10 September 2005

Motherhood, a.k.a. Utter Devotion


I had no idea, of course. No one does.

And no one can explain it to you beforehand. No one can warn you.

I read a lot of things about becoming a mother before I became one – and there is just one passage that has stuck in my head as the “most true” thing I read, the closest approximation in words of what it’s like to become a mother. I don’t remember who wrote it, but it goes something like this: having a child is signing an agreement to allow your heart to walk around outside your body for the rest of your life. That about sums it up. But it still won’t prepare you.

Nothing can – there is just a billion universes of difference between reading something like that, sniffling through the inevitable, empathetic tears and having your heart exit your body from between your legs and handed to you wrapped up in a towel.

Having experienced all of the above it’s fairly inexplicable that I didn’t instantly fall in love with my baby like a lot of women say they do. And maybe they do, I’m not doubting them, everyone’s different. My mother said she did with me (and a good thing too, 'cause I was a bit on the ‘challenging’ side, apparently). But with me, it didn’t feel like love, not at first. The best description I can come up with are the following two words: utter devotion.

Utter.

‘Utter’ is a powerful word. It’s one of those words that doesn’t get used much because it is so loaded, so charged, so very precise. If I tell you that I am ‘utterly in love’, ‘utterly satisfied’, ‘utterly happy’ – I leave you with no uncertainties as to how I feel, I leave you with no questions as to whether there is room for improvement. There is a sense of fullness, completeness. Have no doubt, it says, this is everything, all-there-is, I-need-no-more. ‘Nuff said, yeah?

Devotion.

This is where parents willingly die for their kids - except that there's more to it than that. Because it’s not just that I would die for her – of course, I would. Any parent would die for their child – without even thinking about it. But I would kill for her, too. And I do mean kill as in: cold-blooded, big-fat-gun-in-my-hand, you-so-much-as-threaten-her-and-I-will-waste-you-with-this-fucking-thing.

The curious thing about devotion, once I’d thought about good and long (it’s been three years now), is that it’s a double-edged sword.

On the one side, there’s something empowering about it: the part about knowing that I would do it. Knowing that if I actually owned a gun and had it in my hand and someone made a move on her life, I would shoot ‘em and I wouldn’t hesitate. I would take the safety off. I would pull the trigger. I would blow his (or perhaps her) brains out. Spill his lifeblood. Spew his guts out on the ground. Make him bleed, make him suffer, make him fear me. Don’t try me, says I. I am a mother and I am defending my child. That makes me a goddess, so back the fuck off. Or die. Your choice.

The other edge of the sword, though, is that faced with her suffering, I would do anything to end it. Anything. Things that would fill me with dread and guilt any other day. Things beneath me any other day. I would steal. I would lie. I would cheat. I would whore myself to put food in her mouth or a smile on her face. I would shred every bit of dignity and self-respect that I have, sacrifice myself in every way that there is to do it – gladly and with a smile in my heart (if not on my face).

So much for devotion.

All that makes me wonder if there is a difference between men and women in the way they love their children. Here’s why: when we go out to eat, my husband hovers over my daughter’s food (she’s a slow eater) and devours what’s left when she’s (finally) done. Meanwhile, I am saving bits of my food for her, just in case she eats everything and is still hungry. I catch myself doing this – I’m not even aware of it, it just happens like some kind of fucked up instinct.

It’s a small thing. It’s a silly thing. And knowing me, it’s totally a insignificant thing that I’ve turned into something of Great Importance. But it happens over and over. I find myself telling him to stop stealing her food, making him wait until I am satisfied that she doesn’t want any more before he descends upon it. To him, the issue is not wasting what we’ve paid for. To me the issue is stealing her food.

Not that he loves her any less. I’m sure he doesn’t. But it’s different for him in some way, I know it is. I wish I understood how.

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