For the most part, I am extremely dubious about claims that parenting imbues anyone with special insights or perspective that non-parents somehow cannot also attain. We might like to think so, but really we’re all just muddling along the best we can. I was talking to another parent at TheLittleGuy’s weekend gym class the other day and we agreed that “who knows?” and “it’s a mystery!” and just muddling along were the best characterizations of the mental life of the parent of a toddler. I’m told it doesn’t get any less confusing, just differently so, as they grow.
But I think there’s one big exception to this, and I think that is the feeling engendered by the thought of harm coming to your child. My worst-feeling, most-blubbery moments as a parent have come from two things: 1) sleep deprivation (and since that’s also a Cheney-style torture technique, I think that’s just a fact of human nature and not unique to parenting) and 2) when TheLittleGuy has been hurt–even in a comparatively minor way. We’re dealing with another bout of ear infection right now and while he’s pretty stoic about it, it makes so very sad for him. When he’s actually in pain, I can usually manage to hold it together to help him cope, but once he’s fine again I often have to take a moment to cry myself.
The thought of anything serious happening to him is what causes me the most anxiety and pre-emptive stress as a parent. And the thought of losing him to some freak accident or illness (and oh, while I’ve never been a fiction writer, I’ve now discovered I have a great imagination) makes me crazy. I have to work sometimes to push those worries and fears far, far away lest I become incapacitated or start investing in reams and reams of bubble wrap.
Beth (Xeney) is one of my “Internet friends” (someday we’ll have a better phrase for that–something that doesn’t over-qualify, but doesn’t presume, either) who I’ve been reading something like 15 years and corresponding with occasionally although we haven’t yet met in person. Her daughter Penny admired one of TLG’s pictures when he was small, and anyone who exclaims over my kid goes on my good list, so I count Penny as a buddy too. (Yes, we moms remember such things – we don’t try to, we just do.) Penny’s enjoyment of her toy piano was also the inspiration for TLG’s big Christmas gift this past Christmas.
Just this past week, Beth lost her baby boy, Hector Alexander, at 22 weeks gestation. And I cannot stop feeling so terribly sad for her and Penny and Jeremy. It is a special and terrible kind of grief–even imagining the prospect of it, as I do during fleeting and not-so-fleeting moments of anxiety regarding my own little boy can make me stop breathing. Often very young babies who pass away, babies who are born too soon, and babies who are miscarried can be forgotten by others somehow more easily, and so I thought I should say something here in this space to acknowledge and remember the little boy of my friend who came too soon and could not stay.