This week my babies…
And next week Cane’s baby…
will be turning 11:
If you’ve ever had a baby, you know how it is when they are born:
You hold a tiny morsel (or two) of humanity in your hands and you make a vow to yourself and to them that you will create a sheltering, nurturing, joyful world for them to grow up in.
And dang if you don’t (mostly) do it.
You keep them safe and warm.
You feed them well and they tumble around like roly-poly puppies.
You play with them.
You read to them.
You make sure they fight fair.
You brush their teeth, clean their messes, and fix their hair.
You teach them how to make and do.
You help them love each other.
You surround them with people who love them as well as you do.
You help them find and make friends.
You encourage their creativity.
You surround them with opportunities to learn.
You introduce them to your favorite places.
You build traditions and connect them to their community.
You take them on adventures.
You help them find wonder in the world.
Mostly, you delight in all of their delights, and one of your greatest desires is to keep them smiling.
You know that the foundation of their world is their family.
Maybe (like me) you assume that if their family unit fell apart, they would fall apart. The biggest promise you make is to keep their family together no matter what.
Maybe (like me) the only way you can see to keep that promise is to keep your head down and your body moving relentlessly forward through all its days, so focused on caring for those babies (and so afraid of what you can only sometimes see, fleetingly, in those moments before you drop into exhausted sleep) that you don’t realize you’ve built their world on a foundation that won’t hold.
Until something happens that makes you stop and look around. Really look around.
Something like one of your children putting her hands on your face, looking deep into your eyes, and saying:
“You never smile any more. You never laugh. You’re never any fun any more.”
You know there was a time that you used to smile and laugh and have fun…
…but you also know–suddenly, painfully, with a punch-to-the-gut slam–that she’s right.
You don’t smile any more and you don’t know how to have fun. And you wonder what kind of mom you’re really being, what you’re really giving them.
Slowly, those fleeting thoughts and images and feelings slow down, come into sharp focus, and tower over the world you’ve carefully constructed, casting it in dark shadows.
And it is terrifying.
If this is, perhaps, you–or could be you–I want you to know that you are both right and wrong:
Their foundation is their family.
But more important than having an intact family is having a healthy one.
But for both Cane and me, it was also once about the biggest, most important thing we had: our families. And for both of us, there came a time when we realized that we couldn’t fix what was broken.
And it was terrifying.
But now, five years later, despite all my fears that none of us would ever smile again, I can see that my children never really stopped.
They still played.
They still had adventures in favorite places.
They still got goofy, especially when surrounded by people who love them.
They still had moments of wonder.
They still had community, and traditions, and friends.
They even still tumbled like puppies from time to time (and learned more lessons in fighting fair).
And sometimes they still fell asleep on their mom.
And we still played together in ways that we’d always played.
Seeing them happy and healthy, realizing that I was now able to give more than I’d taken away, and surrounded by all their smiles, I eventually got mine back:
Every February is a bittersweet time for me. I both delight in the people my children have become…
and miss those they once were.
And for the last five years, I’ve always felt sadness that I wasn’t able to give them the family I once dreamed of, the family they (like all children) so deserve.
Knowing that we haven’t given our children a healthy, intact nuclear family is a hard thing for both Cane and me. But we hope we’re giving them something that’s still good. Just a different something than we once planned on.
We don’t want to soft coat it: Some times are hard. Really hard.
But some times are also very sweet.
When our kids are born, we think of all that we want to give them. Today, I’m not making all the same promises I made 14 years ago. I don’t promise to keep our family together no matter what.
Instead, I promise to keep my head up and my eyes open.
I promise to live slowly enough to see what’s coming at us and what surrounds us.
More than anything, I promise to pay attention to what’s true and what isn’t–and to never fear the truth.
If I can do these things, I know we won’t get to a place where one of us isn’t laughing any more.
And I won’t have to make no matter what promises–because we won’t need them.
We’re looking forward to a weekend with all the kids. It’s free admission night at the Portland Art Museum, so we’ll be kicking it off there, seeing the Mark Rothko exhibit (one of Cane’s favorite artists, and a Portland-grown one at that).
Got anything great planned for you and yours?