I dream of my toddler daughter.
I’m changing a very full diaper.
Louise, a female authority figure from a prior workplace, tells me by phone that I must bring the diaper to the doctor. I agree and look for it. I look in bags of trash. It is not there. I look all around the room, under the furniture. It is not there. What I need to find out if the baby is well has disappeared.
I buy my daughter four dresses. Louise calls again and says I was only supposed to buy three. I will be sanctioned and my pay docked for losing the diaper and buying four instead of three. I go back and look again and find the diaper in a corner under a sofa. And having completed this shitty compulsive errand, I am now allowed to think.
And it starts to dawn in my sleeping mind that there is no need to bring the diaper to the doctor. The baby is well. And four dresses are okay, as are three. This shift is in line with work I am doing to understand a frightened, protective superego. Louise is my maternal grandmother’s middle name. This line of women needed things a certain way to feel safe and good. My mother passed that on.
My grandmother had good reason to worry about the baby. There were nine years between my mother’s older sister and my mother’s birth. Details are murky, but there were miscarriages. As a child, I heard the word “stillbirth.” Trauma chelating through the generations, hardening into a white-knuckle grip into how it needs to be to keep the baby alive.
I gather strength to grow out of child mind (good, bad, hate, love) and think. I bless my grandmother who lost children and never spoke of it. I bless my mother, the girl half of a set of twins. The family story goes that Uncle George was on his mother’s side of the bed and my mother got her father, who may or may not have put liquor in the bottle to make her sleep.
So here the task is separating from my own line of matriarchal grief and fear as I mother. By the way, my kid is 26.
A cartoon of Mother is there at first. An exacting capricious, punishing, remote cartoon mother. Ahh, I hate that mother. Can I detox this a bit? Can I walk it forward into complexity? Not that there’s anything wrong with hate, but it’s heavy. Here’s a reframe: a frightened, confused, rule-bound woman trying to stay alive while her twin brother captures their mother’s heart.
Four dresses? Why not five? My grandmother was stylish. All the women in the family were. As am I.