4 kids in 3 years: reflections on motherhood, art and life.
I had a dream about my brother Butchie last night. He was wearing footy pajamas, the kind that zip up the front, all fleecy and precious. The kind my children now wear. My brother wore them throughout his whole life until he died two years ago at the age of 50.
And although we dressed him in Toughskins corduroys and groovy turtlenecks in his teens and twenties, later in his life he was dressed mostly for ease and comfort, in fleece pants and sweatshirts from Old Navy, size 10. Those and the footy pajamas we called bunny sleepers.
The memory of this dream is vague. My kids woke me up midway through, and although I tried to claw my way back through the haze to see him again, only snippets remained.
In the dream my brother Butchie and I were in a bowling alley, which is weird because we didn’t even bring him to church. He had to use the bathroom. The bathroom was the locker room in the rink at a local school where I live now. And I think I can piece together the bits and pieces of how these fragments all exist together in my brain.
My seven-year-old son had a play date last week and the parents emailed to ask if they could take my oldest bowling. And it unsettled me. I know them, but I don’t know them. I’ve never been in their home or hung out with the mom. I said yes, of course, because I knew my son would love bowling and I do trust these parents. But still, I felt like I wasn’t being careful enough somehow.
And the locker room in my dream was from a birthday party last month at an ice rink. I watched as my kids skated around on the ice and then tucked into the bathroom with my two girls while the boys remained on the ice. And somehow in this time, my oldest went from happily chasing his pals on the ice to sprawling face down on the ice apparently crying. When I slip slided out to see how he was, he stood and skated away from me angrily. There was something going on and I was powerless to fix this.
And the footy pajamas in the dream were the pjs of choice for an especially cold Maine night this week with no heat in the upstairs bunk room. We bundled the kids into their footy pajamas, tucked flannel sheets around them, piled on down comforters and old quilts and baby blankets smelling vaguely of moth balls. The kids all immediately fell asleep and then slept hungrily, curled into heated balls under the covers with only their chilled cheeks and knuckles peeking out of the corners.
I used to worry over my brother, Butchie. I had plans for how to rescue him from a fire, what to do when he choked, ways we could escape every threat, whether by wheelchair or wagon. I felt he was my responsibility. Perhaps we all did.
I vividly remember bringing him to the bathroom at a random restaurant down the shore for a family reunion in 1994. I was 23 and he was about 30. Some of the family hadn’t seem him in 25 years, others rarely spent time with him at all.
By the time I navigated him through the restaurant to the bathroom he’d had diarrhea all down his legs. And there I was in a stall of the ladies room using toilet paper and paper towels to staunch the tide. I was both prepared and utterly ill-equipped. We may have left stains of poo on the carpet, or I may be remembering another time. I remember waving my mother over, “Get the car, get the car,” as people around us looked to see where the horrible odor was coming from.
I’d totally forgotten about that part of the reunion until a recent return home for a funeral-cum-reunion. Digging back into piles of photos from that time 20 years ago in preparation for my return home must have brought it all back.
These are the pieces of a dream then. A bowling alley, an ice rink, a restaurant bathroom, footy pajamas. An inability to make things better, responsibility beyond our ability to respond, a powerful, powerless, crappy, gut-wrenching, defining love.
In the dream my brother spoke words and I was totally taken aback, even in dreamlife it was a surprise. In life, he’d never spoken words, but rather communicated through guttural cries, whistling screams, pinching, pulling, pointing, clapping. In my dream his voice was sweet.
All he was doing was repeating back to me words I was saying while I crouched next to him while he sat on the toilet, just like I crouch next to my youngest when she’s on the potty in a restaurant. I can see his lips moving, almost remember the words, but not quite. Me. Him. Me. Him.
In the dream I crouched there next to him, his footy pajamas pooled at his feet, our faces so close in that intimate way of siblings, caregivers, parents. I watched his lips and basked in the wonder of his words.
And then through the mist, my daughter padded up to my bed in her footy pajamas and patted my face, “Mama? Mama. It’s time to get up now.”