Before a woman has children, her wisdom is clear and distinct. Her ideals are commandments chiseled from on high. She knows she will tread the wire stretched taut across the expanse of her many towering responsbilities.
Once those little creatures come along, that wisdom plunges, the commandments crack, the wire snaps. Those babies, with their fat fingers and toes, their chubby cheeks and wide bright eyes challenge and defy her to set a new line, to carve a new set of rules, to break and break again everything she thought she knew.
How can pre-language mammals wield such power?
Their pull changes as they do. But the one thing that doesn’t change, I think, in a mother who is striving to do her best, is how she wears each of her babies’ lives like blankets or straight-jackets.
Each triumph any one her children experiences, from using the potty to graduating, is a cloak of warmth, the softness and security of success a shield, a reminder, a promise. That she did well. That her child did well. That this is normal. Normal – always the striving for the normal. Is there even such a thing.
And each burden they carry she carries. Each tear and fear and worry and pain burns into that mother. There is no end to worry for her, despite faith, and hurled against the ceiling prayers garbled into the darkness of night, the mother worries. Is she doing enough for her children? Too much? Is the highwire tottering wildly in the buffeting winds? The weight of her worry is not the lightlness of success; it is a burden, heavy, cumbersome, a load too large for any of us.
And again the search for parameters: we want the experts to define normal, to show us what we can expect of our children. But there is not rulebook, no guide, for how to be a person. We are too ungainly, too complicated, too busting with personhood. There is no normal. There is just the now, and the we. There is just us, filling space and managing our lives. There is just how we treat them, how we choose to carry the burden of their hopes and fears and wins and losses.
I’m choosing to curl into the warmth and to remember that warmth when the burden threatens to snap me. I’m choosing to throw the prayers at the sky and to touch their hands and smile at their open wide eyes and to listen to what they’re not saying. And I’m trying. And I keep trying.