family story

As a new dad I was not used to giving up so much of my inner space. I’d already given up the solitude of going to the bathroom alone, did I really need to give up the privacy that sleep offers? The difficult part was not the creepiness of being hunted in my own bed, it was his need to have an umbilical into my psyche while I slept. He gained no warmth from poking his toes into my back, the sole purpose was to be wired into me while I slept.

Like salmon swimming miles to spawn in the same pond, his feet-fish would hone in on a location, targeting it with uncanny precision night after night. They would begin wiggling shortly after his breath became deep and regular, dragging the attached body like so much dead weight until they found the right spot to dig into. Some nights he lay completely perpendicular to me, he and I making a giant L as his feet-fish attempted to lodge themselves in my ear.

I like to dream apart from others. Its been rare for me to fall asleep cuddled up with someone, even my wife, and awaken entangled. I’ve always felt the secret cave of my psyche would unleash something onto her, or onto me, because some man-cave rule had been breached. Its not that I was shy, I just wasn’t sure it was safe.

Now where there were two there are four. From either side they attack, she going for the head, he for the legs. We sleep on a king sized bed, yet they migrate from opposite ends often simultaneously. They must share some pedi-psychic bond only siblings know.

On nights when the coyotes coax our dog to bark with operatic power at 2am and I have to pull her into our room just to quiet her, the school of feet-fish is joined by a giant dog-walrus pushing into my legs. She too must be connected…its a status thing. She lowers her impressive girth partly onto me, sometimes placing a paw on my chest to make the point. I am now the nerve center of a monstrous, snoring dream-Kraken. So much for psychic space, my man-cave has become a submariners switchboard.

You might be wondering where my wife is during all of this, we frequently trade off kid duties at night. Sometimes the mix is all of us, sometimes two, sometimes three, rarely do I sleep alone. One night I was visited by the dog and a school of six feet fish as our marital bliss was reduced to pedi-courting. I laid, unable to move, pinioned by skewering feet-fish. Surrender Dorothy, its really the only way.

As each new threshold of inner-privacy is knocked down (Papa can I work next to you?), ground down (I’ll take them on my run), erased (we can’t all fit in the tub!), I realize that no boogiemen will escape, only softer juicier parts of me will become exposed to the light of day. Do they smell? Are they ugly? At four in the morning, being devoured by feet-fish, who cares?

If I was not set on making my heart a refuge for each beloved member of my family, they would surely move in, knock out walls and setup shop all on their own. Screw diplomacy, seize the higher ground! I often read our littlest ones grin as she discovers how to unzip Mommy’s purse, as a Viking princess smile as she, bloodied from battle, breaks open the treasure chest she’s just stolen. Should you put up any barrier to her efforts, beware her barbarian wrath!

Despite the barbarous determination, its through her and my sons tiny victories that all of our hearts are remade into soft nests where each of us might find solace. In the world of shamanism, this is no small thing. As each day passes, core shamanism proves out to me the tangibility of our souls. They are not just ideas, or something that lives in the ether. In a way they are the realness of you and me. This makes the practice of making our hearts into a refuge for others more vital, profound and tied to our basic survival.

Robert Bly stated that in order for a boy to mature to a man, it was necessary for a man who had already made that transition to hold the boy in his heart. That was it, pretty straight forward, hold him in your heart. As he battles, as the chaos of his inner world meets the chaos of the outer world, be a shelter for him.

Lately our boy has been really emotional, crying at the drop of a hat. Last night it was all about the acapella group the Filharmonics getting kicked off the choir competition show The Sing-off.

“But Papa I loved them,” between sobs.
“What did you love about them?”
“Their sweet sounds, how they did ‘oooohh’, and their dance moves and their shoes.”
“Yes,” sobbing more deeply now, “they had bright shoes all the time when they danced.”
“You know they’re from LA, they live down where Uncle John does. Maybe we can see them perform some day.”
“REALLY!!!,” his emotional peak just doubled. I began to wonder if I could get him down from this ledge.

His feet fish are much more than annoyances or neediness. He’s feeling the purchase he can find in my hearts soil. He’s making sure our connection runs deeper than either of us can know, helping to ensure all of our emotional and psychic survival. These days, when the feet-fish come for me, I try to let them in. I’m sure one day I’ll miss feet-fish so badly I’d be willing to trade every closed door in our house for them. I’ll trade doors, for honest shelter, real refuge any day.

Every year I try to work with Santa, one of my most important helping spirits, to help ground our Christmas in something more spiritually powerful than just presents (first work here: The Santa Solution). The Shamanic roots of Santa are extraordinary and ridiculously obvious once you start exploring them. This year the holidays were more pressed than usual, and I only had time to journey to Santa so that he could confer a blessing for my son in the form of a statement attached to the biggest gift we’d gotten him. Santa was so overjoyed when I showed up and asked for a blessing, he shone more brightly than a thousand Solstice suns.

Santa’s blessing:
“Dear Tadg, May Light, Love and Joyful Abundance fill your heart this Christmas. Love, Santa.”
When I read it to Tadg he swooned, “I LOVE SANTA!”

That night he chose to sleep closer to Momma than Poppa, finding abundant shelter in her heart. Someday he’ll be more on his own, then his feet-fish will be invisible, swimming out to us when we least expect it, finding purchase in our hearts, digging in deeper. I’m willing to live in the mystery of feet-fish longer…come to think of it, maybe its best if this never ends. Privacy is over-rated.

My blessing for this holiday season:
May the barbarian hordes of children demolish your castle walls,
may tiny nocturnal feet-fish strip all the flesh from your bones,
and may Santa’s blessings shine on you this Solstice Season!

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