Each person has an ideal, a hope, a dream which represents the soul. We must give to it the warmth of love, the light of understanding and the essence of encouragement.

5 Mar

One smell, one solitary tendril across my nose and my body gives a little shiver and says, in it’s most pitiful little voice,

 “want”.

I haven’t touched a cigarette in almost 5 years. My body still knows it’s M.O., my fingers still twitch to hold slim paper between them, my lips long for the silk across them, the fire burning into my throat. My belly aches with desire for the completion, the end to a day, a meal, lovemaking.

My brain sees lung cancer, 10.00 a pack and the stench of smoke.

Is it wrong to be a little gratified that my old addiction wasn’t necessarily my fault?

I don’t miss the judgement, the stares. The smell I was only aware of once I quit 3 months pregnant with Rosalyn, realizing that DEAR LORD PEOPLE REEK. I don’t miss standing, huddled in the snow and wind, trying to remember why I smoked aside from the fact that I was completely addicted.

I remember how proud I was of myself for quitting, cold turkey, and staying that way all this time. I know I can never touch another cigarette.

There was a me who smoked, who stayed up late writing in coffee shops, talking about, so many things that seemed important, themes in crappy fantasy novels, chess moves, lame “cult” movies that were meant to move us but instead left us scratching our heads and wondering why we were supposed to consider it art. But now, years later, there’s a me who knows my lungs were crying for mercy and asking me why watching my mother die of cancer wasn’t enough. There’s a me who has decided that art is what her brain and heart decide it is, not what others do. A me who has moved past a part of my life and into a different place. A place where being responsible for another life will always color what I say, and do, where I go, and how I get there.

Say what you will. Living as someone responsible for another life, solely responsible, be it as parent or guardian, changes who you are. I cannot be the same girl who was high for days straight because now, I need to worry, with absolute certainty, about feeding my children, about setting the right example for them. I can’t coast by with only Mr. Noodle in the cupboard (not that they’d mind) because I have brains and bodies to grow. I can’t live my life according to only my rules-I simply can’t, not while responsible for the growth and development of other people.

I love at my life in many chunks, all of which are formative pieces of clay. Each tugged me a little this way, and a little that way, with no real guidance or advice. But having a child-not just gestating and birthing her, but bringing her home and realizing “oh shit, I’m supposed to know what to do!”-that propped me up, gave shape to my truest form yet, and solidified into where I sit now, mature in my skin, content, at peace.

You can have reason without children, contentment, purpose. You can devote your life selflessly to any number of causes and reasons. But it is driven differently, and it easier to escape when it becomes hard, or you decide it isn’t what you want. You cannot abandon having children, being a mother or parent, guarding the lives of others. You could most certainly leave them behind, but they would never leave you. Talking to my birthmother 19 years after my birth assured me of that. You are always someone’s rock, someone’s past, someone’s peace.

We can argue who deserves the medal more, who has suffered for their cause, who is entitled to say they are more worthy of…whatever it is that we’re worthy of.

I raise my children as best I know. I recognize in myself a strength that never existed before, a capacity for love I never thought I could have. I finally see in me that adult woman I had been struggling to be for so long, and just couldn’t find.  I see someone strong enough to finally kick the beast of an addication off her back, for all the right reasons, all the ones that made sense.

The women I know without children, are brave, kind, wonderful women who love their nieces and nephews, who give back to their communities, who are incredible in so many ways. But they will not understand, not fully, what it means to give every bit of yourself to a human in your care. Nor will I understand what it’s like to have lupus, or face the fact that I cannot have children, or wonder if the abortion I had as a teenager means I’ll never have a child. I cannot fully grasp their lives, as I do not live those.

But I can try and bridge the gap. I can light the room with the bliss of watching my daughter read, really read! for the first time, and listen when someone talks to me about their latest trip to India, and how much they’ve learned.

Different has never, and will never, mean better. And judgement will never smell as sweet as understanding.

