This morning it felt as though I had passed through some invisible wall and glimpsed a parallel universe. Parallel truly-- I was watching and listening to other moms who I know casually from mom'n'tot music class and the like. We were sitting there at the open gym on the fake turf as our kids swooped around us like seagulls-- snapping up organic cheddar bunnies and stealing lacrosse baskets from one another.
One of the women has twin boys who are 21 months, but developmentally a bit behind because they were preemies. Last week she started to notice that one of them was crossing his eyes. I told her that I'd call the doctor if I were her. She seemed to shrug it off then-- denial? This week she says that she called the ophthalmologist and they got her in right away. Good thing she had listened to us. (I am thinking to myself: OK, your son suddenly shows signs of what could be a severe neurological disorder, and you are wondering whether to take him to the doctor?). Oh, I forgot to add that she is married to a doctor-- a resident, actually, as are all these women.
Another woman comes up. I know from one of the other moms that she just had a miscarriage at 13 weeks. Ouch. I sat down next to her. Although I don't know her very well, I tried to engage her. I told her that I, too, had a miscarriage, and tried to give her the opportunity to talk about it if she wanted to. On the edge of sobbing the entire time, she told me that she was upset because she felt like she wasn't going to have another child (her boy is 2 1/2) and she didn't want to come to terms with that.
I said, "Well, you don't know that. But that's not to decide right now. You have to take care of yourself and your son right now and heal physically and mentally. Could it be that you won't be able to have another kid? Possibly. But as much as you want it and feel like you have to have another kid, you were a person before you had a child. You need to get back in touch with that person and see that there's a lot of life worth living, no matter what happens. And you have a beautiful boy right now."
She looked at me like I had ten heads. I think I lost her around where I said that she was a person before she had a child. You know, like a person with interests. With things she's good at. With a pupose and with humor and knowledge. It pierced me that she absolutely did not feel that way. Not at all.
She had to follow her child, who was a bit too forcefully trying to impose a frisbee as headgear on another child. She walked away.
After she walked away another mom who was sitting there said, "OK, how about a thank you for the flowers I sent? All I can say is that I'm the bigger person. I'm the bigger person. She may have problems with me, but she could at least say thank you for the flowers I sent." She continued, addressing me: "Don't listen to anything she says. She's just looking for attention. For people to feel bad for her. She doesn't have many friends, so she wants people to feel bad for her. Well I don't. I've done what I should have done, and now I'm over it."
I didn't get it. I obviously didn't realize that I was in the "other" universe. I tried to reason, "Well, maybe she felt uncomfortable here because you're pregnant, so many other women here are pregnant. Maybe that makes her feel weird. I can understand that."
The woman replied, "Well you know what, if she has a problem with me being pregnant, she should just get over it. Me being pregnant has nothing to do with her miscarriage. And I've tried to be nice to her. I'm the bigger person, you know."
Yeah, I know, I thought. You're the bigger person, I get it.
As with most things, the events described above are not as simple as they seem. Yet there must be some strong protective, almost animalistic reason that all three women (the mom of twins included) acts so self-involved.
I saw the patterns before, but today sort of solidified it when at moments I tried to connect their stories, to empathize with one or another. To show interest for their concerns. To inspire them to some sort of solidarity. We're in this together, I thought.
But we're not in it together.
Of course there's the element of reproduction that, by definition, means furthering our own genetics and our own interests in the world. No one sits at home and glances down at their pregnant belly hoping that the child resulting will turn out to be of the opposite political party. Pacifists don't wish for war-mongering children. Stiff-upper-lip types don't wish for pansies just in order to add a dash of diversity into the world.
Yet, beyond that, I think there are two very prevalent, and very basic drives behind having progeny: having something of one's own that one can shape, control, and care for. And, perhaps even stronger: insurance that one will never be alone.
I would argue that, no matter how cultured, how aware, how intellegent one is, these basic elements are somehow present in the drive to have children. Kept in check and dealt with consciously and purposefully, I think these things are simply part of a natural instinct. However, when someone is not conscious of these elements, in denial or acting out of pain or fear, these drives can be dangerous.
Children, as we all know, are not necessarily a healing salve for a broken relationship. They are not a replacement for having thoughts, feelings, ideas, skills and plans of our own. They are not us. They are not, nor should they be treated as, a stand-in or a replacement for our own feelings or ambitions. The more we project on them, the more disservice we do to ourselves, to our relationships, and to them.
My son, like most of his contemporaries, loves Thomas the train. Last week when he was feeling like doo-doo I took him to Target and got him the Ginormous Book of Thomas Stickers. He picks out a few a day and puts them on his chest, upside down, so that when he looks down at his chest he can see them right-side-up.
Of the over 700 stickers, there are only two of his favorite character. (Ironically, his favorite Thomas character is Harold, the helicopter). I must admit, even though it irks me that Thomas stuff is so prevalent (and highway-robbery expensive), I always like to see Harold. Partly because when I see him, I always think "Don't be a helicopter mom". Don't try to solve all your son's problems. Don't expect him to solve yours. Be present, but don't hover. Helicopters are alone-goers. Because of their blades, they can't get too close to anyone.