Thursday, April 14, 2011

The imperfect blessing of parenthood

"We never know the love of a parent till we become parents ourselves."Henry Ward Beecher

I have a friend who is preparing to welcome her third bundle of joy into the world and a brother and sister in law who have just delivered their second. The former is weary with the load she bears and some amount of anticipated dread at the sleeplessness to come, the latter are learning the balancing act of a two daughter household and walking zombielike through their days.

We saw our newest family member this weekend and oohed and aahed and cuddled and fed and attempted to the soothe when the furies took over little miss 8 pounds of fire. She is luscious, rosy, soft skinned like the petals of a spring flower, with soulful blue eyes and a lovely upturned nose. In turn we all made overtures to her and I delighted in every moment of watching the boys make over her and delight in her contentment or occasional passing of gas. "She tooted on me!"

These are the same boys who tell me, "I love you more mom," when I tuck them in to bed at night. Each night I tell them, "No you don't-inconceivable." Which inevitably leads to a Princess Bride type back and forth ending with, "Anybody gotta peanut? Arrrggghhh."

I have told them time and again that no matter their love for me-they can never know the depth of my love for them-at least not right now. Someday, when they are fathers they will understand I was not being pretentious or ornery-simply stating the fact that without taking this strange trip called parenthood you don't get the extra baggage of love.

Of course you love and are loved. I would never presume that those who do not have children do not experience great love-in fact I imagine they can and do experience a deeper love in some relationships than I can imagine. But just as when I was pregnant and became increasingly annoyed by the people who felt it their responsibility to share the story of their sisters 83 hour labor and subsequent 4 inch long tear up to there and the people who told me to sleep in while "I could," I know Nicholas and Henry cannot understand the joy and sorrow of parenthood until they take the plunge themselves.

My own childhood was fraught with the tumult of alcoholism, sexual abuse, and mental illness. But after the birth of my first child I experienced a profound sense of gratitude towards my mother, with all her flaws and frailties. I finally understood the concept of, "just doing the best I can do," and I remembered with some amount of guilt the times she would say those words to me as she cried. On my darkest postpartum days, I would remember her and think,"If my own mother, with all of her obstacles and lack of coping skills could do this-surely, I can do it too."

When in the throes of pregnancy you cannot imagine that a creature weighing less than many a house cat will manage to completely up end your life and cause you to ponder your sanity, your level of intelligence, and sterility. When you are a child your parents are very often the center of your universe and your love for them is unparalleled.

As you grow into puberty and young adulthood you recognize more of the flaws in your parents and you love them, but you also "love" your Ipod and you "love" your new sneakers, and that boy with the brooding stare and hoop through his eyebrow in third period. Then, there is the moment you become a parent.

In a flash the life you knew before is gone and your capacity to love and be loved is changed forever. This creature, helpless and pink, wrinkly and fussy, is part of you and you are part of this seamingly perfect little person. You feel a love so deep and boundless you can no longer imagine a life without it.

I consider myself politically progressive, and until becoming a mother I never believed I could kill another human being. Now I not only know I could, but I do not doubt that I would take another human life if my own child's life were threatened.

That is not to say I do not have moments wherein I consider the merits of animals that eat their own young. If I thought I could eat him before he turns rancid I might nibble on the 13 year old every now and again, parenthood is the ultimate in bitter and sweet. No one person, thing or experience has left me as exhilarated or humiliated as being a mother.

Nothing has prepared me more for what comes next in life like parenting, and nothing has fueled my passion for life like my children and seeing the world anew through their eyes. I imagine, true to its thorny beauty, nothing will hurt the same as the grief I experience when we transition to an adult relationship and I no longer hear, "I love you more," every night or have requests for tuck ins.

Then again, by that time I will get to look forward to being a grandmother and taking the ride all over again-waiting for the day when my boys tell me,"I get it now Mom, and you were right."

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