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14 Responses to “Each person has an ideal, a hope, a dream which represents the soul. We must give to it the warmth of love, the light of understanding and the essence of encouragement.”

  1. Heather B. March 5, 2009 at 1:42 am #

    “The women I know without children, are brave, kind, wonderful women who love their nieces and nephews, who give back to their communities, who are incredible in so many ways.”

    But they are still women, as you just said. I was annoyed with the phrasing that the person that you were before you had children was just a girl and then suddenly after you have children you are a woman.

    I am a woman now. The end.

  2. thordora March 5, 2009 at 1:49 am #

    Yeah well…it’s even on both sides. I grow increasingly sick of the “neener neener” messages from the childfree communities, telling me I’m a fool for having children, and it’s my own fault if I have a bad day, blah blah blah. As someone who never wanted kids and sometimes can relate fully to both sides, straddling becomes irritating. And I don’t know why everyone can’t just chill sometimes.

    Vulvas, shake hands, you’re women.

    No sleep for screaming? Say hi, you’re parents.

  3. LarryLily March 5, 2009 at 8:57 am #

    When my daughter died, I knew I would not have grandkids. I didnt really know that, but i always thought she would marry and have kids. Your her age from your comment, it was different for you. When I was a teen, it was caotic, the Vietnam war, the draft, the yearly lottery selection of birth dates that would be inducted etc. there was much strife and the teens grew older quicker. Getting married and having kids was not something to be avoided. My kids on the other hand grew up in a sanitized world, vaccinations for illness i got, mumps, german measles, had a kid down the street, Bobby Shelton, who had polio, had his own iron lung delivered to his house.

    My two older sons, mid to late 30’s, no marriage in site, no kids, they both own homes, one has two of em, they are driven to improve their retirement and to retire when they hit mid 40’s. I joke with them, they buy vacations, I went to Toys-R-Us.

    I tell them as they get older, nothing is more comforting than having someone share your daily mundaneness, I have enjoyed wedded life, and I enjoy my kids. They have a non stop list of women they life with from time to time, but I suppose that when the M word comes up, that is when they get off the train.

  4. de March 5, 2009 at 10:34 am #

    brava! i have read a few of these related posts today. All of them sensitive and insightful, but your image of a piece of clay, formed into “my truest form yet, and solidified” by motherhood struck me the most.

    After ten years of “double income, no kids” marriage, my life was lacking purpose and my marriage was faltering, and our remedy for that was children. There are days when I think, if only I had known how chafing parenting would be, if only I had a greater ability to see the big picture, I would have chosen something other than parenthood to give my life substance, but I think it’s partly because they are still young and I haven’t found balance. Ultimately, I hope, I will find more satisfaction in my life as a result of who I have become through the transformation to a mother.

    But there certainly are plenty of days when my husband will remind me that my perspective has narrowed. We actually had an argument this week because I said I’d had a bad day and when he pressed me for details, he was affronted by my explanation. “THAT is your idea of a bad day!?” It went downhill from there.

  5. daisybones March 5, 2009 at 11:12 am #

    No doubt I completely share your experience that motherhood WAS the thing that made me “grow up” and solidify. YES. But I totally feel Heather’s post that that transformation’s not universally what makes a woman not a girl.

    I mourn for my lost wildness a lot right now, and I’m looking for places to recover it in new ways… I AM a different creature now, wholly. I’ll never blow through a bag of coke and make art for three days, but I’ll drink pots of coffee and make art for three days while I check in with the grandparents. Because my soul needs that. *Nods at Sweetney’s post too* http://www.sweetney.com/sweetney/2009/03/selfish.html

    • thordora March 5, 2009 at 12:04 pm #

      Even art is different once you’re a parent. That which I wrote or painted before children feels almost hollow in some ways-my growth as a woman because of giving birth and now sustaining and nurturing it, has given a depth to my person that couldn’t have been there.

