I am finally standing down.
For the uninitiated, "standing down" is a military term meaning "a relaxation of status of a military unit or force from an alert or operational posture."
I recently realized that I have been, mostly unconsciously, on alert, trying to create around Ramona the wall of books with which I sheltered Ben as a young child. And here's the thing that finally hit me: I don't have to be on alert.
I can stand down.
I can stand down because, quite simply and beautifully, Ramona doesn't need protected like that.
Ramona is part of a secure, loving family made up of her parents, Papa and Nana, Uncle Sam, Auntie Jenna and Uncle Cholo, and other family and friends. Unlike her father and to a lesser extent her Uncle Sam before her, Ramona does not need protected from a vengeful parent, a depressed parent, an alcoholic parent, an angry parent. Ramona can be her own bold, funny, confident, secured, loved and loving self day in and out.
This realization on my part started to come to a head when I recently attended a conference session on the impact of chronic intense stress on the developing brain. Listening to the neurobiologist describe the chemical and physical consequences of chronic stress of a child's brain triggered a PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) reaction in me. With deep breaths and some mindful thinking, i managed to make it through the session, but it shook me up. The speaker's descriptions brought up painful memories of my sons' childhoods and my inability to fully protect them from the emotional chaos and conflict that marked our family. Each child reacted differently to that conflict and both of my sons still carry scars and quirky coping mechanisms today as a result.
My intense response to the speaker surprised me, catching me unawares as it did. But people with PTSD can have episodes triggered by innocuous circumstances, and I chalked it up to that.
Then came the books.
Books are important to me. They are important to Ben and Alise. They are important to Ramona. who is starting to puzzle out the sounds of the letters in her books. She lives surrounded by books: a house filled with books, her own bookcases at both her parents' house and Nana and Papa's house, and even her own library card. Ramona is not book deprived, to put it mildly. She already owns a number of titles that duplicate books I have here in Ohio.
So why did I have a small but plainly PTSD reaction when I made plans to ship some of the dozens of children's books to Eric and Brandee, Ben's cousin and wife, for their daughters Frida and Frankie? It wasn't that I didn't want to share the books with Eric and company. I knew his girls would enjoy the books. These were books I read to Ben throughout his childhood, wrapping him in the comfort and security of the stories. (To a lesser extent, I read some of these books to Sam, who when young was not interested in being read to most of the time, being more interested in being on the go and chasing after his big brother and his friends. Different child, different needs.) I knew Frankie and Frida would enjoy them.
What was going on?
I texted Ben my intentions, and he texted back immediately that he had no problem with my plans. I still put off filling a box for another week. Then I sat down by the bookcase and began to sort through the dozens of books, culling a bright assortment for the girls.
My discomfort finally revealed itself as I chose titles and started to flip through pages. I was afraid that I would leave Ramona unprotected if I didn't hold onto the books. I was afraid she would have no shelter. I was afraid she would not have the security of my library to hide within.
I was afraid of things which have no basis in reality. Ramona's childhood is not her father's childhood. Ramona has Alise and Ben and unconditional love and that has made all the difference.
When I realized that, I took a deep breath, books scattered around me. These books were going out to Oregon as gifts from one generation to another, not from mother to son to his child but sideways from one-time aunt to former nephew to his children. It was a perfectly good gift, full of adventure and love.
With that understanding, the weight lifted off my chest and my breathing calmed down. I chose the books with zeal and wrapped the box tight after slipping in some titles for the grownups as well. The books went west and I am waiting for confirmation of their delivery.
And the joy of books. Yes, I am waiting for the joy of books. Because I am finally able to stand down and see them as that: bundles of joy.