Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Consolation of Television When Faced With Fear

  I just heard Owain upstairs trying to sleep crying out in fear.  I came upstairs and he had worked himself up into a state of terror - sobbing.  And at the same time he condemned himself for interrupting my work late at night, an overlay of guilt that made his pain multidimensional.  When I went upstairs, I cuddled him to calm him down and then we talked.  He was scared of getting Alzheimers like his great uncle and being confined to a nursing home.  He was scared of dying like his grandfather.  And he was despairing of the fact that the fear was overwhelming him, that he couldn't control it.

We have been meditating most nights for five minutes or so, and acquainting ourselves with emptying our minds.  We do different things, child's pose or feet up the wall or just lying flat and noticing what we feel in our bodies.  I am doing it because he has such a hard time going to sleep.  But we talk about having a still mind so that we can recognize when the chattering monkeys of fear and the past and the future take over our brains and rob of of the present.  We always accept that they are there, but then we try to turn the thoughts into penguins and let them waddle on off into the darkness and leave us alone.

This is serious endeavor for me.  And I am 45 with years of shrinks behind me.  Imagine trying it when you are eight.  He gets nowhere near still and relaxed, really, but he definitely gets more still and relaxed than he was before we meditate, so it is worth it for me.

He was worried about being able to fight his fears.  But I don't think you can fight your fears, not in a brutal, wrestle them into the ground and vanquish them kind of way.  You can only accept your fears for what they are and not let them control you.  I also told him that every living thing dies and that this is a fact we cannot change and must accept.

[Side note:  may I just say the prevailing culture of fighting death and teaching our children death is the worst possible thing sucks? I feel like the culture of both the UK and the US is so dangerously myopic on this point.  We all need to adopt Dumbledore's view that to the organized mind, death is simply the next adventure.]

 His great uncle and grandfather were great men who lived happy lives until old age, and this is true no matter what, no matter how they died.  When we accept what is, we can see the good things and the bad things.  There are good things in most lives.

The only thing to fear is fear itself.  Of course that line came out, I am an American Democrat and former Washingtonian.  He considered my offering and then also mentioned that he would like to take the fear out of himself and put it in the kid who is giving him a very hard time right now at school .  So he ended on a revenge fantasy.  Fair enough.

Now he is watching TV.  I felt like I had to jolt him out of the brooding by occupying his mind swiftly elsewhere.  Television is excellent for that.   As I tucked him in on the couch, he turned to the Simpsons.  He said it was his old favorite, that it made him feel better to watch it.  And I remember many depressed years in my life when watching the Marx Brothers was a lifeline, was a reprieve from the mental suffering.  I felt the same about Danny Kaye.  Sitting on a couch watching a Danny Kaye movie to this day makes me feel safe and happy.  

I know moms are supposed to be all freaked out about screen time but I am happy that Owain has favorite movies and comforting shows.  Watching new movies together is great.  When we find one we both are really into it is absolute magic.  We pause it to talk about it because we are so excited.  We pause it and cajole his Daddy to join us.  A good story is really exciting.  Look, I am deeply distrustful of capitalism and like any good citizen of the Earth, I despise Rupert Murdoch but I love Sky Movies.  And I love the consolation of the screen for my son right now.  Perhaps watching the Simpsons and calming down is only a shadow on the wall of Plato's cave when it comes to a truly still mind, but still, it is something, something good, a respite from the sadness of an 8 year old.

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