best friends lost her 16 month old in a back yard fountain last summer. It keeps me on my toes. I think let it make an impression on you, nothing but good can come of it, right?

  9. This is my true confession time--I love my children deeply and feircely. I want to protect them and keep them and watch them grow. But I honestly don't fear death. Not for me or for my children. I am more concerned about how my husband would deal with being a widower and a single father than I am about being dead. I think I sound like a horrible mother, but I don't worry that my children will die because I know that if I am doing my best to keep them alive, whatever happens will just work out, and in the eternities, I will have all my children, and be able to watch them grow, if I was denied that in this life.
    I also have bizzarre and vivid dreams sometimes. Not often of the nightmare variety, thank goodness, but quite often of the "I really can't imagine how that could be a portend" sort. I have, however, occasionally dreamed a dream I know was sent by God and have acted on it, including accepting my husband's proposal. But it was very obvious that it was a message. There have been some that I couldn't discern a real message of action or decision that I should take from it, but was able to have a powerful vicarious experience of things I would never do in my real life, and thereby increase in compassion and empathy for some people who's lives are so very different from mine.

    A very great fear I do have, and hope I am not tried with, is seeing my children make very wrong choices. I fear that more than their possible death. But I worry that I will be because I, too, love my life. I am living my ideal right now, even down to sharing a house with my sister (although I think in my previously imagined ideal I was just next door, but this is much, much better).