Her Bad Mother

Thursday, November 9, 2006

What The Heart Doesn't Know

(Hey, guess what? More hand-wringing! More guilt! More angst! Huzzah! Never gets old!)

(Um, if these things bore you? Just scroll down through the pictures.)

Some months back, I had a pregnancy scare. Except that it wasn’t really a scare, because I was convinced that I was pregnant and discovered, in my conviction, a real desire to be pregnant. When the pregnancy turned out not to be, I was disappointed. Deeply disappointed. Sad. But I consoled myself with the fact that I had learned something through the experience: I had learned that I wanted to be pregnant. That I was ready for a second child. I rejoiced in this discovery. I was ready.

But that was then. This is now. And now, I'm ambivalent. Is it weird that I might have changed my mind?

I think about having a second child all the time. I feel the clock ticking, I see WonderBaby getting bigger, I feel the proximity of our future as a family and I think, what about Baby Number Two? Is it time to start to sorting out the details of B#2’s invitation into these world? Do I want to start sorting out those details?

Do I want a B#2?

My response to these hypothetical questions is, always, this: a big, fat, resounding I don't know.

I can barely keep up with one WonderBaby. Or, rather - it’s a good day if I can keep up with WonderBaby at all. Most days, I’m laying trampled by the roadside, inhaling WonderBaby’s dust, before the day has even really started. As I’ve faithfully recounted in these virtual pages, I often feel like a bad mother, an inadequate mother, a mother who cannot keep up, simply because keeping charge of such a powerful, willful little being has proven and continues to prove to be such an overwhelming challenge for me. Much more challenging than I ever imagined it would be.

And here’s a further confession, one that causes me some shame: I feel this way, even though I have ample support in caring for WonderBaby. The Husband, as I have said before, is a powerfully supportive partner. And - and this is a huge and - I have the aid of an extraordinary child-caregiver. Ever since I went back to teaching part-time, we have employed a part-time nanny, who I have come to depend upon like oxygen. She cares for WonderBaby when I am at school, and when I am writing and preparing lectures and marking. She takes WonderBaby to playgroups and library programs and drop-in centres and the park and indulges all of WonderBaby’s energetic impulses. Three days a week, she does the hard work: the chasing, the wrestling, and the wrangling of the baby who never sleeps and never stops moving. She takes charge, and I am free to catch my breath and charge my batteries and take care of all of the other exigencies of our day-to-day lives. Why, then, with all of this support, do I continue to feel challenged? And what does this have to do with the decision to have another child?

I feel guilty about the fact that I hand WonderBaby off to another person a few times a week. I feel guilty that I feel liberated in doing so. I feel guilty that I so relish the time that I have to myself. I miss WonderBaby when she’s not with me, of course, but it’s the sort of ‘missing’ that is made keener by the guilt that I feel for needing the absence. The guilt that I feel for, sometimes, relishing the absence. (Oh, dear god, am terrible mother for even allowing the sliver of such a heresy into my heart!)

Such is the guilt I feel that I fall over all over her when we are reunited at the end of the day. Such is the guilt that I clutch at our hours together, insisting that they be filled with the closest togetherness, that every minute of those hours, every second of those hours, be filled with hugs and laughter and whispered stories and shrieks of joy. Such is the guilt that I cannot, in those moments, imagine dividing those hours, that I cannot imagine giving up even a second of those hours to another child.

My loyalties as a parent, as these pertain to time and attention, are already divided. How could I choose to divide them further? And they would become further divided. Every moment devoted to the care and nurture of a second child – in utero or out – would be a moment not devoted to WonderBaby. If I already feel guilty about the time and energy that are drained away from WonderBaby by other things, how much further will that guilt deepen if the well of time and energy becomes even shallower?

(I know, I KNOW. Enough already with the guilt.)

If I'm not happy with how I'm managing one child, what business do I have having a second?

The Husband says that I am being much too hard on myself. He tells me that I am a wonderful mother, a mother who gives her child more than any child could ever hope for. He tells me that there is plenty of love to go around, that WonderBaby would in no way be deprived by the addition of another being to love in our family. He’s right, of course. Love is not a zero-sum game.

Time, however, only comes in finite, and so zero-sum, quantities. As does energy. And attention. Whatever time and energy and attention I put in one direction is that much less time and energy and attention that I can put in another. Having another child will tax the available reserves. Having another child will deprive WonderBaby of some of the time and energy and attention that I might otherwise give her.

And yet, and yet… having another child will give WonderBaby something that I certainly can never provide to her on my own: someone else to love, and be loved by. Someone, other than me, for her to play with, conspire with, imagine with, fight with. Someone to grow up with. Someone with whom to muddle through the wonder and weirdness of family.

