Birth and rebirth
Career-bent and stubborn, I emerged into the working world a howling, independent don’t-listen-to-nobody mujer sometime in the mid-‘80s. Tell me what to do? Just try it. Pin me down? Yeah, right. Have kids? Not me. I’m prickly. When not directly defiant, you bet I can be passive-aggressive. My husband and some of my former editors will agree. Because it’s the truth. It’s also the reason, partly, for the fact that we have no children. Don’t get me wrong; children rock. I love them and respect them. Especially those born to people I care about. I’m a godmother, even. But motherhood was never a goal to which I aspired.
Alas, even in her increasingly demented state my mother laments that she has no grandchildren – that not one of her three children, two of whom are married, have any kids. It’s our fault, she likes to point out, our fault, that she is forced to latch onto any child, anywhere – at Sam’s Club, at the movie theater, at church – to lavish with attention, with singing, with kisses, with hugs, with admonitions to the parents about taking good care of them. Our fault. It doesn’t bother me much anymore. How could it? After all, she is right about none of us having children, though I’d be lying if I said I ever really heard that finite maternal clock. The tick-tocking never reached my ears. This is something I used to be able to point out to my mother when she had all her cognitive skills. The discussion is hopeless now.
But the question for me now is this: Why does he come at night, awaken in my dreams, curving himself to the warmth of my body, this child I never had? And how is it that sometimes he is a she, and other times appears genderless altogether, but is a child of mine nonetheless? And how is it that I don’t mind this intrusion into my dreams and my life? How is it that it feels so … right?
I wonder: can the answer lie in the idea of birth and rebirth? After all there are many ways for a woman to be reborn. It can happen in the arms of a new love, while she basks in the afterglow of intimacy. It can happen by immersion in a river or baptismal font – a repent-and-come-to-the-Lord-with-a-changed-heart moment, if you will. Or it can happen more slowly, in a surreptitious domino-like toppling of seconds and minutes and hours: as she goes about her life, she is oblivious to the miniscule changes in her universe that will accumulate to transition her to another plane.
That’s what happened to me. One day I was immersed in my journalism career, following stories across the city and across the globe, and the next, I was standing in my health club after a swim with my mother, doling out Depends and saying that, yes, I would blow-dry her hair for her. Later that evening, I would feed her, give her the nightly medications she takes, watch as she brushed what remaining teeth she has, and finally wish her a good-night.
Is the universe vengeful? I doubt it. I do think that what goes around comes around, simply by the function of karma. But I don’t think my not having children warrants the punishment of having seen three women in my family develop dementia, and my needing to step in to mother two of them. Sometimes bad stuff just happens. Still, the idea of me setting aside personal dreams and aspirations in order to mother my own mother is probably raising eyebrows among some friends and family. Even the universe probably smiles. I know I do.