Reality check

February 25,2008
Professor Mom
Aliki McElreath( )

Aliki is a writer and college English teacher. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, two children (ages seven and ten), a dog, a cat, a rabbit, and too many fish.

I had a long, and involved dream on Saturday night.  It was one of those meandering dreams that takes you on a surreal mental journey, through dark and twisty roads, against the backdrop of an unfamiliar and menacing city.  I won't go into the details of the dream, but it involved my son, and a parent's worst nightmare, and even though it all worked itself out in the end, when I woke up I still had that heavy-chested feeling you get when you have been run through the emotional wringer for a prolonged period of time.

I don't dream as much as I used to since I became a parent.  When I was in high school and college I used to have very vivid and memorable dreams and I often wrote about them in my diary, spending lots of pages trying to interpret the symbolism and apply the interpretations to my life.  I don't know why I dream less now--maybe years of sleep-deprivation have affected my REM sleep?  It would seem that I should have much more to dream about these days, given that I am juggling so much more these days than I used to, and that motherhood has brought with it an assortment of anxieties, celebrations, uncertainties, and fears--perfect fodder for a sleeping mind.  I think, though, my waking mind spends so much time sorting through many of these things that I've left very little for my sleeping mind to process--and I think this is probably something all parents can universally relate to.

Saturday night's dream was almost 100% symbolic.  It reflected a perfect mixture of anxiety and fear, with a generous dash of maternal guilt thrown in for good measure.  Last Wednesday I had a major IEP (for those uninitiated this is an Individual Education Plan) meeting at my son's school and the experience was less-than-perfect.  I'm not sure there is anything wholly positive about an IEP meeting ever, given that the very premise for such meetings is so anxiety-producing to start with.  Even if the meeting is fruitful and friendly, you just hate to be there, seated in a small and uncomfortable chair, in a stuffy room, with five or six other people weighing in on your child's behavior, learning style, and overall capabilities. 

This meeting did not go well in general and I felt ganged-up on. My husband couldn't make it to this particular meeting; Rule #1 for IEP meetings is to make certain the other parent is there, or at least that you have one ally with you, someone who believes in you as a parent, and who knows your child a whole lot better than the collection of people assembled there on that day. I felt second-guessed and, well, just overall very helpless. I left the meeting feeling as I do when I have to work really hard to retain my composure, and I also felt I had failed my son somehow by not pointing out all the things that were after-the-fact to rush through my head.  Why didn't I say that? I thought.  Why do I sound so articulate now, in my head, and I struggled so to find the words then, at that meeting?

In my dream I ran through streets, shoeless, trying to find a way to get to L., but lost in a maze of dark and unfamiliar roads.  Strange people crossed my path here and there, not to offer help but to turn away. I couldn't find the street I wanted, the subway station that would take me home, the conclusion to that nightmare situation.  In the end it worked out, not in some rosy, perfect way, but I found myself home, and had L. again in my arms.  When I woke up to yesterday morning's reality--to T.'s chatter next to me in bed--I heard my son in his room, then the patter of his footsteps in the hallway, and he was next to me, his hair sticking out every which way from sleep. The dream faded quickly away with the morning sun, leaving behind only a slight heaviness inside, the after-effects I know of last week's meeting--the reality, not the dream.