Friday, April 16, 2010
In July I will have been married to the same man for nearly 7 years. From the first month of our marriage at the all too young ages of 21 and 23 we were assaulted with the question, "when are you having a baby?" For six years, 9 months, and 11 days, I have cringed at that question.
Last year, when this topic became valid enough in our lives to begin talking about talking about starting a family, (by the way, I dislike this euphemism. Isn't that we did in 2003 when we decided to get married? Isn't that we did in 2004 when we adopted Marble our first puppy, and again in 2004 when Harley, our second Aussie, came home? Isn't that what I do every time I am with my friends who love and support me and who in turn I love and support?), last year, when I was at the end of my 27th year and Phil turned 30, it was "time" for the talk. My fear, I expressed, was that I never wanted to feel like a baby is what I needed to make me happy or to complete me.
I'm not trying to cast judgment or criticize women who truly and honestly feel that they are called to be mothers first and foremost. I am often envious of these women who live with such certainty. How many times have I looked deeply within myself to see if I had what it took to be a mother. Do I have the generosity, the patience, the kindness, the wisdom, the courage? What I'm saying is, although I've never doubted that I would be a mother someday, I do not ever want one role in my life to define who I am. And, let's face it, I've seen it happen more often than not that a woman with children comes to a point in her life when her children are adults and she's left with a void. What then? When her children are grown, who is she? A grand-mother in waiting?
And then there are the children I see everyday. The 16 and 17 year olds whose closest definition of family they have is the one we create in my classroom. The children whose parents, for whatever reason or combination of circumstances, can't or won't parent. When I bring them home with me in my heart every night what room do I have left to preserve myself and another person? I watch 16 year old girls become mothers; most of them have mothers who had them at the same age. You can't tell me that age doesn't matter. And you can't tell me that 28 is getting "up there."
American women in the 21st century are already placing enormous expectations on themselves to be innovative, sexy, intelligent, successful, clever, popular, warm, generous, assertive, competitive, funny, etc. I must be the consummate housekeeper, cook, dog-walker, teacher, student, friend, sister, aunt, daughter, wife, philosopher, reader, writer, advocate, WOMAN. Fulfilling these statutes that I set for myself is all-consuming. We are inflicting cruel and unusual punishment on ourselves when we set ourselves up to be Superwoman and then chastise ourselves for falling short by a centimeter.
When we do fall short, when one shoe drops and then another, our "happiness" drops, too. And what's worst of all, our self-worth plummets. I'm speaking from experience here. After a few years of a regimented house cleaning routine every Saturday of every month that ate away 6-7 hours of my weekend, one day I sat down and cried out my frustration and exhaustion. I told myself that twice a month would suffice, and the week in between cleaning would be full of fur-bunnies hidden in corners and trails of cat litter peeking out of the utility room. So what?
This is one reason I am not a mother in the technical sense of the word, not yet. I am still plagued by the self-inflicted inflated expectations I long ago chiseled for myself. If I were to have a child and then fall short of my own ideal, not only would I be disappointed, but so would another human being much closer than anyone else ever could be.
I've made the mistake of thinking that one path will constitute utter and complete happiness, only to discover several years later that no one path can do such a thing. A baby will not make me happy.
What am I waiting for then? To experience the moment when I can say, unequivocally, that come what may....I will still be me. I'm waiting for those ghosts to stop rattling their bones in my metaphorical closet. I'm waiting for parts of my past to fade away like the mist dissipates over warm water on the first cool Autumn morning. I'm waiting to be comfortable with stillness. I'm waiting to feel confident about my body. To feel healthy and strong and ready for the gargantuan changes that will happen to me, physically, spiritually, and emotionally.
I'm closer than I've ever been before. So, in 5 months and 4 days when I turn 29 you can tease me all you want. I don't mind.
As Elizabeth Gilbert so candidly put it, "Having a baby is like getting a tattoo on your face. You really need to be certain it's what you want before you commit."
I have tattoos, but when I got them I put them somewhere I don't have to see them all of the time. Once I have a child, I will never look any where else. This is as it should be. And so it will be, when I'm done waiting.
Friday, March 5, 2010
The months in between that first kiss in October and the hot evening I said goodbye in the cul-de-sac where his house sat were filled with friendship, laughter, passion, and sorrow. He walked me to my car parked under the familiar lamp that illuminated a circle of yellow light. Our sweaty fingers gripped each other tightly, gently kissing my lips, then the tip of my nose, he opened my door and then shut it behind me. As I turned the key waiting for the engine to turn over, he stepped back into the halo on the pavement. With the best “Tyler smile” he could summon, his hand raised to the level of his heart and he waved with an insignificant motion.
