Thursday, November 20, 2014

A hard and beautiful thing

The Humbling Abode
Vanilla Honeybush Tea

This is overdue, both the blog and the topic.  A friend asked me to ponder what it means to be a mom - to choose to be a mom at all.  I've been ruminating on the topic since.  There's so many ways to answer that.

For one thing, everybody's sick all the time and that's going to throw off your blogging days from time to time.  But then you also get those gems, in that three-year-old lisp: 


"Ovi, are you tooting?"

"No, Mommy!  It must have been a helicopter... in my butt... that made that sound!"

And then there are the buttons missing from the keyboard as I struggle to type this on my husband's computer because my computer can no longer be moved without the screen disconnecting and going black... all courtesy of my little fucking angels.

The one thing that has really hit home for me, one thing that I had not really thought out, is that there is a difference between being a "single mom" and being a "solitary mom."  Single moms might still have family and close friends who support them in the raising of a child, even if it's just by keeping them from going crazy while raising a child.  I can't imagine trying to be a mom without my husband helping me.  I lean on him - heavily.  But he's also almost all I have to help me here.

We are hundreds of miles from the nearest family.  We're also transplants to the area and, though we have some friends, we never established those kinds of... daily... friendships before starting our family.  The kinds where people come over and hang out, and just check in and bring you coffee.  Even the few friendships we've made with neighbors haven't been that close.  We might chat for a while coming from or going to the laundry room, we might get a knock when someone's locked out or needs to borrow something.  Mostly, our neighborly visits have pertained to "hey, could you keep it down - the baby's trying to sleep."

Those are not the kind of friendships we would have if we had grown up in the area - and our friends and family had stayed in the area, too.  And if I were just better at cultivating friendships.  I'm a very friendly person, and the friends we have have often said we could call on them whenever.  But I tend to keep my crap to myself.  I've been head-down, trying to get it together.  How do I call someone up, or strike up a conversation for the sole purpose of dragging someone into my crazy?  Or to drag me out of it, really.

It would be nice if I were religious.  Churches are one of the few socially acceptable places where you can walk up to a stranger and say, "I need some help."  But I'm not religious, nor am I seeking any religion be a fix for my earthly problems.  I'm sure they'd probably be happy to chat with me anyway, but it never felt right, or at least, comfortable.  Seeking therapy was more to the point, and more effective while I had it.

But even therapy can't fix problems like being stuck at home all day without so much as a lunch break.  Eating lunch is not the same as getting a lunch break.  When you take a lunch break at work, you generally get to clock out.  At least, you get to hide somewhere and power through your sandwich before someone rings a bell and you're on deck again.  No such luck at home.  Even when the boys are playing by themselves, I'm still on duty.  The noise - the noise - is still going, and I must be ready at a moment's notice to separate them or save one or both from imminent injury.  Naps?  Ha!  Nap time is fight time around here and I have finally given up trying.

Naptime elicited tweets from me pining to be more like a cartoon mom because, "Miss Spider doesn't lose her shit over naptime."

But this is me and we know that I have more going on than a lot of people would normally have to deal with.  There's the postpartum depression and anxiety stuff, there's the fibromyalgia, the financial woes (okay, most of us that have that crap, but I've had the court kind, too), and now we know we've been trying to cope with a child with autism.  I don't want to scare anyone off with my grousing.  Nor do I want to diminish the struggles a couple with just one totally healthy, developmentally normal child may experience.

One child is hard.  One child under the best of circumstances is hard.  Don't let anyone who was a single parent and raised 5 kids while working 3 jobs and earning 2 degrees tell you that you have nothing to complain about.  But a lot of things that are hard are doable.  But... should you do it?  That is a much harder question.

I have so many friends with so many stories.  Many of my school friends ended up getting pregnant while still in school, or shortly afterward.  My older brothers both started their own families very young.  The results of all these early families has been mixed.  Many are still struggling today, but I can't think of a single one saying they would go back and not have that child they have borne and raised.  Once that child is there in your arms... As my mother told me years ago, while I struggled with the decision of whether or not to continue my first pregnancy, you just won't be able to imagine your life without your children.

I might still question if I made the right choices, to be a mother at all, I might wish I had done things differently.  But given the opportunity, I could not choose to not have my boys.  In unromantic fairness, by choosing this family, I have chosen to not have the other children that might have been - I've still got plenty of eggs, after all.  But two is plenty.  For us, and, frankly, more than enough for the planet.

But there are so many more stories... stories of couples who desperately want to conceive but can't, those who've had a multitude of miscarriages or even stillbirth... It's a harrowing experience.  It is such a forceful biological drive for most of us, once it has been triggered... to have it denied...  That's something I can only imagine, and I try not to if I can.

For some, it is a deliberate choice to not have a child.  Sometimes a person can come to see themselves as someone who would struggle to be a good parent.  Sometimes that's a physical challenge and sometimes mental.  Only they can say whether or not that's a fair conclusion.

But sometimes the choice is only to delay until such and such is better, the situation more stable.  Often completing your education and getting a career established is the rationale.  And that seems perfectly sound logic.  Sometimes that takes longer than expected.  Relationships change, and sometimes the fertility clock has already chimed by the time a person feels situationally ready to start a family.  It's not impossible for older couples to get pregnant, even without fertility assistance.  But biology starts to work against you, and even youth is no guarantee.

The question is: do you need it?  Is it worth it?  Is it right for you?

Okay, that's several questions.  Some people who remain childless, whether because they were unable to conceive or because they found some reason they felt was more compelling to not conceive, they often find some peace with the situation.  I hope they do, anyway.  They may find fulfillment in a life's work, some passion that they recognize would make it difficult for them to pursue and be a good parent as well.  Or, they may find their peace in some kind of surrogate relationship, raising or mentoring a close family member or friend.

Sadly, I know that that often isn't enough.  A pain remains, more deeply for some, that I simply can't speak to.

My husband talks about our children as his "immortality."  I roll my eyes at this.  When he and I kick off - we're done.  Our children will have their own lives and destinies.  They will bear the mark of our parenting, for better or worse.  But we will not own them.  They alone will own themselves.  And who cares about immortality anyway?  It's a damn overrated concept.

People (okay, I'm looking at you men of old) have been so flipping fixated on their name and their "seed" carrying on.  Who cares?  Okay, on some genetic diversity level, sure, it's sad to have that special little batch of DNA out of the mix.  But the world will get over it.  Sorry.  Yes, your desire to reproduce is healthy and normal and I'm not being dismissive of that.  But get over yourself.  At least, when it comes to your perpetuity.

Gah.  It's late, and I have hardly spoken of adoption and step-parenting and those special people who occupy the role of a parent without any official title.  I don't want to leave this as if they were not also parents, too.

And the money!  Our beaten down wages and our absurd health care system and our chaotic and pathetic public assistance programs and our lack of mandatory paid maternity leave -  are huge hindrances to even becoming a parent in the first place, let alone being able to be a good parent once you've brought a child into this overburdened world.  And that brings me - at last - to choice.

Everyone should have as much support as we can muster to choose for themselves whether or not to start a family and who and how many get to join it.  It is, perhaps, our most innate and compelling instinct.  But this is the world we live in, and it's just not an easy choice to make.  Someday, if we don't all voluntarily choose smaller families, or adopting instead, we will not have the luxury to choose for ourselves.  Limited resources for a crowded planet will make the choice for us.  But for any size of family, it's exhausting, excruciating, hilarious, frightening, joyous and trying.

It's a hard and beautiful thing to be a parent.

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