Motherhood: Yes We Did (Twice)

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Cassie, when you proposed this series of posts—well, the truth is, I was worried.  There’s nothing that seems to make a comments section ignite like someone pontificating on motherhood. And I’m embarrassed to say, I’m not quite sure if my—our—decision to have kids had much to do with science, beyond that biology might have conquered all.

There wasn’t a particular moment that settled it. What I remember was that at some point, the if in the ongoing conversation between my husband and me turned into a cautious when.

This shift happened right around the time I turned 30. The timing was perfect. I could just tell people—I imagine I have told people, people who I didn’t really want to get into it with—that it was that rhythmic ticking, insistent as the clock inside the crocodile that trailed Captain Hook in hopes of his other hand and everything attached.

But I’m guessing that doesn’t help you much. At least, when I was trying to think about what life with kids might be like, and how to make a decision about that life, that’s not what I wanted to know.

This was not a decision I made rationally. The truth is (and I can’t believe I’m admitting it in front of you) it mostly had to do with feelings, with memories. Even with poetry.

One of these feelings: how loved I felt as a kid. I always knew my parents were crazy about my brother and me. My dad, in particular—he was 50 when he met my mom, and at that point, I don’t think he thought he would ever have a family.

Sometimes it's like this.

I couldn’t figure out exactly what we were doing to be so delightful, but even at the time, I knew he thought we had changed his life for the better.

I guess another way to talk about how I made the decision is to tell you about a poem I once read. I can’t remember the name of it, or who wrote it, and I might even be misremembering what it’s about. But in my memory, there is a stadium filled with all of the lives that a person could have led, and they are all sitting there, watching the life you’ve chosen play out the rest of the game.

I first read the poem when I was in Spain, and realized that the doctor that I thought I was going to be needed to step off the grass and into the stands, to watch.

And later, as my husband and I thought about having children, I realized that the game I wanted to see was the one in which a mother stood at the center of the field.

Because I knew—for me—this would be the most unpredictable life, the one that would deal out the most challenges, provide the most risk. Another person could find a cause and fight for it, move to another country, transform herself from the inside out.  She could invite children into her life in other ways, and really let them in.

And this is one of my weaknesses. I’m too cautious to do any of that. Too happy to keep doing things the way I’ve always done them. Too quick to throw up very comfortable walls that keep the rest of the world out.

One of the things that I was both dreading and wishing for was exactly this: that parenthood would make me a different person. A selfless person. I had a friend who, on several occasions when I put her off by saying we were waiting a few more years to have kids, said, “So, you’re just going to have a few more selfish years, then?”

After I had my first son, I found that I was a different person. And I wasn’t at all. I still got hungry and grumpy and worried and tired. I still did not mind cleaning toilets, like I had in college. I still wanted nothing to do with vomit. I still looked longingly at waves I didn’t have time to ride.

But new things have emerged, and continue to do so. I’ve found I am (usually, mostly) more patient than I ever thought I could be. I can (usually, mostly) sing lullabies until my voice gets hoarse.  Even though I’m not someone who would have been described as warm, nurturing, motherly—I liked it all so much (usually, mostly) that I wanted to do it again.

But it's more often like this.

And here’s where maybe the science part comes in. Through my children, my capacity for wonder has returned. Before they were born, I had come to a point where, even though I asked questions for a living, I had stopped asking the questions that mattered.

Now I have to answer questions from the time I wake up until long after we should all be in bed.

In answering, I realize how much I don’t know. Why, for instance, is the ocean salty–how did it get salty in the first place? What is that slimy stuff coming out a snail? Why do people like shoes so much? Do monkeys sweat?

There are all the questions that I will never have the answers to: Will we all die in the same house? Where is Grandpa Morley now? When we die, will our dishes still be here?

(Actually, I can probably guess at the last one. Barring natural or unnatural disaster, there will always be dishes in the sink.)

I guess this is getting into something that you didn’t ask about, which is, what was the result of all of these feelings, this poetry?  For me, it’s been connection. Connection with the questions that I should be asking. Connection with other parents, and with my own.

One of the great joys of being a parent has been seeing my mom being a grandmother. Seeing how she loves my sons, I can see how much she loved me as a child, how much she loves me still.  I feel the same joy seeing my brother be an uncle. Seeing my husband be a father.

I realize I haven’t said much about what’s hard about being a parent, but it seems like enough people talk about that. There are things that I have given up, at least for the moment. But with everything I’ve received from my children, I feel like I’m only now entering my selfish years.

Somewhere in that stadium in the poem that may or may not exist, many people who I might have been fill the stands. At least one of them is a doctor. At least one of them is a biologist. One does research on bioluminescent plankton in Belize, another climbs into tree canopies, another works in Antarctica. Several wrote books before they turned 35. They speak many languages, and they surf more gracefully, ski more boldly, and run faster than the person standing in the center of the field.

But that’s the thing: I’m not alone out there.

There are so many people with me. Some of us have kids and some don’t, and some are doctors and some are biologists and some have written books. One of them is you. And my boys are there, too, saying that now is the time for me to play.

