Thursday, May 14, 2009
The most devastating love of all--or love and nits (take your pick, ha ha)
Kate Cole-Adams, whose intoxicating novel Walking to the Moon I have recently finished (and highly recommend), wrote a wonderful piece for The Age on Mothers Day.
I was saying to a group of women the other day that I feel that my children have simultaneously made and destroyed my life. I think I may have shocked a few of them, as I sometimes do with my confessions. But when I say these things it is not a response to the minor irritations or lifestyle inconveniences that come with having kids — which are superficial, if at times very real — but all due to the devastating love I feel for them. Which is, of course, also what's so wonderful about motherhood.
(Though I did love Kate’s daughter’s comment when she found out her mum was penning a story on motherhood: “Say that the worst thing is nits.” It is difficult to explain to non-parents how whole weekends can be lost to the military operation that is nit elimination. But if I say “We’re having a family night in tonight — pizza and a movie”, it’s probably a euphemism for “The kids have got nits (again).” Grrrr. I can become quite obsessed — which my partner loves teasing me about, as he thinks the natural evolution of the nit-picking monkey is probably the modern sub-editor.)
Anyway, more seriously... in reading Kate’s article, I had a realisation — something that I suppose was obvious but that I had not really articulated to myself (as all the best revelations often work). It was that maternal ambivalence is not a state of being torn between love and hate for our children (meaning not them so much as what they've done to our lives) — but is a state entirely borne out of love.
It is precisely this love for my children, being so excruciating, that I can feel has ruined me. This acute tenderness and sense of responsibility is something us mothers are never free of, and almost impossible to imagine until you’re in it (unless you have the brain of Lionel Shriver, in which case you decide definitely not to procreate).
It is this maternal state — the sense of having your chest broken open, leaving you utterly exposed — that Kate describes so brilliantly in her article.
Yesterday I had to meet with my son’s principal to discuss the fact that he’s showing signs of becoming an anxiety-prone perfectionist. Ah, jeez, now where would he have got that from?! It can be so demoralising to realise that you haven’t avoided passing on your own worst traits. I had to use all my strength not to burst into tears in her office.
But, as I also told the same group of women I mentioned above, if I have any philosophy of parenting (I have never been much of a strategic thinker) then it’s to make sure my kids know how much I love them, always and ever, and to keep talking. I figure if we keep loving and keeping talking, we will all be ok (fingers crossed).
P.S. Thank you to Hannah Colman for posting this really fun interview we did a while back on great feminist blog The Dawn Chorus. Rare to get a chance to explore these ideas in so much depth.