With the dark road in front of me, I glanced into the rearview mirror to see him standing and staring after me, black curls lit in yellow light, his eyes cast in the shadow from the curtain of his hair. From deep within, a white-hot flame rose through my lungs and wrapped its fingers around my heart, engulfing it until I thought I should stop breathing altogether. The car seemed to roll down the hill of its own volition, my foot heavy on the break, delaying the moment when his reflection would diminish.
We had spent that last evening together lying on his creamy leather couch with our arms and legs wrapped around one another, sharing a chocolate chip cappuccino coke float and watching a Chaplin favorite in black and white and silence. Earlier as I had helped him to pack up the remainder of his brushes and sketchpads, I cleverly performed the disappearing girlfriend trick, stuffing my long legs into his over-sized duffel bag.
When Tyler came back into the room after putting another load at the base of the stairs, he found me with the zipper up around my neck and my wavy, mousy brown hair draping down the khaki canvas.
“I had an idea.” I chuckled, completely thrilled by the fact that I was able to fold my 5’10” frame into such a configuration.
“I can see that,” learning on the door frame he pulled his camera up to snap a quick memento of his “girlfriend-to-go.”
“Why don’t I just go with you? You could secretly hide me underneath your desk in the dorm and take me out for walks after dark.”
“Right, and then smuggle scraps of cafeteria food up to my room at night. You’d be like the creature that lived under my bed.”
“Or the super-sexy-secret-lover that lives under your bed.” My right eyebrow arched as I gave him my best “I’ve got you now” look. He shook his head, laughing in his careless way, as he unzipped the bag and lifted my arms around his neck. Gingerly, he lifted me out of duffle bag and set me back down again on his bed. The waterbed had been replaced several months ago for a standard mattress complete with springs and foam-- a new hazard for us as this new arrangement posed a possible problem; it was far noisier than the gentle sloshing of the water bed to prying ears below.
My arms locked around his neck; my fingers twirled the tightest curls at the base of his neck. “I wish you could come with me.” He whispered into my ear. Then, as he softly bit my ear lobe, running his tongue along the contours of my neck, I allowed myself to pretend.
“What if I could come with you?” We hadn’t taken this road, refusing to discuss what might happen next year and rather choosing to be happy in the present.
“What are you saying?” His eyes locked on mine, furrowing his brows intensely.
“I just thought… what if I decided I wanted to go to school out of state, too? After a year, of course.” I wasn’t sure how this new illumination of our possible future life together post-high school would fair. Did he want me still? Was I worth more to him than some passing amusement designed to keep his mind off of the anticipation of this day when he’d be released of the ties that bound him?
“You would consider that?” He genuinely looked hopeful and I began to feel it, too. This wasn’t the end for us. “I mean, of course, I’d love for you to come to Pittsburgh, maybe find a college that you love, and we could be there together.”
This jump into our possible future was very uncharacteristic for Tyler. As a rule of thumb, he never used the phrase, “what if,” always focusing on here and now.
“I think I would love that.” Daring now to give myself a small consolation that I had chosen the right path back in the fall, to follow him wherever it would take us. I allowed him to make me feel wanted, needed. “I love you, Tyler.”
Tyler stood up, shut the door to his bedroom—all the way for this last time—and turned up the cd player as Morrison sang, “I can feel her heart beat from a thousand miles away…” ...And he sang softly in my ear, “She gives me love, love, love, love, crazy love,”.....
Later as we shared our last low-fat floats, our bodies forming an “S” in afterglow of Chaplin’s wavering lights, the fear and panic began to silently rise within me. Singed from the recent affirmation. The rawness of my emotions did not pause to gather in my throat or lips even, closing my eyes I relaxed the muscles of the lids and silently and with all of the stillness I could muster, released the tears as the ran down my cheeks over my chin and into the bowl. I wouldn’t allow myself to leave Tyler with this last memory of a shaken, weak girl. Who was I to try to hide it from him? He removed the salty, soggy ice cream from my fingers, cupped my face in his hands and kissed the sluggish trail of my tears.
“Kate, I love you,” punctuating his words as he kissed first the freckle on my left cheekbone, then the cluster of freckles on the bridge of my nose, “always and forever.”
Perhaps it was his need to attach himself to something permanent as he wandered off into this new adventure. Perhaps it was his guilt at pulling me along the rapid ride of our relationship when he knew he’d be leaving. Perhaps he was afraid of walking this path alone. It’s hard for me, now, to look back and believe that he meant what he said. I wonder how was it that I was so naïve to believe his unspeakable promises.