Having another child might also accomplish something else: it might force me to recognize that love is the best thing that I have to offer my children, and that love is something that I hold in infinite reserve. It might force me to recognize that I will never have as much time and energy as I would like to have, to devote to those I love, but that that, perhaps, doesn't matter so much as the love itself. It might force me to recognize that I am limited, but that I am not necessarily any less of a mother for it. It might, in other words, knock some emotional sense into me. Or knock the overfunctioning stuffing out of me. Either would be good, I imagine.

In any case, I am (we are) still undecided. What it will have to come down to is whether we want another child - not whether it would be good for WonderBaby or good for my psyche or whatever. It will come down to what we - what I - want.

And I still don't know what that is.

(SINCERE QUESTION THAT ALSO SERVES AS SHAMELESS COMMENT SOLICITATION: Did you know? Did you plan Number Two - or Three or Four, for that matter? Did you fret over your ability to manage, to cope, to love? I know that parents with more than one child thrive and love and wouldn't have things any different - but did you always know that it would be thus?)

Tuesday, November 7, 2006

Who wields a poem...

Rebecca wrote something the other day that exploded all of my current posting plans (which, if you’re interested, included the post on judgment, a post about that resource page that I am putting together, a post concerning my reflections on the loss of the friendship that I wrote about some months ago and a post about why I, despite my admiration for all you NaBloPoMo participants out there, simply cannot post every day). She wrote about the children that she works with through the Starlight Foundation – children who are dying. Children who die. Children who disappear.

My nephew is dying. I’ve discussed this here before. It’s not one of my favourite topics, obviously, but it is something that looms large in my life, and something that I might write about more often if this were a private diary, and not a public blog. I’m not sure, exactly, why I don’t write about it more often – why I don’t write about my ongoing guilt and regret that we cannot visit him more often, why I don’t write about my persistent fear that, despite all of the test results to the contrary, the gene that is at fault for his condition lurks somewhere in my sister’s body or in my own, why I don’t write about my admiration for my sister, who lives each day knowing that her child will not live. Why I don’t write about grief, about fear, about loss, about death. Why I don’t write about him, and everything that he is bringing to our lives – the joy, the humour, the wonder – through his own short life.

I could offer a thousand explanations: I don’t write about these things because they cause me pain. I don’t write about my nephew or my sister or their family because their story is not mine to tell. I don’t write this story because I think no-one wants to read it. I don’t write it because it hurts. I don’t write it because I don’t want to acknowledge it. But, end of the day, what remains is simply this: I don’t write this story.

And in not writing this story, I am complicit in the silence that surrounds my nephew. The silence that Rebecca alluded to, the one that settles like a deafening snowfall upon the stories of all these children, these children who are dying, who have died, whose stories we never hear, who simply, quietly, disappear. I have a voice, I could tell his story, I could ensure that there is never any silence surrounding his life, and – when it happens – his death.

Why do I not do this? Why do I not?

This is the point in the post where I swear upon the blog gods that I will write about Tanner more frequently. This is where I put out a renewed call for action posts, or for posts in honour of children that you know who are struggling with illness, or who lost their battles with illness. This is where I am supposed to announce what it is that I am going to do to break this silence.

But I can’t. I can’t promise that I will begin to write frequently about Tanner, because I simply do not know that I can. I am going to try, but I can’t promise anything. And I can’t ask you to write about children like Tanner, because I feel too keenly how difficult it is to do so. I feel some shame for this (coward), but there it is. Here is where my efforts to be a writer come up against the limits of being human-all-too-human: I cannot write through any pain, through any existential confusion. I cannot write my life in its entirety, with all of its fear and pain and ugliness. There are limits to what I can write.

Perhaps this makes me less of a writer than I thought I was. I don’t know.

All that I can do is forgive myself this limitation, and to offer these small efforts toward overcoming it. And to commit myself to such efforts, as often as I can, in whatever form I can manage them. To quietly chip away at the silence as best I can. Because I must do what I can, no matter how difficult, no matter how coldly down the bone such efforts cut. Because to not to do so is to sanction the silence, and all the misunderstanding and hurt that come from such silence.

So I will do what I can, even if those efforts feel so small.

And I'll ask that you do the same: seek out organizations that support children like Tanner. (Rebecca has listed many in her post.) Support these organizations. Notice children like Tanner; talk to your own children about children like Tanner. Talk to your children about talking to, being friends with, children like Tanner. Talk about the fact that children disappear every day, after struggling with cancer or muscular dystrophy or one of the many other conditions that end young lives too soon. Talk about how lucky you are, your children are, to have health, strength, life.


For Tanner.