"Once she was born I was never not afraid." - Joan Didion in Blue Lights
There are moments in life when you begin to "see" the world differently. It has nothing to do with your actual vision. It's because you've happened upon a moment so profound, the world now looks different... and you can never go back. Having children is one of those.
If you have not had a child, I cannot explain it to you. And you cannot fathom it. It's not a criticism, not a badge of superiority or inferiority. It's just a fact. I have friends and relatives in this world who have lost a spouse, lost a child, lived through brutal prison camps, served in horrific wars, have "special needs kids" and who are facing certain death in the hands of a terminal illness. I CANNOT comprehend their worldview, nor will I try. Just as someone without children cannot comprehend that of a parent's.
Don't compare the time you and your boyfriend were both sick to the time I had to take care of two sick children when I, myself, had the flu. It's not the same. Do not compare the fear you had during a pet's illness to the time I helped "lock" my son in some horrible contraption for a chest x-ray as a small baby to determine if he had pneumonia. It's not the same. I know... I've had a sick pet. Don't compare paper training your puppy to potty training my toddler. Don't compare the sleep you lost on a big project to the months of sleep lost to a new infant. Don't compare the love for your kitty to the time I first held my son. I was BLOWN AWAY by what I felt. So many times those first few months I just held him and cried because it was so overpowering, I was scared by the enormity of it and thankful at the same time.
My mother once said, when trying to describe the depths to which she loved my sister, brother and I, "you think you love your parents the same... but you don't. You cannot possibly love us like we love you. I can't explain it, but if you become a mother someday, you'll understand." I was so offended then. That was then. Now I know... she was right.
I've been "seeing" these moments a lot more recently. I'm not sure why. The moments, I mean, when I realize how much my view of the world has changed. Sometimes it's something so mundane, so simple, I feel silly writing it down. The other night, for example, as my husband and I watched the new Spider-Man movie I laughed to myself when the scene came where he wanted to ask out a girl. I laughed because I realized that type of scene used to bring me back to my past. It used to make me remember a nervous boy asking me out or remember my own terror when I asked my first boyfriend out. But now... now I got nervous for the future. I suddenly imagined little William bigger, with knots in his stomach and sweaty palms asking out some girl. And I found myself praying for this future girl to be kind to him. I suddenly pictured little Elizabeth bigger, hoping she would be kind to some boy whether her answer was "no" or "yes", hoping she would understand how powerful her words could be.
When I just read that line by Joan Didion that I began this blog with, I laughed. I laughed not because it was funny, but in relief that I wasn't a total nut. I understood as only a parent can, that shift in worldview. That new fear that never existed before William and Elizabeth came along. Fear is now my constant companion because, as she says later on the page, "The source of the fear was obvious: it was the harm that could come..." And it's not just fear of big things - illness, death, injury, heartbreak, loss, etc. You fear the damage your words can do. You fear, in fact you're often convinced, that you're failing at every step. You fear pushing them too hard and not pushing them enough. You fear babying them and making them grow up too fast. Nothing is without that fear. Just now as I spent a beautiful moment reading next to my son in his bed because he was feeling afraid tonight, I felt the fear. I looked at the book he was reading, aimed more for 8-10 year olds and thought, "Wait, should I be proud of his advanced reading? Or did I cheat him and make him older than he is?" And then I laughed at myself and remembered the words of the family therapist we just saw, "Mariska, we will all mess up and fail. Please forgive yourself and move forward... he already has."
I don't mean this blog to be just about the fear though. In fact, I don't mean it to be a negative. Because too much beauty comes with the fear. Too much to be thankful for. With the fear also becomes a whole new way to "see" the world... you get to see it as a child "again", but it won't be totally the same as the first time. It seems doubly beautiful right now because you get the pleasure of a child's view again, but with the opportunity to teach and learn and APPRECIATE the way you just didn't as a kid.
A 5 minute walk to the mailbox becomes an hour-long excursion because there were too many ladybugs and butterflies to watch, catch and observe. The dry grass at the park isn't an allergy-pit, it's an opportunity to chase and catch grasshoppers. Planting a garden isn't a chore anymore... it's part science experiment, part hope-and-prayer, part anticipation and part accomplishment as you see what seeds make it and what don't. A one-hour nature walk becomes a half-day adventure complete with a picnic lunch because it just takes that long to point out tadpoles, dragonflies, ducks, baby geese, goose feathers, hawks circling overhead and all the other curiosities I used to just drive by. A 4x10 inflatable pool becomes a ship in a hurricane, a beach with waves, an Olympic swim race and the site of our stand against the Empire and we're the Rebels (Star Wars folks... if you have to ask, well...). A pile of sheets become an impenetrable fortress, a tent city and a camp-out. A car trip becomes a "rock-out" session. Fall leaves are more beautiful because your children want to save them in their "collection." The moon is magical because your children say, "look! it's following us" while you drive. The warm sunshine is even more delicious because your little boy lies on a towel next to you and says, "it makes me love to be sleepy with you, mom." Getting a kite aloft almost makes you cry because the look of joy on their face when they get to hold the string. Reading a story is magical because you have another imagination to collaborate with as you picture the heroes, the landscape and the next turn in the plot. Dressing up with your daughter doesn't feel silly, because her squeals of delight as you play Witch to her Snow White or Mother Gothel to her Rapunzel make you want to hug her tight and stop time. Potty time isn't wasted time for them, it's just an opportunity for you to hunker down in the bathroom with them and read a story or two.
My world has changed now. In a way I could have never anticipated. In a way, I suppose now, will never stop. No matter what they do, what they choose, what happens to them... my sight has changed. I have to say mostly for the better. Yep, I think I'll keep these rose-colored glasses for a while.