Jennifer Dulos

Ghosts in the nursery

When the boys were born, back in 2006, someone told me that there was a book written called Ghosts in the Nursery,about how our children evoke our relatives, distant, or close, or us ourselves.

When Christiane was born, we stared at her, Who is she? We asked ourselves over and over.

Patra. (My mother-in-law).

Theodore is my father Hilly, little Hilly. Petros is our Uncle Alex, on Fotis’s side. Constantine looks like a cross between my sister Melissa, and my Uncle Arthur, my mother’s brother, also blond, blue-eyed, and with a dimple on his chin. Now as for personalities, Christiane is Patra. Energetic, dynamic powerhouse that she is. Theodore is Hilly: worrier, planner, insanely skilled at navigation. In the car, if unsure, ask Theodore the way. Petros is Alex, (serious, slightly grumpy, and very regal overall). And Constantine could very well be my sweet sister, kind, in no one’s way, a beacon of peace, and Good. The baby looks exactly like me, when I was a baby. But her hooliganism is not me at all, and her jolly, let’s have a good time at any given second is more Fotis or Greek, than the stiff, northern Europeans I descended from.

This morning Clea-Noelle slept till 7, a small miracle. I think there might have been divine intervention. And I was concerned that the baby in the crib was actually a stunt double and that the real Clea-Noelle was up at Mohegan Sun, gambling away any savings she could possible have. Wild at the craps table, or just putting everything on Lucky Number 13 at Roulette. In Music Time yesterday, she kept making a break for it, and one mom whom I like, Kim, remarked, She’s mischievous!

She is.

C-No’s the same baby who’s first words were “Uh oh,” and who throws all her food, plus the tray, on the floor, and thinks it’s hilarious. She will find all razor blades, rusty nails, open windows and moving cars, and give you a run for your money in keeping her safe. She’s onto you, just when you want to fall asleep, that’s when she’ll wake up, (or throw up). She’s knows where you live.

Also, as it’s one of my favorite topics, Hair. Who has who’s hair? No one has mine. Maybe Constantine, but it seems thicker, if the same dirty blond color mine was, then. Maybe Theodore has Hilly’s. Maybe Christiane Patra’s. It’s every color, blond and red and brown, all at once, (very special!) I am ever looking at their hair and thinking, Who from this? To conjugate questions like Constantine does: What time it is? Who that took?

And then he laughs and laughs and cracks himself up.

Week one in the new house. The rooms completely done: drumroll please: The boy’s room, the nursery, and … the kitchen! Thank you thank you, as I take a long bow. Fotis did the playroom for us — thanks! And the laundry room, my haven on earth, is getting there. The goals for the weekend: C&C’s room, (middle children, always last), clearing the mudroom perhaps. And… can I stop there?

I met with the Avon Patch editor, Jessie Sawyer, whom I blog for locally. She is very young and energized and bright and so up on her job and her life and everything. The new generation taking charge. It did make me feel, for the first time, (in the “job market”) old. Hum. We spoke about making what I blog there being more succinct, staying on point (unlike here, where I am all over the map). About posing questions to the readers at the end, as a way of inviting commentary, thus energizing a discussion or public discourse. We spoke about the two prom dresses she saved, how her boyfriend is one of eight children. How she went to Bates College in Maine, and grew up in Farmington. We spoke about how the people in Avon most want a diner, a real one: deco, breakfast early, grilled cheese sandwiches to eat with their kids after school. A diner, right here, on Route 44.

I think that’s a great idea. Now, I know I won’t be flipping burgers in anyone else’s kitchen anytime soon, but my dad always dreamed of being a short order cook. And when a patron switches their soup order, the wait person can yell out, “Hold the chicken, and make it pea!”

Yup. Thank you. That is about the level where this blog is at today.

Then I looked up the actual psychoanalytic term of Ghosts in the Nursery, first written about by Selma Fraiberg in 1975, and discovered that it means parents who repeat the abusive or neglectful parenting that they experienced from birth on, identifying with the abuser, and not the helpless child who they were. And reading that terrified me, and I take back the term, Ghosts in the Nursery, and just want to stop any cycle of abuse out there. It’s the thing that most eats away at me, helpless children in cruel circumstances, those hands meant to care, harm. Not to upset anyone.


But sometimes people can tell you things, and you hold onto them and make them your own, and later, it’s all wrong. But, well, what can I do to make anything better out there? Love my own children? Identify with their experience as helpless in so much of what happens to them in their young lives, and to nurture their souls, or psyches rather, as they plead over and over, voicing repeatedly (to me) who they are:

Uh oh. (Clea-Noelle)

What that is? (Constantine)

No, turn here! (Theodore)

Eat it! (Christiane’s duel boundless generosity and force, combined!)

And, Petros, the self-possessed critic of all, “You’re bothering me.”

I embrace you — all. I want to keep you safe and strong and wholly You. Distinct, echoes of relative’s past, your very present and alive, touching selves. All five attentive faces that I watch and keep tabs on each and every day and night. You are the ghosts who continually and wonderfully haunt me.

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