“It’ll Be Different When It’s YOUR Child”

It has now been almost eight months since I gave birth to my son Jude Andrés, and while it seems like short time to think about this ubiquitous saying–“it’ll be different when it’s your child”–I’ve already had a revelation. Because the truth of the matter is, yes, of course, because I fucking pushed him out of my vagina after enduring the gestational period with such grace (note the dripping sarcasm), but also yes for a completely different reason and no for a related reason. Allow me to explain.

Jude a few weeks old

Remember how I wrote in a much earlier post about my internal journey of deciding to have a baby that included many of my issues from being a child of divorce? Like taking on a surrogate mother role to my sister Kelly? And the fact that that created a lot of tension in our relationship when that paradigm no longer worked for either of us so we had to rebuild our relationship and learn how to be sisters and friends? And so because of that relationship, I worked very hard not to make the same mistakes with my much younger siblings?

Well, the truth of the matter is that it is very difficult for me not to get incredibly attached to young children in an almost unhealthy way in which I subconsciously take on that maternal role. I have had to literally tell myself, “Carla, that is not your child. You don’t have to worry about that.” Or “Carla, stop! That’s not your child. You can be proud of her without owning her accomplishment.” Or “Carla, you can love that child without expecting the same love he shows his mom. Stop it!”

Being a nanny to Hazel, for example, showed me just how much of an instinct it is for me to fall back into the pattern I had inadvertently started with Kelly. I called her “nena” occasionally because that term of endearment just naturally slips out, but I also caught myself accidentally starting to call her “mi hija” when, no, she’s not my daughter. The excitement and love she had for her parents sometimes made me jealous in a wholly irrational way that forced me to stop, think, and distance myself.

She is not your child. She is not your child. She is not your child.

On the plus side, I was fiercely protective of Hazel and did a damn good job as a nanny. So that’s something. LOL

This is what’s so different: with Jude, I can be greedy. For the first time in my life, I get to give in to those maternal feelings and not have to distance myself. I may not have wanted this actual relationship or experience before, but so much of my life had prepared me for it that I didn’t realize a significant part of what being a real mother would finally provide: the opportunity to fall head-over-heels in love with a child in a way that I’ve purposefully had to avoid. Now, I’m allowed to stare into his face in complete bliss while he makes funny faces in his sleep, several times drunk on the milk that my body produced for him. I’m allowed to contemplate the smoothness of his tiny feet, at once amazed at how soft and perfect they are and distraught over the fact that they won’t always remain so soft and smooth, knowing that life will toughen them up eventually (but hopefully not too much). I’m allowed to cry with a joy so profound there are no words and a mind-boggling disbelief that John and I made this little monkey, who’s just as rage-filled as he was in my womb (in case you were wondering), and my body sustained him. How can two such flawed mortals create such perfection? I’m allowed to cry in frustration and helplessness when he’s inconsolable or makes an ear-piercing screech that breaks my heart because, as far as I can tell, there’s nothing wrong and nothing I do will calm him down.

I’m also allowed to hate him a little when he used to bite the fuck out of my nipple with his toothless gums and sucked like his life depends on it, like my breast won’t be there again in three hours. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve already called him a “little shit” or told him to go fuck himself, little tyrant that he is. And don’t even get me started on the time that his little baby claw of a hand grasped my sore nipple and pulled and twisted and scratched it because holy fuck that hurt. I’m also allowed to feel relieved that I had four hours away from the house to buy groceries, work in a cafe, get my nails done, or whatever–all with the peace that comes from a temporary separation from a needy infant. But I’m also allowed to tear up at the idea of holding him in my arms again as I drive home because, maybe, four hours was too long. [I wrote most of this a month after giving birth–I can now go for much longer without missing him until I’m on the way home. The real test will be going to New Chaucer Society in Toronto next month!]

I have also sat and watched him cry apathetically when I’m just too tired to deal with his infant neediness, but a split second later, scooped him up, hugged him close, and chastised myself for being a “bad mother.” I’ve let him cry himself to sleep without feeling bad about it, and I’ve happily handed him off to John so that I can shit in peace. I imagine that all the things I figure I’ll do when he’s older–calmly talk him through why what he did was wrong when he’s four and use logic on him to prevent tantrums to the extent that I’m able, laugh when he falls down as a toddler, remain calm when he actually hurts himself because panicking only makes things worse–I’ll still do despite the fact that everyone said “it’ll be different when…”

