Monday, June 18, 2018

Mothering The World

Last night, I dreamt of babies--pudgy infants chewing fists, sleepy toddlers rubbing eyes. These babies were strangers, but alone and unsure of the world and looking to me for comfort.

In the dreams, I knew who the parents were, though I hadn't met them personally. In one instance, a toddler girl wanted her mom, who had just stepped away. I picked her up and explained Mom would be right back, then chatted with her about birds and cows, and sang songs I thought she'd know. It was a game, to distract her and help her feel safe.

In another dream, a quiet, months-old boy and I were in the yard of the house where I grew up. His parents hadn't yet returned from house-hunting in my neighborhood, and he was getting anxious. For a while, I pushed him in a baby swing. Then I put him into his jammies, and taught him some basic ASL signs as I'd done with my own boys when they were his age. Because babies can understand spoken language long before they can physically form words with their mouths, sign language helps them communicate before they can speak. Knowing simple words like eat, sleep, sad and hurt can minimize frustration-driven tantrums by allowing pre-verbal children to make their needs known.

Upon reflection this morning, I think my dreams were driven by a variety of factors. One was my own experience as a mother, and the desire to do everything in my power to ensure my sons were secure, healthy, and happy. The other was this week's disturbing photos and reports of children who'd been separated from their families at the borders of our country.

Making sure young children feel secure is the foundation on which their emotional growth is built. A strong foundation paves the way for healthy relationships with others and the world. Conversely, the biological response to trauma or severe stress can be incredibly destructive, causing lifelong damage. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, while some stress in life is normal—and even necessary for development—the type of stress a child experiences may become toxic "when there is strong, frequent, or prolonged activation of the body’s stress response systems in the absence of the buffering protection of a supportive, adult relationship."

The adult world is scary and dangerous. But when my children were very young, I was their world. Whenever they were scared or upset, they came to me for comfort. When describing their nightmares, they painted frightening scenarios of being in danger, and either they couldn't find me, or they couldn't get to me.

I want to soothe the children I've seen crying on the front pages of newspapers. They look frightened, alone, and powerless. They don't understand what's happening, and their parents are no longer with them. I want to mother them until their mothers return. I want to allay their fears and comfort them and tell them everything will be okay. Of course, I don't know that everything will be okay. But I never have, not even when my own children were small. I told them it would be okay anyway, because I didn't want them to worry. It was my job to do the worrying for them.

A mother's love is boundless and protective, and my desire to shower it on all children may be irrational, but it's not a choice: it's instinctual. My arms reflexively open to every frightened child and crying baby I see.

I know I can't mother all the suffering children in the world, and that frustration is what invaded my dreams last night. I've felt this way before. But this is the first time I've ever wished the desire alone could transcend the reason for their suffering, that the desire alone was enough to make them feel my love.