Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Tiger, Tiger

Comparing oneself to a tiger is trite stuff, but I'm going to do it. I am a tiger and not the sexy kind. This morning, Sophie woke up and had her usual bout of seizures. I felt angry about it, really angry. Ferocious, actually. I've yelled and screamed before, even while Sophie has been seizing. I'm always alone, of course, wild and free. It doesn't feel good at all, though, this unfettered energy. It's not a release. It's as if I'm a beast, a woman with only primitive urges. I hate the way I feel afterward. Sorry and ashamed in all my humanity.

I've been rereading Barbara Gill's Changed by a Child - Companion Notes for Parents of a Child with a Disability, and wouldn't you know I'd open it to this page:

Tiger Mothers

...We hear, see and feel things others don't even notice. Our experience -- with its pain, vigilance, and hard work -- has heightened our senses when it comes to our child. It is as if we have developed extra nerve endings. We are tiger mothers -- ever watchful, ever ready -- tireless to protect, provide, defend.
Sometimes we sense that others are wary of us. They feel -- and fear -- the great power within us, the fire burning in our eyes. We are tuned in to something extra, something they don't hear.

You might think that I'm proud of or happy to be a tiger. And I think most mothers have it in them to be tigers -- whether it's ever unleashed or not is beside the point. But what struck me about that passage was the sentence "Sometimes we sense that others are wary of us. They feel -- and fear -- the great power within us, the fire burning in our eyes." I am sad, sometimes, that I have become this tiger because in becoming full of fire and strength I have lost someone else. I am out of balance, my yin overcome by yang.

My fears and worries about Sophie are eclipsed by love, though, and this love is unreasonable, in a way. It's unreasonable to experience these things for over thirteen years, so unreasonable that it must be love that carries me forward.

I studied William Blake, the poet, in college and learned a lot about him from a dear person I knew a long time ago. But to round out the tiger cliche, I find it fitting to include Blake's famous poem here:

Tiger Tiger. burning bright,
In the forests of the night;
What immortal hand or eye.
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies.
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand, dare seize the fire?

And what shoulder, & what art,
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat.
What dread hand? & what dread feet?

What the hammer? what the chain,
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp.
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?

When the stars threw down their spears
And watered heaven with their tears:
Did he smile His work to see?
Did he who made the lamb make thee?

Tiger Tiger burning bright,
In the forests of the night:
What immortal hand or eye,
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?


  1. I've read this post three times and I'm floored.

  2. Tigers can certainly be man-eaters but usually only the displaced males. They get a bad rap. We poach a lot more of them, than they ever kill of us. They are loyal, loving and protective. Not a bad thing to be. ~Mary

  3. I have The Eye Of The Tiger stuck in my head now...remember that song?

    Love your new design!

  4. i relate to the tiger. i've called it my lion, my fierce lion. it was necessary--or at least it FELT that way, and it has thrown me off balance, too, my lion breath a fire that burned a dark circle around me, keeping others away, including parts of myself.

    i can't know what it's been like for you these many years with your beautiful sophie, that great love, your unreasonable perfectly reasonable love. all i can say is that it seemed she truly has needed this tiger, your tiger, to make safe her jungle. you have such strength and power. i admire it. it hasn't eclipsed all the rest of you. it's all there.

    sending xxx

  5. I love this post! It really hit a nerve for me. I was feeling like a tiger yesterday and I had that same distant feeling, like I couldn't connect with people who weren't ones because of my rage. Thanks for sharing this.

    (Also thanks for posting on my blog. I did not get the Darby movie...I love your new look here too.)

  6. Tigers are beautiful, graceful, fierce. I imagine they are lonely sometimes as well, prowling the jungle floor.

    Excellent post and poem. I'm heading to Amazon to order that book...

    Loved this - "When the stars threw down their spears
    And watered heaven with their tears."

  7. "Did he who made the lamb make thee?"


  8. Tiger and her lamb. Both in the same book. By design. Fearful symmetry. Love is nothing if not brave.

  9. I'm sorry to read of Sophie's seizures. I hope and pray the new medicine just takes time to work.

    Maybe it's because my last name is spelled with a y, but I've always loved Blake's spelling, "Tyger," which seems to make the animal more ominous.

  10. Thanks, everyone, for the comments!

    Steve, I used the Blake spelling first and then thought that it might look pretentious, so I took it out!

  11. Sometimes your post are so well written and moving I just don't know how to comment.
    This is one.

  12. I completely identify with this tiger-mother business, and I love hearing you articulate it with such grace. But I never feel ashamed of it--should we be? I'm wary of it, wary of unleashing it on the wrong person, perhaps, but it's just a part of me now . . .

    I really love the new design for your blog!

  13. Thanks, Jeneva. When I said that I felt ashamed I really meant of my crazy outbursts that sometimes happen around Sophie (when she has bad mornings). I feel that as a human I need to control those animal instincts -- maybe I need to be a little more tiger-like and make no apologies for the natural...

  14. This is profound. It's hard to respond to it, since my "tiger" days were much more brief than yours are. Katie was sick for 10 months before she passed away, so I don't know what it feels like to have to sustain and endure that kind of energy flow for years and years. I do know that the need to be a Tiger Mama changed me; I am grateful beyond words that Katie made such a change happen in me, though I will be sorry forever for the price that she paid.

    One of the gifts that she gave me is that I bear Katie's "maker's mark" now, as well as God's. Her cancer was a furnace in which my character was forged, on a new level. It gave us the chance to love more deeply than ever before, as well as reason to grieve more deeply. It showed me more of our failings and gifts, and helped me to begin to learn acceptance. It gave me more humanity.

    I know Katie, I carry her with me, at a deep level --one which I never knew, before she became ill. I thank God that this happened before she passed away. Could this kind of love perhaps be part of Sophie's gifts to you?

  15. I've been thinking about this post for a week now. I never knew it, but of course I am a tiger mama. People are definitely wary of the passion, determination and anger they see mostly simmering and sometimes boiling over in me. I have to be a tiger but I do get angry about the burden of always watching, knowing, protecting. It’s good to know I am not really alone in feeling this way.

    But what struck me even more about this post is that for the last 2-3 years my 10 year old has been depicting himself as a tiger in his artwork. Over and over again the tiger shows up, sometimes tiger features drawn over his own image. I'd never made the connection before, hadn't even gotten around to asking him about it. He never talks about tigers or expresses interest in learning about them. But, as the older sibling, he is incredibly perceptive and protective, and so very angry at times about his brother's disability. He is obviously a fierce tiger too. Oh how I wish I could relieve him of that.

    Thanks for the beautiful and thought-provoking post.



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