      Maybe I’m different, and had to be taught to love unconditionally, but loving my daughters, and by extension, loving myself, was not something I ever imagined I could do prior to them. And how I relate to this in any writing I’ve been doing-it’s just so many more layers.

      I could be alone, but I can trace with my fingers the jump from girl to woman in my case. Maybe it’s more with the monologue changing from being solely about me, and more about the little people I’m raising. But there was a change, which made me more of a woman than I had been, or will ever be.

      But if we feel that, and it isolates others, are we to never speak of it? It the art I make as a woman exceeds that which I made as a girl, can we celebrate it because it is, by nature, exclusionary?

      I feel like in cases like these, we’re trying to explain a sunset to someone who can only see in black and white. The broad strokes are there, but the subtleties that make your heart want to break? Harder…

      Or perhaps I haven’t had enough sleep lately, and no coffee yet today.

  6. Kathyp March 5, 2009 at 11:48 am #

    I grow increasingly sick of the “neener neener” messages from the childfree communities, telling me I’m a fool for having children, and it’s my own fault if I have a bad day, blah blah blah.

    Yeah, but that’s still a small portion of childfree women out there. Most of us aren’t so judgmental. (I avoid childfree sites with the same fervor I avoid the mommy ones — I may not have kids but that’s not all I am.) I’ve written about this before: the only thing that really bothers me about the whole mom/non-mom dichotomy is that becoming a parent makes you a selfless being, and those who aren’t live the kind of “rock and roll all night” life befitting an 80s glam band. I feel I have to work harder just to prove that I’m not that.

  7. thordora March 5, 2009 at 11:59 am #

    I think what bothers me is that regardless of what anyone says, having a child changes the TYPE of woman you are. You grow, period, and you cannot grow, as a woman, in that way, while sitting back and living only for yourself.

    It’s relative, and I grow tired of being told that because it isn’t inclusive, it’s not valid, or real. There is no club that every woman will belong to. I believe that we, as mothers, transform from maidens.

    I don’t think mothering makes anyone selfless-but sitting up a night, worried that the cough is something worse, worried that your son is running with the wrong crowd, freaked out because you’ve lost your job and aren’t sure how you’ll support your family-these are things that bring the true woman out in a mother, in ways that I never could have dreamed before having children. That’s what makes it different, and I really don’t think we’re allowed to acknowledge, fully, that there is a DIFFERENCE, and that it’s equally valid.

    We have to work as hard as you Kathy, at proving that we are more than the sum of our uterus, that our children don’t absolutely define us when we are extremely concious that we have been forever altered by them.

    Both sides of the coin are extremely valid, but for some reason, no one seems to want to allow them to exist in tantum. I expected to, and looked forward to life without children. But I see, and feel the difference now. (However, how much of that can be blamed on cursed ovaries, I just don’t know.)

  8. Gwen March 5, 2009 at 6:54 pm #

    Now your earlier tweet makes sense.

    I had never visited momversation before kate’s post. And having explored there a bit, I will never be back. Because …… dare I say it? Nope. I’m taking a lesson from Bambi.

    I personally find I have so fucking much of my own shit to take care of, it’s terribly hypocritical of me to spend any time judging anyone else, for almost anything.

    (except smoking, but that’s only b/c I’m a high school teacher and the students expect me to harass them for that and their other stupidities /syntax emergency!)

  9. Meg March 5, 2009 at 7:17 pm #

    “But they will not understand, not fully, what it means to give every bit of yourself to a human in your care.”

    Ask anyone who cares for an elderly parent or a sibling or relative with disabilities if they agree with your assessment. They haven’t given birth, but they sure as heck can’t walk away. Nor would they choose to. I mean, some might, but so might some mothers.

    And many mothers do. Having worked with children and in child advocacy for years, I know plenty of mothers who treated their children like garbage, and walked away without much thought of them — or stuck around and made their lives hell. Being a mother doesn’t elevate you into the person you’re talking about unless you CHOOSE it. Plenty of women have not changed one whit for the better because they gave birth or adopted. And I’ve had to deal with the aftermath of their decisions and abuses.