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Images   Top: Allie Wanberg  Middle & Bottom: Chris Cottrell

This post has been edited since it was first posted. I fell asleep while putting the kids to bed and didn’t get the chance to clean up my messes, here or in the sink.

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13 thoughts on “Motherhood: Yes We Did (Twice)

  1. Cameron, this is as beautiful as I’d expect it to be. But you’ve gone one further and specified that thing about having kids that’s so hard to specify, that deep sense of connection and not just with the kids either.

    On a semi-related note: my mother made the mistake once of using the phrase, “the joys of motherhood,” and my sister and I spent the next five years asking her, “What are they, Mom? What are the joys of motherhood?” And the poor woman never could answer.

  2. I really enjoyed reading your post; the stadium poem is familiar to me. We have been trying for our 2nd child for several months now – each month parts of me return to the stadium to rethink and each month I stand strong that this is indeed who I want to be… although admittedly the last month I spent more time in the stadium really looking around.. Thanks for your post, it really resonated and parenthood has been an adventure I couldn’t have picked or dreamt to come true.

  3. Thanks, @Ann. I used to wonder when people said kids were so “rewarding”–did the kids actually give out rewards, like when you find a lost dog?

    @Stacey, thank you for reading–I feel like I might not have thought about the second enough in advance, and then had lots of rethinking while I was pregnant. Although everything worked out well, I think the way you’re doing it is much wiser.

  4. Thanks, Cameron. Beautiful post. I love the idea of the stadium. It resonates, because one of the things I hate most is limiting my options. When I think about having a kid, I often have thoughts like “but what if we still want to live abroad?” and “what if I decide to open a restaurant?” The other day I asked my husband, “Is it too late for me to be Beyonce when I grow up?” The idea that some versions of myself are now out of the game for good breaks my heart. Sometimes I feel like I’m still a kid myself, trying to figure out who I am and where I belong.

  5. Hey, Cassandra,
    We lived abroad for a year with our toddlers. You can still wear another country’s jersey in your stadium for a while if you want, even if you have kids…

    But I completely agree that it is devastating to feel like certain versions of us are no longer options. I think this must be the force behind the mid-life crisis.

  6. Cameron, I have so much to say and don’t even know where to start. Liz directed me towards this, as I must have missed when and where you shared the link. Beautifully said, I smiled knowing bits of this about you, and chuckled at the bits I didn’t know. (When were you in Spain and when were you dreaming of becoming a doctor?)
    Motherhood is an amazing place to be.
    Hugs to you. I miss you.
    Nicola

  7. What a lovely post. I’m unfamiliar with the poem with the stadium imagery, but it’s a haunting idea. I think you’ve captured well that sense of what things change and what things do not as a parent. Thanks for this piece of thoughtful writing.

  8. Beautiful post. But I like to think we can all still choose those lives in the stands (or parts of them, anyway) and that no dream is given up for good. Kids don’t have to replace the dreams, although they might adjust the timing. I want to teach my 3 year old something I believe: you can do anything you want, if you want it badly enough.

  9. I fully support those parents that really and FULLY want to be parents. Their intention and need to connect and bring up a small, little person and watch their growth, is to be commended and I do. With all my heart.

    I am however, one of those women whose own difficult childhood was one of no sense of connection, unsure of any stability of marriage and overwhelmed by the prospect of responsibility to a little person whose needs I might not be able to meet.
    I chose not to have children and have not regretted it. Not one bit.

    What MY problem is, and that of many like me, are those condescending remarks that we’re too fickle or don’t know our own minds and bodies well enough.
    That we’ll regret it. And most importantly, even the national debate on same sex marriage keeps pushing the procreation meme as if those of us non parents are chopped liver and have NO other important contribution to make BUT babies.
    The prejudice against non parents and their decision is insulting and inconsiderate.
    To assert that we’re selfish and outright child haters, goes even further.
    There is no conspiracy among us non parents to KEEP others from that decision.
    But the reverse certainly isn’t true. I met a great deal of stonewalling and the kind of ‘I know what’s best for you’ attitude from the initial gynecologist I consulted for a tubal ligation.

    It’s those adults who have children regardless of the social, economic or physical condition they are in (such as illegal drug addiction.). Those adults that know they have no intention of marrying the other biological parent, nor would support the child.
    Regardless of poverty, history of violence, any number of dangers a child can be born into, now more than ever in our modern society, such tragedy can be prevented.
    After all, NOT having a child in a world with 7 billion and counting souls in it, is hardly a PROBLEM of NOT enough procreation occurring.

    I, in fact, dearly love children. Very much. And knew better than anyone that my economic and marital situation disqualified me from parenthood.
    But I do thank those parents who have been generous with their children and their company. I baby sit often, I mentor teens and put in a lot of time in the care of young folks.
    Child birth, wasn’t at all necessary.

  10. Thanks so much for all of your comments about this post, and this week of posts.

    @Allison, I agree. I think one of the things that appealed to me about the stadium (an image that you’re probably tired of by now!) is that all those other lives are still there, witnessing what’s happening–and can always get back out on the field if it’s their time. I’m looking forward to the halftime show, which I hope includes Cassie’s Beyonce.

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