Monday, June 13, 2011
The Will to Live
I almost went to a reception on Saturday night for the man who was the principal of the school I was working at when Charlotte died. He did an amazing job when my world fell to bits, negotiating all the pieces of my professional life for me-- my students, their parents, my colleagues-- so that my transition back into that community was as gentle as it could have been. I wanted to go to the reception, which honored his 17 years of service to the school, but when a little girl in the backseat let out a wail just as I was passing through downtown, I had to call it a night. We got out into the damp, misty night and walked together, she and I, as the sky darkened and the couples passed us on the sidewalks. We were a couple, Maeve and I, a new couple just learning the dance of our life together. She was warm on my chest as I thought.
I remembered the children, as I walked, the little ones who were five or six in my kindergarten when Charlotte died. They are now thirteen, most probably fourteen by now, finishing up eighth grade and ready for high school. I remembered that many of them became very concerned about me, wanting to be sure that I was still alive and okay.
A fleeting thought passed across my mind, which was that I, too, suffered a moment of panic: somewhere in the haze, between finding out and giving birth, I wondered if whatever random terrible fate that had snatched my daughter from my womb was going to take me, too. I wondered, and I cared. This struck me as odd, in retrospect, because the amount of time in which this could have happened was so very small. After Charlotte was born, if I had felt myself starting to drift away with her, I might have gone. Or perhaps not, I realize.
It seems almost funny to me right now to think that I would have wanted to live just for myself, when I had no children to live for. But I was already thinking ahead. When Charlotte was actually born and in my arms, I wanted fiercely to live because I was so desperate to actually be a mother for real. For real, and that feels so sad to say, that even as I held her in my arms I was longing for the next step. It feels like it sounds like such a betrayal, but instead I want to turn those words a little bit upside down so that you can hear that what I felt was such an absolutely overpowering, addictive love, that I was desperate for more of it. More in any form. This baby, who I loved so perfectly and beautifully, was making me hungry for more.
And when does that not happen? (even as I am running around like a chicken with its head cut off, feeling as if I am sinking in piles of laundry and lunches to make and mouths to feed, I sit here with Maeve on my chest and feel like I could have twelve more babies)
I wanted to live because I wanted to love, and because I was all finished living for myself. It's almost impossible for me to imagine where I would be and how I would think about myself, or the world, or even how I would go about my day if there were only me to think about. It's so amazing to think that at this point in my life I am delighted to the brim to be utterly self-sacrificing, and that this state of almost never considering my own needs actually pleases me. This was what I was aiming for. When Charlotte lay on my lap, I knew I wanted to lie myself down in front of a freight train to save her, and given that I could not, I was desperate to give myself somehow in service to my children. I wanted to pour my heart into theirs.
And I do.
Yet, tonight when I was tucking Aoife into bed, 45 minutes late, after about twelve rounds of antics ranging from spanking Liam's bottom playfully as he peed, pretending to brush her teeth with shaving cream, and pretending to fall asleep on the couch when it was time to go upstairs, I was firm to the point of hearing myself sound like an old crabbypants as I tucked her in. As I pulled the covers up under her beautiful little face, smoothed her blond hair on the pillow, kissed her buttery soft cheek, and sang her her most favorite lullaby, I felt annoyed.
So yes, I sacrifice, and it's not always with a big smile, but I'm still so glad to be here.
I can't believe how much bigger the world gets when you have children. I spend long moments sometimes contemplating what the world would look like if you were a person long past the childbearing years who had never had a child. And I shiver with the satisfaction and gratitude that I am so fortunate to have my life so incredibly full of love.
And this is why this is so addictive: because with each child is another person to love that much. I am so full right now.