    I am all these things before I am a mom: unwilling to walk away from responsibility, devoted to the things I love, full of meaning and direction, full of affection, unhollow, committed to more than my own body and life.

    I can see sunsets.

    I can love unconditionally.

    And I was a woman when my body made me one.

    I assume having a child will change me. It may well make me a better person.

    Does it do that for everyone? No.

    Is having a child the only way to evolve like that? No.

    I wish people knew how to appreciate their lives and experiences without comparisons or absolutes or projections.

    But that might well be the death of blogging, mmm?

  10. thordora March 5, 2009 at 7:33 pm #

    Yeah, I wish people knew how to comment without being passive aggressive and snarky, but hey, that might be the death of women, hmm?

    You are right that it is a choice, a choice that most do make, to stick with their children, to be the person, the WOMAN and MOTHER they need to be.

    My opinion is that having children, becoming a mother causes you to evolve in THAT specific way-as someone solely responsible for someone-be it as your own crotch fruit or as foster children. It IS different from numerous other experiences, childfree, single, married, walking on the moon. And it has it’s validity-IF we’re allowed it.

    Plenty of people aren’t good people without children or responsibility. Plenty float through life, assuming that the world revolves around toys, tv shows, food. And many don’t. Many never wake up and see the world regardless of their circumstances.

    And yet they are allowed their perception that their particular set of circumstances have made them who they are, created them as man or woman.

    I personally believe (emphasis on the personally) that there is a difference between taking on the responsibilty of a child you’ve sworn to love, raise and protect, and that of caring for others. That just as some mothers have left their children, many people have dumped their parents, aunts, siblings because they couldn’t or wouldn’t care for them.

    There is no either or-but the understanding that no one can FULLY understand the circumstances of another-I’d be foolish to say I fully grasped that of a childfree person. And I believe it is different to hold your child, where ever they came from, and realize that their life IS in your hands.

    I became a woman when I had my children, whether or not anyone else did. And I’m quite entitled to hold that opinion whether or not someone wants to believe I’m holding anyone else in judgement.

  11. Meg March 5, 2009 at 7:40 pm #

    You are, of course, entitled to any opinion you want. 🙂

    And I hope you didn’t think I was being snarky to you — I’m honestly only aggressive, anyway, not passive-agressive.:) And I don’t bitch at people online unless I’ve met them personally and am dating them. Heh.

    And the death of blogging thing was a self-conscious reference, since I’ve been blogging for half a decade myself and have seen many discussions and dramas. I was more commenting on the entire thing that’s been happening for a few days — not your post.

    I just have a hard time with generalizations about any of this stuff. But I appreciate you saying that this is true for YOU, just as my experience is true for me. If that’s what everyone did, we’d be all good.

    And we still are… just with a bit of drama on the edges.

    Best.

  12. EJ March 6, 2009 at 12:24 am #

    Not to forget that we are ejected out the other side of of motherhood when our children grow up.
    Not back to the person we were before, but not stuck in diapers, colds, toys.

    Transformed but still the same.

  13. CharmingBitch March 6, 2009 at 10:48 am #

    ”Plenty of women have not changed one whit for the better because they gave birth or adopted. And I’ve had to deal with the aftermath of their decisions and abuses.”

    WORD. And the four children in my life and in our house at this time is proof positive that giving birth sometimes does nothing to bring about maturity, selflessness or an awareness of life beyond the end of their nose.

    And I don’t think anyone is or has yet said that particular woman from Momversations wasn’t entitled to think of herself as a girl prior to childbirth and a woman thereafter or that anyone else isn’t entitled to think or believe the same about themselves; it’s personal and unique, I think, to every woman.

    But that’s just it: Stating your experience as just that, your own experience and opinion about yourself is valid; it’s when the statement is made broadly and applied to every woman that feelings get hurt, egos get bruised and existences become invalidated. And that is bullshit.

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