Wednesday, June 16, 2004

My beautiful son

I have this beautiful son, William. He’s just over a year old now and I’m still totally amazed by him and the experience of being a parent. I was really ambivalent about becoming a parent for years – could I hack it? How much therapy would this kid eventually need with me as his parent? – you know, the usual.

Plus, I wasn’t exactly the type of woman who gushed over kids. In fact, infants (particularly crying infants) scared the crap out of me. You have no idea what they need! Their crying could mean a million different things – who knows? (I now know infants crying – at least for the first 6 months – really means either: I’m hungry; I’m tired; my pants need changing. Parents' crying during the first 6 months: that's a different story).

Some of this fear came, I think, from my first real babysitting experience when I was 13. Our neighbors two doors down had a nine-month old girl. They left me with her (note the order there – me with her, not her with me) and went out for the evening. As I recall, all was fine until I was to put her to bed. Suddenly I became the evil scary monster from hell – no amount of anything I did would calm her down. She wouldn’t take a bottle, when I tried to lay her down, she stood in her crib and screamed for what seemed to be hours, and would only cry louder when I would try to comfort her. In tears myself, I called my Mom on the phone for advice, shaking with terror. I can’t remember exactly what my Mom said, but I think it was something along the lines of: she’s OK, babies cry, she misses her parents, you’re not killing her. Eventually, after giving up doing much else than sitting terrified on the couch, waiting, the baby stopped crying and drifted off to sleep, and I plugged into the TV for an evening of “Love Boat” and “Fantasy Island”.

The baby didn’t appear to be irreparably harmed (or at least the parents didn’t notice) by my ineptness; I continued babysitting for this and other families regularly throughout high school (or at least until I had a social life); and this baby, last I heard, had graduated from NYU and was moving to Portland, Oregon with her boyfriend and starting medical school. I don’t know whether or not she’s needed therapy of any kind from this early child abuse.

I’m not sure why this episode cemented my belief that I was incompetent to be a parent, but it, along with the craziness of my own parents and my lack of a strong maternal urge, did for many years. Looking back now, I can see that this baby was probably just going through separation anxiety normal for her stage of development (blah, blah, blah), and she poor thing didn’t know who the hell I was or why I was there. Now that I am a parent, I also know now that babysitting experiences have almost no relationship to what parenthood is actually about.

(Actually, mostly when I think back on this now, I think why didn’t my Mom come over to help me? Did she not offer to come over, or was I too proud and wanted to do it myself? And, what the hell were these parents (who I think must have been younger then than I am now) thinking to leave their infant alone with an inexperienced 13 year old?)

I think I really only first realized that somewhere inside of me I wanted to 1) get married and 2) to be a parent after my Mom was diagnosed with lung cancer in May 1995. Getting married or having kids really weren’t things I was planning on happening for me, necessarily. They certainly weren’t de facto expectations of mine. Having kids wasn’t a mortality thing or some cute image in my head, or redeeming myself or my misdeeds, or wanting to be pregnant, or doing a biology experiment. I really looked down on and mistrusted the intent of people (and I think still do) who didn’t know why they wanted kids, or gushed excessively over children.

Visiting a friend shortly after my Mom told me the news, I was on the beach at Cape Cod, talking about the situation, and I suddenly burst out: “oh my god, if my Mom dies, she won’t has see me get married! If she dies, who’s going to help me raise my kids?” (Voice from Now: um, hello, whoever you have these kids with?) I don’t think I honestly knew before then that getting married or raising kids were anywhere on my list of expectations for myself.

I think that one of the things that my Mom’s illness forced into view for me was that I wanted a family. Getting married and having kids in my life seemed like a good way to do that. At the time, I was dating (and am now married to) a totally great, patient, funny, loving guy who’d been a friend for years before we started sleeping together. Even after we were married in 1998, I wasn’t sure how kids fit into the picture. I think I’m still figuring it out, a year into having a kid on the scene. I still don't gush over kids, including my own, but I think I'm doing OK as a parent most of the time. William doesn't seem to have any major tics at this point. But we'll save for therapy just in case.

Someone said to me once that if you think you want to have kids, you should, and that was a good enough reason. I’m not sure that’s totally true, but it’s certainly better to want kids if you have them.

My Mom lived long enough to see me get married, and to meet my son, for which she and I both were very grateful. She died in July 2003, a month after William joined our family. It’s an amazing thing that their times here overlapped at all. I have this beautiful son, William. Crazy.


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