I don’t mind saying, as my readers know, that mothering is difficult work. That raising children is complicated, exhausting, and thankless very much of the time, that children are more complex, and more interesting, than the fragile little darlings that popular ideology makes them out to be. And I don’t feel compelled, in order to prove that I’m not a monster, to always follow those kinds of claims with assurances that I do love my children, as if recognizing that caring for little people and preparing them to be big people isn’t all rainbows and unicorns is some kind of indictment of me as a human being. Having said all that, I’d like to pay tribute today to just a couple of ways in which my children have infused my life and to render concrete an idea that is overused to the point of losing nearly all form and substance: that children can be the light of one’s life.
I feel fortunate to have the children I have. To have had them at exactly the points in my life when I was ready for them (thank you birth control for working for me and thank you boyfriends/partners for carrying your share of our sexual responsibility); to have two personalities that mesh with mine most of the time; to have the companionship of their wit, intelligence, and compassion; to have the company of their decent manners. I cannot count the number of times I’ve driven away from some gathering or event thinking, and even saying, “I’m so glad that you two are the ones I get to take home.”
It is my supreme great fortune to have the opportunity to mother the boy that is my son. I told him earlier this week, as he was recounting moments of his ninth grade day, and in particular of his agile leap off the swing he had swung awesomely high (BTW, I did give him the option to either never ever do that again, or never ever tell me about it again) that one of the things I love about him is that he chooses joy as a mode for living. “You really like your life,” I said, “and that’s so nice to be around.” At the end of a long day at school, what is typically on his mind are the funny and joyful moments—the feel of that high leap from the swing even though it ended in a crash into the mulch; the sense of accomplishment in mastering a longboard move between his school and my office; the comical scenario of a bunch of squirrels harassing a chipmunk which he tried to record on his phone video camera. It is my great hope that he has many, many days through high school that offer up snippets like these and, more importantly, that these are the moments that remain salient for him by the end of those days. There are times where he is bummed, times when someone’s ill treatment of him would ruin him, days when high school drama works him to the bone. And he does have a code of ethics which, when not followed by those around him causes him consternation (he was frustrated yesterday by a boy who came out of the convenience store as I was going in and who did not hold the door for me; this struck him as a violation of that code). But mostly what he recounts are stories that are light and funny, or, if serious, about the injustice of this or that person’s actions. And these feed me.
My daughter, who recently moved into an apartment (omg) also lives and has lived with joy and I feel grateful that she is my daughter and I her mother. Perhaps with more drama than her brother, but with much delight. And it has fed me. Her zeal for living got me through Ph.D. school when she was little. Her confidence and drive helped make full time work and full time motherhood doable for me. Her ability to see life’s peccadillos as intriguingly absurd and a valuable source of humor has kept me from sinking many times.
Both of them thank me, frequently, for all manner of things and, while they sometimes have a wayward sense of entitlement, they are deeply appreciative of what my partner and I do for them. In all of these ways and more, mothering my children is also easy, rewarding, and a deep source of pleasure.