Monday, January 08, 2007

Stop the Clock

Catherine Newman--my all-time favorite mother-writer and the object of a rather stalkeresque super-fan attitude on my part, which is neither here nor there--wrote last week, in her new-ish column at Wondertime, about the super-sad Kim family incident, the story so tragic and devastating that I really cannot even write about it, cannot think about it for more than a few seconds at a time, because it makes my heart hurt for days, just days, to imagine that mama and those girls in the car in the snow for over a week, that mama keeping them alive by nursing them both, the infant and the four-year-old too, because it was the only sustenance she had, that father off trying to get help and perishing in his attempt, that whole family not some exotic crew of mountaineers but just a regular family like mine, just two parents and two little girls on their way home from a Thanksgiving party who ran into a terrifying spate of bad luck. It's just beyond horrifying, beyond heartbreaking. And Catherine's column is as wonderful as ever, full of all sorts of thoughts that resonated with me, all sorts of things to write about--her sobering comments about the amazing power of the breastfeeding body came at me during a week when I was aching for a full night's sleep, for a respite from the night-nursing, and jolted me back to my senses: I am blessed to my very core to be able to hold this healthy baby in my arms at night and nurse her, watch her chubby baby hand drift and clutch at my fingers, my shirt, know that we're all safe and warm and okay here, in this night.

But beyond all that, what really got to me was her description of her general personality, how she tends to mix deep happiness and melancholy, how since becoming a mother she is constantly aware of the potential for loss and hurt. I feel exactly the same way, and I can't stand it. Just the other day I said to Christopher, "I just want these girls to stay the exact age they are right now forever; I never want any of this to change." (To his credit, he did not remind me of the many times I could stand for a LOT of this to change: tantrums, poop explosions, the ever-present sleep deprivation...)

What I mean is, I can't stand the idea of Genevieve no longer being a baby, of Julia turning into a bigger kid, of the wonder of the baby days being over, of the girls getting older and having bad things happen to them--even just the routine bad things that happen to us all in life. You don't really understand, before becoming a parent, that to love anyone this greatly means also exposing yourself to unspeakable pain, it means laying your heart bare to the world and saying, "Here it is, go ahead and break it." It's accepting that because you love your children so much, you will many times be very, very sad. So unfair! I just can't stand it, people.

You think, later, if I had known beforehand that parenthood would be like this--this awful, wonderful combination of love and pain, this constant slipping away of moments and memories (goodbye, chubby baby fingers; goodbye, velvety head lolling to sleep on my shoulder)--would I still have done it?

And sometimes you think, No, but you know in your heart that of course the answer is yes.

1 comment:

squab said...

This is crazy - your post EXACTLY echoes some of the main sentiments in the play I'm directing. (It's a play about being a parent, and all the anxieties and fear that sets you up for). I'm sure there are parents out there who don't ever experience that paralyzing potential for something to go so terribly wrong that you can't even think about it - but I'm sure not one of them. Of course, you can't live your life in that state, but sometimes it's a real battle to focus on the overwhelmingly wonderful aspects of being a parent, rather than the overwhelmingly scary parts.