With each birth, then, all that worry whooshed out with baby, made itself known for a split second, just long enough to be assuaged with the results of the Apgar score. They all regained their birth weight within a week, nursed readily, grew healthily, crawled, learned to talk, to walk, to sing, to read, to play happily with others. One suffered a green-stick fracture at his ankle; another, barely two, was almost hospitalised for dehydration during a particularly bad bout of some nasty virus; I had to search out unbleached 100% cotton socks for another because the skin on her feet peeled and cracked and fissured in any synthetic. Oh, and three of the four spent a few years in braces after having a few teeth removed to make room for straightening. All four needed to be coddled through the post-op weekend (my son stretched that to nearly a week!) wisdom teeth surgery.
But otherwise? We have been blessed with sturdy, attractive, healthy working bodies in our family, and these bodies and the lively, bright, creative, resilient, thoughtful minds and souls these bodies act for and through attracted four other such bodies, similarly connected to, powered by, intelligence and goodness and thoughtfulness. So very lucky. And between them, these four healthy couples have taken the terrifying and wonderful risk of having their own babies. If your children have had children already, you'll know how much those pregnancies, those approaches to the moment of birth, are filled with excitement and unvoiced fears, amplified exponentially from when it was our own baby we were waiting for. The relief, waiting on a bench outside the Birthing room, for news from a nurse hustling by, taking pity on our obvious tension, giving us the thumbs-up.
We're four decades into this parenting gig now, and we've lived through five grandbaby births, and we've never been complacent about our good luck and our overall good family health. But while we've regularly registered appreciation (nervously nodded thank-yous to the heavens without wanting to draw much attention?), we've probably come very close to taking it for granted, just because too much energy is needed for the day-to-day realities of family life to be wasting much on worries. Push them down whenever they surface. Don't ever speak them aloud, even to your spouse.
Things shifted, this past week. Someone else is in the centre of the story, so it's not mine to tell, but I'm changed at the core, yet not, somehow. I suspect part of me, of him as well, was always preparing. Had to be. Not stupid, after all. We're regrouping, figuring out the most efficacious responses. Everyone still looks and functions well (the grandchildren are all fine), prognosis seems very positive, specialists are setting treatment plans. And I keep seeking context.
It was always the deal, right? I mean, I know so many stories . . . I've hugged so many friends. . .
My wise and very sensitive 7-year old Granddaughter visited, as you know, last weekend. At one point, we were talking about going out for breakfast and she giggled a memory of her dad eating an inchworm that had somehow traveled onto his plate in a salad. From there, the conversation migrated, as it will with a Seven, to people who eat bugs, to cultures that include insects in their diets, and then, somehow, she was talking about how sad she feels sometimes when her parents kill a fly. She told me that they respond to her sorrow by pointing out that there are billions of flies in the world, thus suggesting both that flies are pestilential and that the one is no great loss. I'll admit I was nodding agreement with their perspective, and so she looked at me very solemnly and said, "But for that one particular fly, Nana . . . "
And this week, after a very emotional phone call, hugging consolation into and from each other, reminding ourselves of context, of how many have already had to do this for much longer, in much more difficult circumstances, the losses, the worries, the pain of others surely more deserving of tears and fears. And yet. For these particular flies. . .
Even writing this much, I'm worried I'm overstepping boundaries. Not my story. But it is, as well, if only from the margins. In fact, perhaps, a story, from my perspective, of the margins, another instance of Liminality as life's inevitable condition. The way a mother's life, a mother's self, is in thrall to another life, that a mother's story changes the instant her child's story changes. The way that the Child's story is the Mother's story if the child is young (until what age?), but the Mother's role in the story changes, shrinks, as the Child becomes Husband or Wife, Father or Mother, Doctor or Lawyer or Mechanic or Climber. . . .
The stories are so hard to tell, the intimate relationship politics governing ownership, the mother-child relationship especially vulnerable to the vagaries of boundaries, the difficulties of this social medium, the cultural conditioning that makes us wary of exposing sorrow and fear, of appearing to invite sympathy. . . But let me leak a little truth today, if that's what I manage to do.
And I'm not inviting sympathy. I think they've got this (Child and Spouse) and we have much support together, our family, and there are so many needier, more troubling stories. In fact, I debated disallowing comments for this one post. Not sure why it makes me squirm so much. . . But I realise that I'd welcome distraction and companionship. Any thoughtful and particular advice, considered stories you're willing to share. Any expansion of my thinking about how our role as Mothers (or Fathers, although I rarely hear a male voice here) and Grandparents changes with the health or happiness of our children and grandchildren (that saying that we're only as happy as our happiest child . . . the reality of that, its repercussions, when we live long enough that the odds play out) . . . Thank you in advance.