Because, yes, some things are different. They have to be. Jude is my child, our child. I have a closeness to him that I’m finally allowed to have, an immeasurable love that doesn’t have to be tempered or placed into socially acceptable categories of “sister” or “friend.” My heart swells at the same time that it breaks, and I can’t wait to hold him again every time he’s out of my sight for even a few minutes. But I will still call him a little shit, tell him to fuck off, look at him without feeling when I’m at my wits end, and happily drop him off with a babysitter or daycare to get some time away from him. This gives me hope that I haven’t changed entirely–and this is even more true now that my postpartum hormonal imbalances have normalized–and that the way I thought I’d be as a mother is actually the way it’s going so far, and likely will for quite some time. You have absolutely no idea how excited I am to put Jude into full-time daycare. There will be no guilt or worry beyond the typical “I hope he naps okay” and “They better be treating him well or so help me gods…”

We’re complex creatures with a myriad of paradoxical emotions that we often experience simultaneously, but that doesn’t mean I don’t know myself well enough to have had an idea of what I’ll be like as a parent. Hello, years of soul-searching and a lifetime of taking mental notes on “do’s” and “don’t’s” of parenting, not to mention years of pseudo-parenting my younger siblings and thinking deeply about human relationships in order to delineate the socially accepted roles that I kept transgressing. I know what I got myself into, thank you very much.

So fuck off and stop telling people “it’ll be different when it’s your child” because you have absolutely no idea what that person has gone through in their life. I speak from experience.

Jude 7.5 months old
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Dear John

But not THAT kind of “Dear John”

I began writing this while I sat in the Manchester International Airport, anxious to get on the plane that would take me home to you. It’s been a long time since I wrote you a love letter (as opposed to a loving note in a card), and this medium seemed appropriate this time around–a sort of broadcasting of what your love means to me on your 34th birthday, the year of so many changes. So here it goes. 

I never knew how to love until I met you, and as we both know, often I didn’t make it easy because loving and being loved, truly, requires an opening of the self to vulnerability and uncertainty, to reward but also to the risk of pain and loss. By 18 when we met, I was already a professional at safeguarding my heart, using people here and there as playthings that would eventually lose my interest. I had never put much thought into my “perfect man/woman,” and I had certainly never wanted to get married–I rolled my eyes so hard when, in middle school, one of my best friends wanted to draw her friends in their future wedding dresses. 

But then you happened. And you didn’t walk into my life. I stumbled into yours, as you sat on the floor of the Tallahassee Mall, casually leaning up against the wall of a restaurant that has long since gone out of business. I can still see your blue board shorts, well-worn tie-dye tshirt with a peace sign and read “Make Love Not War,” Birkenstocks, tattered visor, and short buzz cut. Your tanned arms were stretched out as you balanced them on your bent knees, head tilted back in relaxation while you waited for me and your best friend to arrive to see a movie we had yet to choose. (Unfaithful was an awkward choice in hindsight. Hahaha.)

“Shit, shit, shit,” I thought. “I’m not going to get away from this one easily.”

And I never wanted to get away. I knew that I loved you within two weeks of us dating. I knew before you asked that there was no way I’d let you go without trying the long distance thing when I went away for college. I knew before we reconciled that I didn’t want to lose you after our first big argument around month 7 of our relationship. I knew I’d never find anyone more special than you when I confessed that I wanted to get a PhD, which would derail our original plans after I finished my MA. Your response upon my laying it all out–that you’d have to follow me not just to the PhD program but to wherever a job turned up afterwards–still makes me cry with disbelief that we found each other. 

“That’s okay. I’ll follow you. They need accountants everywhere,” you said. 

I don’t think you appreciate how rare that reaction is. I know that had I been in your shoes, I couldn’t have done it–the same way I know that I’d make a terrible military spouse unless I was the one in the military. 

But more than anything I know that I would not be this open to love had it not been for you. You cracked the wall or thawed the heart or something. You threatened to pull the car over when I wouldn’t communicate; you followed me from room to room when I was upset; you hugged me and waited for me to speak; you gave me room when I needed it, but never let it go; you dragged me out of myself, kicking and screaming, longing to remain locked away where no one could hurt me. But no one could know me either. 

I’d like to think I’ve done something similar for you, but you taught me the most important parts about love: to love is to have emotional courage in leaping into the abyss and to trust that it won’t simply swallow me whole. It is a relinquishing of the ego and pride to connect with another on a profound level, to seek understanding and knowledge of another Self’s inner life, a life filled with its own desires, aversions, dreams, and fears. Until I had learned all of this from you, I had never really loved. 

And it is because of you, and only you, that I step into parenthood with open arms and an open heart, daring the world to crush it. 

Feliz cumpleaños. Te amo hasta el cielo y las estrellas para siempre, mi Juanito.