When I was a little girl there was a period when I spent Sunday nights in the grip of terrible sadness. I would lie on the top bunk in the room I shared with my two younger sisters, straining to hear what my parents were doing in the living room of the apartment. When the theme song for America's Funniest Home Videos began to play, I would burst into tears.
I'm not entirely sure what drove this melancholy. I was an annoying little swot who enjoyed going to school and for a while maintained a very sincere piety, which pleased the nuns, so it wasn't fear of what was coming the next day per se. I was too large and strong to be bullied at school. I had no particular animus against Bob Saget, and was not yet so jaded as a media consumer to despise the clip show format. I think I may have thought about death, and whether God was actually real, and whether even wondering whether God was real meant I would go to Hell. I'm certain I thought about the horrifying prospect of growing up and being lonely.
My mother would inevitably come and comfort me through these bouts of pre-teen existential dread with heroic patience and sensitivity. During one of them she began to tell me The Hobbit off by heart, and during another, which probably happened after she'd spent an entire night on her feet behind the bar in the inn she and my father ran, she repeated the Our Father multiple times. At the time I was baffled. Now I understand.
My daughter, who's nine, suffers from the same Sunday-night malady. I've just left her asleep after two and a half hours' vigil at her bedside. Unlike my mother, I don't have three other children and a demanding, customer-facing business to manage. I'd still like to say a decade of the rosary myself right now.
E. has an autism diagnosis. She finds it difficult to express herself verbally, becomes overwhelmed by sensory input (particularly noises--she detests motorcycles, school assemblies, and strangers having "Happy Birthday" sung to them at restaurants), and runs a couple of years behind her peers academically, although she is gaining ground. Getting her to explain what's going on up there in the Maurice Sendak-illustrated forest in her brain requires plenty of pointed questions and patience.
I've assumed for a while it was about the divorce. E. was seven when the split happened, and although her father and I have done a good job ensuring she wasn't traumatised by the process and continue to co-parent, it's a major disruption and one that would be confusing to any child of that age, no matter how sensitively and patiently explained. In our case, I drew her several pages of comic strip about it after she anxiously asked, "Why do you and Daddy share me at two houses?" She used to take those pages out and refer to them frequently, reassuring herself that she would still be taken care of by both of us and also see the cats on a regular basis.
I haven't seen those pages in over a year. I assume she has secreted them away somewhere.
I have also wondered if E's proto-goth tendencies were playing on her mind. She loves things that are creepy and have jump-scares in them, like Five Nights at Freddy's, a game I can't even stand to look at. While we were eating lunch this afternoon she informed me that "When I am grown up, I will be a scientist, have breasts, and be able to watch horror movies whenever I want." "The three pillars of maturity," her father commented, when I passed on this declaration to him.
Like any responsible parent in the digital age, I've taken care to limit what content she can access on the Internet and her screen time in general, but her tastes are her tastes. Her current obsessions include werewolves and zombies. Her drawings are full of beings turned into other beings by anger or the moon or some weird compulsion. And those damn Five Nights at Freddy's things.
But after tonight, it seems like her Sunday night thoughts are running along the same lines mine were thirty years ago: Will you always love me? Will you always look after me? Will I be alone forever? Will I be all right when I'm grown up? I can give her solidly reassuring answers to the former pair of questions. On the latter, I'm a little shaky, though I present a brave face. The answers to those questions are the things I lie awake with: please, world, bring her someone who will love and cherish and protect her, and never take her for granted. Please, world, let her find fulfilling work and independence as an adult. Please, world, don't tear her to pieces.
I remind myself regularly that I embarked on this whole parenting thing by deliberate, conscious choice: so many assholes and morons have children only to abuse and neglect them. I am reasonably intelligent, her father is reasonably intelligent, and we give a damn, so we should be good at this, or at the very least capable of improving on our parents' efforts the way they improved on theirs. Everyone gets a slightly different journey than they bargained for as parents, and E. being how she is just happens to be how our cards fell.
(Given the circumstances of her birth, we are lucky to have her at all.)
And, you know, how she is is magic. I think of how far she's come just in the last two years. The autumn of the divorce, there was a six-week stretch when I thought I had irrevocably fucked her up, because she was acting out: screaming at her aide at school, rage-shitting herself in agitation and then refusing to move in a loud, crowded supermarket, climbing all over a man she'd just met at my gym and trying to get him to engage in horseplay the way she did with her Dad.
I still burn with embarrassment whenever I think of any of these things, but that is mainly because I am the kind of person who feels old embarrassments keenly. She's much better. We're much better. We've both grown.
Tonight, once I had worked out more or less what she was anxious about, I let her rest her head against my heart. I gave her a space where she could feel whatever she was feeling safely, until it passed. My mother did the same for me, and probably E. will do the same for a child of her own, or a lover, or a loved friend. It is a good way to show anyone of any age that they are loved. We are all troubled of a Sunday sometimes, and need someone to be our place to rest.
The last thing she said to me before dozing off was, "I am preparing for my dreams." I hope so, kid. I really do.
Exit Music: My Position is Frantic
E. and I spent a week in the hospital after her birth, and this was the song I would hum and sing to her through the very late nights.
In my defence, I was on a LOT of drugs at the time. (And it could've been Helter Skelter, I guess.)