Son is home. Sleeping on sheets I washed a few days ago.
Despite the the joy that brings me, I am and have been for some time plagued by a thought. It’s not inconsequential.
Is mother love out of date? Is the overwhelming love I feel for my children an anachronism? And worse, would we all be better off were I, and mothers like me, to wake up one day in a state of indifference? “Oh, yes, my children. Nice enough I suppose. A responsibility I shall not shirk. Now, where was I in my life?”
I understand that in a world of scarce resources and scary beasts we need mother love to keep our babies alive. The species wants to persist. I understand that even in a world of many resources, we need to love them fiercely if they are to survive the first year. They wake us up at night, nurse like little fiends, and throw everything we thought we knew in our faces. Good thing they’re cute.
But what of the later years?
I’m almost certain that I now love my children more than they love me. This happened sometime in their late teens. Maybe sooner. Maybe I just didn’t notice for a while.
The only mothers I know whose children love them fiercely are the crazy mothers. Those mothers who kept themselves just out of reach, like glass ornaments hung from a tree. Sparkling.
I love my children too much to play hard to get. I see their faces and I feel my heart beat faster. Like a teenage girl sighting that one boy across the cafeteria. I even try not to call them. You know, all cool and stuff. I fail. I don’t want to leave the house in a flurry of fur and alcohol, call them from a nightclub laughing, change my plans and not come home for the holidays.
Let’s pretend my feelings don’t matter. Let’s pretend my children’s lives are enough for me. That I don’t need their love beyond the dutiful. Let’s just think about the kids.
Did I do right, loving them so much? Would they have been better off if I had been less devoted? Less head-over-heels? Now, I don’t worry they are spoiled and therefore dependent. In fact, despite the hours I spend thinking about their course selection or making travel arrangements or worrying about love lives, they do not depend on me much. Sure, I get the calls for comfort, when something goes wrong. They consult me on areas where I have some expertise. But they have achieved a fair degree of independence. Every American mother’s dream.
I only wonder, sometimes, and it makes me a little sad, if the very fact that I loved them so much means that they won’t know what they had. Will they prefer to yearn in all manner of situations? Of course, paradoxically, if they have to suffer to appreciate me and people like me, I still can’t wish them pain.
In mothering, we never know. We hope we can follow our hearts. And if our hearts are artifacts of another time and cave lions? We never know. At the end of the day, my rule is when I don’t know the answer, I do what I want to do. In this case, most likely, that will mean breakfast burritos. Ham, cheese, potatoes, salsa.
Image: November 1990. They start fat. Get skinny. Cut their own bangs. Have small feet.