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Subconscious

October 19, 2010

“When I’m at my mom’s house, I usually just get rosebushes.”

Thus spake my younger son, in the middle of the night, while he was sound asleep.  I waited to see whether he’d say anything else, but he sighed and settled back into his pillow.

My kids talk in their sleep a lot.  They always have.  They also sing, laugh, fret, argue, and otherwise carry on, all while they’re dead unconscious.  When they shared a room, it was not uncommon for one sleeping child to say something, and then for the other one to roll over and answer him.  It’s a bit spooky, but it’s also amusing.  Rarely does any of it make sense.

Still, I always find myself trying to puzzle out what’s behind their sleep talk.  Last night, considering the rosebushes, I felt vaguely peeved.  I’d given them hamburgers, with expensive grass-fed beef from Whole Foods for supper, not rosebushes!  Is that what he meant?  Do they consistently find their father’s food less…prickly?

Or was he not talking about food, but about gardening?  I swore off roses years ago–they’re so prissy, with their spotty leaves requiring antifungal spray and their needing to be pruned on schedule and their fickle susceptibility to insects.  But maybe, in my son’s dreams, I’m some kind of fantasy doyenne of flowers.  After all, he did once write in a school essay that the most wonderful thing about me was the way I always made such delicious chocolate-chip cookies.  (I have never, not even once, made delicious chocolate-chip cookies.)  And his older brother once described my favorite activity (on a huge poster hanging above his desk for back-to-school night in second grade) as “sweeping”.

“Sleeping?”  I said, when he came home and proudly told me what to look for when I visited the classroom that night.  “You said my favorite activity is sleeping?”  (The jig is up, I thought.)

“No, SWEEPING,” he insisted.  And sure enough, there was a big crayoned picture of me, holding a broom.

So maybe in my eight-year-old’s dreams, there are dozens of expertly tended rosebushes in our yard.  The idea made me smile.  But when I woke up this morning, I thought of something else.

He’d said “my mom’s house”.  He hadn’t said “home”.  This house, the house I constantly wish would sell, the one house he’s lived in since he was born, the house I feel guilty about hating because I’m so sure my kids don’t want to leave it, bedecked by imaginary rosebushes as it may be, is simply his mom’s house.

I often wonder just how much he remembers of life when his father and I were still together.  We have been separated for nearly three years now, and he is eight.  To me it still seems so recent and so raw, but to him–to both of them–the way we live now must be routine.  Automatic.  Apparently, my younger son can navigate the distance between his mother’s house and his father’s house without thinking about it.  It’s so simple, he can even do it in his sleep.

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10 Comments leave one →
  1. Celeste permalink
    October 19, 2010 11:19 pm

    Everything I’ve read about the effects of divorce on children says that under age 6 and over age 10 at the time of the split is easier on them. For the under-sixes, they don’t have strong memories and are more malleable. For the over-10s, they are getting into adolescence and are just more focused on their own personal stuff. It’s the ages from 6-10 where they are more likely to internalize and feel it sprang from them being bad or otherwise causing it to happen. Of course it’s not usually possible to plan a split based on kids’ ages.

    I don’t know if any of this is true for the most part, or not. It’s just what I’ve read and of course I have no citation for it. But I wonder if your younger son’s nonchalance (at least in his dreams) is because he was 5 at the time.

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      October 20, 2010 8:30 am

      If that’s the case, then we hit the timing perfectly–one was five, and the other one was nearly 13. I’ll take it!

  2. Rachel permalink
    October 20, 2010 8:58 am

    Great–just starting my split now and my three kids are all between 6-10!! Another addition to my layers of guilt!! Ugh!!

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      October 20, 2010 9:09 am

      No no no, worry not. There’s nothing you can do about the timing. I was joking, above. It’s so hard no matter what. And here’s the thing–because my mom got divorced several times, I got to experience it at several different ages…and I was totally fine in the end. It will be okay, I promise. There are no generalizations, only individual truths. It’s like saying “Boys are easier than girls” or some such nonsense. It depends on so many factors, there’s simply no way to parse it. And believe me, I feel plenty guilty–age doesn’t have a thing to do with it.

      What I wrote in the post was also meant to show that this big thing I thought was so important–the house, the house–that everyone told me was crucial to the kids’ well being and sense of stability–might not matter to them. Perhaps it never did. You see? I bought into a whole concept and it might not have even been relevant. Bah. You do the best you can with what you have. And eventually we all come out the other side. There’s simply no alternative…I remember my mother saying to me, “Well, either you get up in the morning or you don’t.” So I did. It’s just that basic.

      I’m so sorry if what I wrote above made you feel bad in any way. I didn’t mean to. God knows it’s hard enough….

      • Rachel permalink
        October 21, 2010 10:30 am

        Thank you for responding! I love your mom’s saying about getting up–I plan to continue to do so each and every day!

        I’m hoping that having two loving parents will be the best thing for my kids, no matter how they refer to where I live. I will just try to do my best to make sure that my place is a loving home and that they feel safe being there.

        I agree with Jen–I will most likely share her concern with not having the children feel as if they are home when with me, but seeing how you interpreted the situation makes me feel better about it. It is not about where you live, but what happens within the place you reside that makes it home.

    • Sophie permalink
      October 31, 2010 1:30 pm

      My (at the time) 9 year old dealt with the whole thing far better than both my 17 year olds.

  3. Jen permalink
    October 20, 2010 3:56 pm

    Interesting…you are feeling relieved that your son thinks of it as “my mom’s house” while when I hear my daughter (who is 5) say those words I cringe. I am the one who moved out, so I’ve been worrying that my daughter sees my new place as my house — not hers, but simply a place she visits — and thinks of my ex’s (formerly, “our” house) as her real home. I want her to refer to both places — mine and his — as her houses; I want her to think that she has two homes, instead of one home and this other place that she visits.

    It’s ridiculous when I type it out: we have joint custody and a 50/50 childcare arrangement, but I am still worried that she will never come to view my place as hers. I am not even divorced yet (getting closer, but not there yet), which means everything still feels oh so raw, and I am incredibly sensitive to any indication that my daughter might not be okay. To hear you express relief about your son saying “my mom’s house” helps me see things in a different light.

  4. October 20, 2010 6:42 pm

    as usual you are amazing at setting people’s fears to rest! it’s nice to hear your objective view of your son’s feelings. as a mother sometimes it can be hard to remain objective.
    i love to hear about the way you deal with each thing, and also love to hear that your children are doing so well! it’s a reflection upon what a good mother you are, really.
    thanks again for sharing something insightful!

  5. October 21, 2010 3:24 pm

    On a tangent, I am relieved to hear that other people’s children seem also to draw elaborate, loving portraits based entirely on fictional attributes (“I ‘love to take you shopping’? Since WHEN?”)

  6. Take 5 permalink
    October 24, 2010 2:42 am

    I’ve been over-vigilant in saying things like “this house” and “that house.” Since the split (about 2 years ago) I don’t think I’ve uttered the word “home” except in those expressions when I mean the house where we are currently living. “It’s time to get home.” I’ve pretty much bought into (and having been selling to an 8 year-old) the concept of “two houses, one family.” (Sorry can’t remember which book this is…the concept could even be the title.) That said, I felt a twinge of some emotion (not sure what it was) when I read “my mom’s house.” I guess I wish I could hear that from my son too.

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