Every night I dream of our children.
And every night our children appear as the kids from Stranger Things.
Mike, Will, Lucas, Duncan, and El in various configurations: buckled up in the back seat of the car we’re buying later this week (an ancient, boat-like Lexus), tethered into their life-jackets and snuggling in the bottom of the row boat we keep at the farm, tucked into their beds while my husband and I listen to music in the adjacent room. The music we listen to is live. A full band in our living room. Playing a made-up dream song that goes, “Where you learn to play that Zydeco? Hey Mami, hey Mami! Where you learn that Zydeco?” In my dream my husband and I clap and sing along. We sing and clap quietly, raising our shoulders at one another, conspiring. It’s a game: singing and clapping without waking the kids.
Why Zydeco? Perhaps because it’s Creole and scrappy—a mix of what’s at hand. And because there was a Zydeco band that sometimes appeared on Sesame Street to my child-self’s wonder and delight. Hey Mami: A ‘come on’ as in the Sylvan Esso song. But also, “Mommy.” I look it up. Google translate offers “Midwife” in Albanian. All of these. And what to make of the question, “Where you learn that”? Perhaps because this in the omnipresent question of adoption: Where do we learn to make music with what we find at hand (to create order out of the mess, to reap joy where seeds of sorrow were scattered)? Where do we as parents learn that trick? (What wells do we tap? How deep do they run?) And what hope do we dare have that our children will be able to tap their own wells, past experience, to that coursing goodness with its established forms . . . That they’ll be able to play along?
“My mom was in foster care. Her whole childhood. She aged out of it, was never adopted.” This from my friend Linna whose mother I know to be an extraordinary woman—happily wed for forty-odd years, with three beautiful children, rich in friendships, traveling Mongolia by train, painting the ocean in her spare hours. I am shocked. “I know. I always forget that about my mom. She’s such a good mom. I forget that she never had a good mom herself. Strange isn’t it? Like somehow she knew exactly what to do.”
I love the story of Linna’s mom. I am collecting stories like this.
Stories like this confirm my budding evolutionary Platonism: Good mothers, bad mothers, and sundry other characters burbling up archetypal from the genetic soup.
Budding evolutionary Platonism, a new way of thinking about the Kingdom of God poking through. One wishes it were just the Kingdom of God. But Hell pokes through too.
Why the Stranger Things kids? Perhaps because they are acquainted with the Upside Down, burdened by experiences that can’t easily be communicated. And because they are clad in the trappings of my own early childhood: turtlenecks and bowl cuts, envying the big kids with their perms. I see the kids strung out in a sequence from most-hurt to least: El, Will, Mike, Duncan, and Lucas. I love El. We all love El. El repeating the words ‘friend’ and ‘home’ and ‘compromise.’ El squinting at whomever, saying the words back slowly. El learning the words. (Meanwhile her mother looks at no one, learns nothing new by the words she repeats. Hell poking through.) El as a limit test. (I refuse to entertain El’s mother as a limit test.) Her rage, her self-righteousness, her risk-taking, her willing submersions into a dark puddled place no parent could follow. But we love her . . .
And Will. I turn to my husband, curl around his back. “You know how hearing is the first faculty? Like how fetuses respond to their mothers’ voices? Like how pregnant women talk and sing to their unborn babies? I feel like I’m trying to talk across this boundary, like I’m trying to call out to them, but they’re too far out, and I don’t know what’s happening to them, and I don’t know if they’re okay. I feel like Will’s mom stapling Christmas lights to the wall, trying to make this Ouija board that can reach them, out of paperwork and prayers . . . ”
“Babe?” He reaches around to pat my leg. I snap to and smile. “Not so much with hysterical Winona Ryder first thing in the morning?” “Mmhm.” “Sorry, babe.” We lie curled together. “You know what I should have told you?” “Hm?” “Just that the dreams themselves are so good.”