The good mother

March 31, 2017

About two years ago, I engaged in a 'find your true path' activity that involved writing down everything I ever thought I could be or should be or ever considered, ever. Professional, spiritual, educational, the works, and I didn't have to be tied to reality with my answers.  Essentially, I had to keep writing until an item on the list made me cry. I'd written down 20, 30, 40 things - some of which gave me a tingling feeling ('writer', for example), but nothing that made me cry. Still, I persisted, because the expert in finding the path said that I had to. By item 50 I started to take things less seriously, and wrote down all manner of things that I damned well knew were fantasy. By item 60 I'd hit a stride and was really cracking myself up. Then somewhere around item 63 or 64 I hit it, the thing that made me cry.

 

I'd written down the word 'mom'.

 

It should be noted that the items which preceded 'mom' were 'teach at Hogwarts' and 'save Harry Potter from his horrible family'. Still, there I was, crying at the scribbled word, not sure what it meant.

 

It should also be noted that I was raised in a religion which advised its young adults to consider childlessness, because Armageddon would be easier to navigate without having to first figure out where your husband had stashed the damned pack-n-play.  This worked in my favor, because I would not have been a good mother, and I was just glad that I had the apocalypse as the ultimate get-out-of-jail-free card.

 

When I confide this to people, they tend to respond in reassuring tones that motherhood would have changed me, and that my love for my child would have given me patience. Oh, if patience were the only issue. It would have been so much worse than that. In the quiet recesses of my mind, I knew - more deeply than I've ever known anything - that I would have physically, violently harmed my child. And people just don't admit to that kind of thing.

 

But just because you're a monster doesn't mean that you have to make the innocent suffer. So, no children for me, a decision which helped in no small part to end my first marriage.

 

Fast forward to 42, and I'm now married to my Amy. Like me, she'd opted to remain childless, and we are past the age when people ask about that kind of thing. I'm mostly at peace with my truth,  knowing that I spared a child from what I would have been. 

 

Except I cried when I wrote down 'mom' on the list of possible things to be in life.  


It felt something like a tent revival exorcism, but I had not suddenly re-found God. It was age, and getting the help that I needed. It was understanding that the deep anger is my responsibility and my gift; that I can discover where it comes from, and how to let it go, and when to keep it close. It was struggling to remember that the vessels of monsters are not worthless. This is knowing that, right now, I would be a good mother. Just as I knew back then that there was some undefined frightfulness inside of me, I know now that it is gone. 

 

That knowledge leads to a weird ambivalence - I mean, I have to follow my path, right? Now that I am good enough? And crying on cue *surely* had to mean something. Reflexive sarcasm aside, I stayed with that question for months, and talked to my wife and close friends about it. In the end, I decided that I am a mother, and, like a mother, I made sacrifices to protect my children. No, my version of motherhood does not include a turkey baster or a college fund, but it does have foster dogs and a book that feels like my child, and that's not nothing.

 

I still wonder about the road not traveled.  I wonder why the word 'mom' made me cry so hard and why timing always has to be such a dick. I wonder if maybe I was wrong about motherhood all of those years ago. But there is satisfaction in growth, in knowing that I can now do something that I could not do before, even if it remains the path not taken.

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