Amy Brenneman
Amy Brenneman

August 4, 2012

Mother, Night and Day

Inspired by Anne Lamott, I’m remembering how important it is to write what happens, blow by blow, in hopes of making sense and communicating what it is to be, you know, human.


Last night I was watching “Game of Thrones” in bed when Charlotte, my 11 year old, wandered in.  This is not unusual.  She is not the deepest of sleepers and more often than not she’ll sleepwalk to us.  We turn her around, get her settled back into her bed – and return to “Game of Thrones.”  Inevitably, at some later point in the night, she’ll settle herself permanently with us (along with Pablo the spaniel) and lately, her brother joins at around 4 am.  We clearly have done something very very wrong as parents.  There are five souls with heartbeats in our enormous home, but we all end up together.


Charlotte wandered in, repeatedly, which made it all but impossible for me to follow what treachery was happening at King’s Landing.  She became more exhausted and agitated.  Which, weirdly enough, I was too.  I ran through the possible responses to this scenario:  calm compassion, stern discipline, the rub of the back, the soothing voice.  Nothing worked.  My head spun to all the times in the last decade when I have been in a similar spot, and I despaired of anything changing, ever.  She will be 30 and I’ll be rubbing her back with a soothing voice.  Which, on the surface, I don’t mind.  It’s just, well, the problem of the incessant, eternal, mutherfuckin’ sleep deprivation, from which no compassion or logic springs.


Charlotte began whining for her father, who was downstairs and otherwise engaged (he was getting a massage, but it sounds very 1% of me to admit that.) Anyway, I didn’t want her to bug him, so I told her to wait, then I told her she was free to go downstairs to find him, and she harrumphed off like the flouncy pre-teen that she is.


Then a kernel of impatience calcified to exhausted, rage-y frustration and I decided to play possum.  I drew upon my vast acting skills (or caveman survival skills) and just didn’t respond when she flounced in and out, moaned for Daddy, worked up crocodile tears, flopped around the bed.  The spaniel slept on.  I guess he was playing possum too.


She used the restroom. She calmed a bit. She asked if she could take her retainer off – it was bugging her – and I said okay.  She calmed a bit more.  Finally I heard her father tuck her in and she exhaled a long, surrendered sigh and fell into a deep sleep.


I tried to as well, but exited my bedroom 20 minutes later for her princess bed, where four souls become one and I dreamed alone about cast mates and Spain.


The next morning her brother Bodhi played video games and Char talked about a birthday party for her dolls.  We discussed the morning, which included tutoring, then a bike ride with friends.


About 90 minutes after I got to work, I received a call from Brad that Charlotte was in a foul mood – wouldn’t sit for tutoring, and worse, was rage-y and awful – screaming and swatting at the dog, the brother, the tutor – whatever was nearby.  My heart pounded.  I heard the exhaustion and veiled anger (not very veiled) in my husband’s voice.  And I went to the dark side.


The dark side says that Charlotte is an incorrigibly bad kid.  That because of her academic special needs, she’ll never have a successful life.  That her brother will suffer the consequences of having a sister like Charlotte and will develop an ulcer (from holding in emotion and trying to be the good kid), or act out (becoming a drug addict and ending up dead in a ditch.)  Oh yeah, and my marriage won’t last because of the stress of child rearing and Brad will leave me from some doting, brilliant, aspiring screenwriter who is more respectful of him than I am and has much perkier breasts.


When I go dark, I go dark.


In an attempt to pull that 18-wheeler of crazy around (and in honor of my soul sister Anne Lamott), I decided to pray.   I sat in my trailer and imagined my daughter in joy and peace.  I imagined my son as happy and well tended to.  I imagined my husband as passing through this challenging moment to a place where we crack jokes about our children after they are in bed.  I remembered that this too shall pass.  I remembered that Charlotte’s tantrums used to be a daily occurrence and now they are more rare.  I remembered to have faith.  I remembered that I wasn’t in charge.


Brad called, and I heard my daughter’s voice, a little less teary and rage-y, talking about friends and plans.  She said, “I’ve been mean this morning.”  I said, “Yeah, Daddy said you had a hard morning.  Do you feel better?”  She said, “I do.”  I said, “You know, Char, it might make you feel better to say sorry to Daddy for being mean.  That’s something we can always do, and then our day can change.”


I heard her say, “Sorry Daddy!” but who knows if Brad was even there? (We, all of us, tend to bellow to empty rooms).  But I heard her.  I heard that miraculous attempt of the human heart to re-set itself, to not calcify in resentment and isolation, to attempt — again and again and again — to learn to love.  Love others, and ourselves as well.


When I played possum last night, it was hard for me to love myself.  What kind of a mother ignores her daughter’s cry for help (even if that cry for help is, how do I say it? – somewhat phony?)?   This is who:  a mother who is in process.  A mother who is improvising every moment of every day.  A mother who wouldn’t dream of criticizing your parenting because who am I to know what’s best?  However, if you need a shoulder to cry on, or someone to crack jokes with, or someone to help pull you out for your dark, dark side – then I’m your girl.


Happy Easter.