Like most parents I have a fiercely protective Mother Bear who lives inside me. Threaten my child and there will be hell to pay. Years ago I gave my inner Mother Bear a name, Fang. For the most part I keep Fang on a very tight leash and well secured in her cage. Wherever possible I believe in trying to work through issues and problems in a constructive, collaborative way which means that Fang is generally not allowed to be part of the conversation. However, the “system” can be unyielding, and at times makes decisions that may not be in the best interest of my child. During those moments Fang awakens and begins to rattle her cage. Even then I am very careful about unlocking the cage and letting her out. That whole choose your battles wisely, and solving problems with honey thing. Because once Fang is out of her cage a tsunami-like force has now entered the room and y’all might want to take cover.
I am very selective about releasing Fang with good reason. Fang is one scary lady. If you meet Fang I can assure you that you will be intimidated. Fang calls it like it is and generally knows her stuff. It can be hard to argue with Fang and she knows it. While she is allowed out only rarely, when it happens she can put a threatening party in his or her place in very short order. Heck, I am more than a little afraid of Fang myself. As an aside, I actually find Fang episodes brutally stressful and often resent that I feel pushed to release her.
Fang is only truly allowed out of her cage if I believe there is no other solution and I am concerned about my child’s safety. Like the time I told our local regional children’s hospital that Matthew wasn’t safe in a standard hospital bed and required ongoing supervision and/or a safety bed. Since the children’s hospital didn’t have the appropriate safety bed (for complex children – at a children’s regional hospital – go figure) the solution was going to have to be that Matthew was fully supervised. I further reminded the team that I could NOT remain awake 24 hours a day continuously to provide that supervision. I needed to sleep for at least a few hours in a 24 hour period if I was going to be able to continue to function. The team said, “of course”, and told me point blank that they had lots of experience with kids “like Matthew” and could handle the situation while I slept. The very next day, after I had left Matthew for about five hours during the night to sleep, a nurse had to tell me that they found Matthew on the floor next to the bed, tangled in IV lives, at about 3am. I assure you the whole freaking team met Fang including some senior administrators. I pointedly asked them whether it would take a major injury, death, or lawsuit to address the issue of safety in bed for complex children. I told them that I resented the fact that I had to be assertive and my son had to be found on the floor before they took the matter seriously. It was helpful that as someone trained in occupational therapy I could cite all sorts of research about the risks for people with physical and intellectual disabilities in a standard hospital bed. Matthew has never been left unsupervised since.
A few years ago, as part of my graduate work, I was sitting in a class on spirituality and suffering and the professor projected the image above on the classroom screen. This image is the Hindu mother goddess, Kali. While I am not an expert on Hindu deities I learned that Kali is a fierce, don’t-mess-with-me diety who balances an inner purity and a quest for justice with some fierce homicidal tendencies. In other words, she’s my kind of gal.
After the professor shared the image with the class I snapped to attention and sat bolt upright in my chair. Anything he said seemed to fade to the background for a few seconds. All I could think was there she is. There is Fang. The image of Kali, for me, captured the essence of the take-no-prisoners fierce mother bear that lives inside of me.
I later asked a Hindu friend if it was inappropriate in any way that I identified with this deity. She thought it was fantastic that this image and legend spoke to me in such a powerful way. As a result, Kali remains, for me, the image that I tend to connect with my inner Fang.