I’m up late again, writing, sleepy but unable to sleep. This feels like the first months of my son’s life again, as he’s waking again every few hours. He’s 5 months old. I can’t believe how big he is and as I lay awake, I pick up my phone and scroll through his entire life of photos backwards to see him shrink, his eyes go back out of focus, his skin get redder, his smile disappear. I like him now. I liked him then. I fast forward to next year, to five years, to 17, and miss the baby already.
I saw a post on a Facebook LaLeche League site by this woman thanking the community for helping her when she struggled to nurse her newborn and letting them know that her baby had died at just under 3 months old of a rare congenital disease. My heart stopped for a minute and I ached all over. I can’t even imagine. But…of course, I can. I imagine this all the time. Not in a morbid sense, but in the way that everything is now closer to the edge of my skin since my son was born. I am afraid of losing what I’ve come to finally find. But not in a way that makes me careful, cautious, full of terror. I’m just close enough to the edge of where life and death meet that I can smell it. I have an infant and I know love in that big “L” kind of love way that only happens when something absolutely depends upon you for life. My son literally depends upon me for food. All my ‘run away to India and travel the world for a year’ fantasies are now gone. There’s no exit in this Love. I love my husband and I love my parents and I love my dog. But this is different. And it’s not that goopy, glassy-eyed Vaseline-screen kind of love you see women have for their infants in the movies. Mine is crystal clear and sharp. It’s got edges.
I feel the fierceness of my protection now, but it’s not new like a foreign thing. It feels more like I’ve woken up to something that was dormant — not a surprise — it was always there. But, before, it came out sideways. Now it has purpose. That kind of love. The love that would throw her body over top of his if the sky fell. Just, you know, murderous and martyrish and practical like that.
I find myself feeling like I know things that my husband does not. And I’m arrogant about it and passive aggressive, too. Like I’m humoring him when he offers ideas or counters mine. Because I know something in my skin from carrying him, and I’m going to guess that even women who did not carry their children (adoptive moms, foster moms) feel that same thing too so it’s not entirely the domain of the ones who gave birth. It’s a mothering thing. I listen to my husband, or the male Pediatrician, with an open-minded skepticism that I can’t help and then I’ll check out what they say with what I know. From that Love I feel. That I harbor. That I have harbored upon. Like a lighthouse. Maybe the “love” is more of an intuition.
Admittedly, I always hated women who said things like “you’ll never know love until you have a child”, back when I was childless by choice. Back when I didn’t anticipate that changing. I thought they were arrogantly holding some impossible ideal of womanhood over my head. I was defensive. I knew love. I was a full and complete woman, without a child. I didn’t feel a vacuum of love. I once had a friend, (who, if I’m honest, never really was a friend to begin with) say to me, very cruelly, ‘Oh, how would you know anything since you are barren,’ to which I was left stunned and silent, my brain spinning so I couldn’t even come up with a sharply mean retort (I mean, a. I was not barren and b. fuck her). I imagined all my breeder girlfriends looking at me and thinking, ‘Oh, she’ll never know love like we know love’ and I wanted to spit in their nurturing faces. I know that the love of a pet is a fierce love. I have loved dogs throughout their full lives, laying down with them as they took their last breath. They visit me in my dreams. And I can absolutely imagine running into a burning building falling down around me in order to rescue my dog Flo. I’d give anything to have a few more days with June, with Maybelle, with Siggy, with Clyde. I still have a half-eaten bone from my dog Numpy who my parents sent away when I was 12 as we were moving halfway across the country. The night before we left, I had an elaborate plan to rescue Numpy from the farm they’d taken her to, and I know that plan and that route and that feeling of despair of the loss, still, 38 years later.
But Love here is different with this boy. It is more pointed, more direct, an arrow, a rocket, a missile, a tornado, a tidal wave. It’s the entire orchestra, not just the weepy strings, timpani crashes and all. It’s not sentimental. It’s volcanic. It’s not just one plane flying cartwheels, it’s the fleet blackening the sky in formation, headed out over my father’s farm in the 40’s near Dover on its way across the Atlantic to D Day. It holds life and death. It holds joy and terror. It’s a fear that I didn’t have before that is entangled with something sharper, more terrifying, and dare I say it?, Bigger? Or maybe it’s not bigger per se, but it’s just more weighted. Yes, heavy. Heavier.
It’s a heavier love than I have ever felt.
One of my favorite books in college was Kundera’s The Book Of Laughter and Forgetting. I used to read it once a year. To be honest, I don’t even remember it that well today. I know there were parts about the Prague Spring. I remember the chapter about Bach, how at the end of his life, after composing grand pieces, he returned to writing exercises. Finding the entire universe in the small.
Maybe this kind of love is the “unbearable lightness of being” that Kundera writes about in another of his books. Maybe it’s time to revisit his writing.
This week, my 18-year old niece is in her first week at college in North Carolina, which seems impossible. Didn’t I just hold her tiny body in the palms of my hands, bathing her with my sister and cooing with her? Didn’t I just hold her at her baptism, standing beside my sister as her Godmother, promising to raise her should anything happen to her parents? DIdn’t I just sit next to her in the woods near a campfire, roasting marshmallows? Didn’t we just go to the Nutcracker in Manhattan, her feet in shiny paton-leather Maryjane shoes, her hair cut in a blunt pageboy? I blinked and she was taller than I am. This week, my Facebook feed is full of photos my college friends are posting of their first born’s going off to college. There’s a photo of a handful of my classmates standing over Memorial Hill together, having just left their kids to the Class of ’22, and I can still see the 18-year old in my friend Linda’s eyes, just down the hall from me in our 3rd floor dorm, as eager and vulnerable and frightened as I. One of these parents is a writer who inspires me constantly and, quite honestly, inspired me so much I took to writing this bloggishly memoiry thing I’m writing, as she did it once herself and with the kind of messy humor that just defines her own luminous beauty that seeps out onto the page with such humanity that it makes me want to weep and laugh and weep again. And there she is, dropping off her son to our college, the same son she wrote about in her own memoir when he was just past crawling, a memoir which, got me through the first few months of my own son, not yet crawling. And here I am, 50 years old, spit up in my hair, desperately trying to catch 15 minutes of time here and there to write a sentence, edit a verse, even think about bills or how I’m going to pay them now that the way I’ve made money my whole adult life has to shift, drumming up side gigs here and there, squeezing cash out of what seems like stones. How does anyone do this? How did they? I had lunch this afternoon with my own Mommy group – a loose group of mothers in the music world. Basically, a good excuse to go eat Tacos on a Tuesday with our kids and ask each other the same question:
“How. Will. We. Do. This. Now?”
I don’t have the answer. I think I do, in those space when H naps, when a thread of a melody catches me and I can record it, or the tangle of words to a lyric I’ve been wrestling suddenly untangles and I can see the fix, in rhyme. The answer is we just do this. When we can. However we can. Because we can. Because we love to do this. Whatever the ‘this’ is. And the ‘this’ is heavy, too. In its own unbearable lightness, which makes it absolutely unimportant and completely elemental. As elemental as the heaviest kind of love.