Loving a child is a dangerous thing. I think I knew this at the beginning, with my first daughter, when they laid her in my arms. But then again, not really. You can know things and not know them at the same time. I don’t know how this can be true, but I believe that it is so.
In order to take her home, I had to not look too hard at how dangerous it was to love her.
How can I say how dangerous that love is? How can I articulate what it’s like to stand in the ruins of your parenting?
I think often of the story of Tam Lin, whose true love must save him from the Queen of the Faeries. If she doesn’t, Tam Lin will be paid as a tithe – as a sacrifice – to the Lords of Hell. In order to rescue him, Tam Lin’s love must tear him from the arms of the Faerie Queen as she passes by on the Faerie Ride on All Hallows Eve.
That is hard enough, but when she catches him, she must hold him. All night. And all through that night he shifts and changes, into all manner of snarling, raging, hurling, furious beasts. All manner of strangenesses. All manner of monsters. She must hold him tight, until finally he becomes a burning coal. This coal she must throw into the well, from which he will emerge his own true self. Saved.
I can feel the heat of that coal in my hand. The way it burns through the skin as she carries it to the well. The way it marks her.
In the legend, Tam Lin’s lover is assured that though he may take the form of all manner of beasts during the night, he will not harm her.
This is not true of a child. A child is a weapon you fashion from your own blood and bone. A weapon formed perfectly to wound you as no other ever will. And the Faerie Queene may be an addiction your child cannot shake, literally or figuratively. Your child may not so readily give up his grip on her when you reach out and haul them from the saddle. The Queene is, after all, beautiful, magical, eternal. Dangerous, yes, but intoxicatingly so.
And still you must hold them. And love them, until the night is over and they are a burning coal in your hand.
Until they are returned to their true form.