Tue 3 Feb 2009
there appears to have been a rip in the space-time continuum because both my children are currently sleeping. in the daytime. in their beds.
lest you think i exaggerate the rarity of this blessed event let me explain that the younger one is just learning to nap like a civilized infant whilst the elder one is – cue wails from the maternal peanut gallery – in the processing of outgrowing his tenure as a civilized infant and instead barreling whole hog towards being either a Big Child or a pirate, depending on the day, and neither Big Children nor pirates nap particularly well, unfortunately. i suspect it’s all the swaggering and roaring, in either case, but at the moment both my offspring are dozing and i am lying here on my side on the couch sans the company of short people and thinking that the gray light flooding in the window makes it feel rather like the beginnings of bedrest last year and wondering if i’m any different now than i was then.
i wonder this because i have this pesky attachment to the idea of myself as a dynamic, improving being. it’s the old modernist myth of progress boiled down to the individual level, where i get all twitterpated each time i become conscious of some personal failing as personal rather than the only reasonable and normal response to a given situation – oh, huh, not everybody goes into paroxysms of fury at drivers who fail to signal? – because, my stars! the emancipation! the agency! i can shed this flawed skin and emerge from my chrysalis new and delightful and better! now with more cowbell!
sometimes the change is real. i can learn. i now reserve all my turn-signal righteousness for my poor, beleaguered mother, who – as she is also capable of learning, if not of turning on her blinker before she engages the car in a turn – now simply refuses to drive me anywhere. win win, jolly good, pip pip.
but mostly i suspect that the idea that we are ever-improving beings is shite. it’s a dangerous siren song, and one so ubiquitous that as a culture and a species we repeatedly steer blindly towards the paths of our own demise. we choose short-term gains in spite of long-term damage and in almost all areas carry on as if nothing rotten is ever really going to happen to us. we’re engaged in progress! we’ll be fine! i know all the seventy-three reasons why high fructose corn syrup is bad for my glucose-intolerant self and my goal of looking less than four months pregnant again someday and my commitment to avoiding the agro-industrial complex where possible, but i saunter by that pack of Nibs in the store and damn! they are just so shiny and purty i swear they hop into my cart of their own accord. every time i go grocery shopping, it’s like groundhog day in the candy aisle.
some self-sabotaging habits are easier to make fun of than others.
from the time i was four, i wanted a little girl of my own. i had Finn and lost him and broken/brokenhearted realized i wouldn’t have traded him for a thousand girls. then Oscar, and i adjusted my expectations and the joys of a baby boy became the rhythm of my days and i understood, for the first time, that my preference had been a prejudice passed down and picked up, and i was shamed. then a miscarriage, and i began to bargain with precisely the sort of god i don’t believe in for just one more baby and damn the vagina i’d be more than blessed with another sweet boy and i meant it, i really did. except that underneath there was still a wistful part of me that ached – and seethed with a dirty, private jealousy – each time someone i knew who’d wanted a girl just…had one…seemingly magically, first try, no complications, as if plucked from the sky. i figured that this embarrassing allergy to other people’s good news was me being ungracious about not getting what i’d set my mind on all those years ago. and i’d wallow a bit and then kick myself and give thanks for my wee pirate-in-training and within a day or two the ugly green head of my jealousy and self-pity would bury itself again and i could get back to going about my life.
then i found out Josephine would be, indeed, Josephine. and i was amazed, because wanting her had come to seem like wanting the sky. and i said, self, take note. sometimes it comes easy. remember. you did not need to adjust your expectations. so get over yourself. a persecution complex ain’t pretty.
last spring i lay on this couch and wondered if maybe i’d be a better human once my heart’s desire of this healthy baby girl got safely here and the quavering over whether it would ever happen for me ended, once and for all.
i can report that the answer is…um, alas, nope.
one of my most beloved old friends is having her first baby. she’s 38. she’s always wanted a girl, and said on the phone last week that she was sure it was a girl, that she hadn’t really given any thought to it being anything else. turns out she was justified.
this baby will be loved and delighted in, by me almost as much as by her parents. she & Josephine will be close in age, and i know that my friend will be a beautiful mama, a good mother. but my first, visceral reaction? the same old jealousy, green and slimy and bilious. i cringed at the pique and said nah. really? but before i could even get the rejection formed it had delivered its soliloquy of woundedness and petty pity. why so easy for her? she didn’t even know she was pregnant until she was almost three months…she did all the things i never did, and bang, she gets her heart’s desire, nonetheless perfect and healthy.
oh, ugly. why not her, after all? i don’t know better people than her. and we all have our lucky breaks and our broken places and this friend of mine deserves all the joy in the world and i’d give it to her if i could so what in hell is this curmudgeonliness? i lack for nothing. there is no zero sum economy. life is too short to compare. adjusting one’s expectations can be good for growth. and yet there it is, the jealousy, naked and quivering. it helps nothing; i do not want it. but like groundhog day, it pops up. and i need to unlearn it, somehow.
she will not know, my friend, not from the face of genuine celebration i turn to her. it is not her burden. i don’t want it to be mine. but change is not so simple as skipping the Nibs aisle.
oh frail human. the same mistakes over and over, the same songs and refrains of willful blindness and short-term self-interest and stupid jealousy that sometimes i get so full to boiling i just want to spit.
today is the day after groundhog day, and i wanted to wake up different.
i hesitate to publish this. jealousy is like the final frontier of friendship taboos…especially the messy stuff, the real stuff that runs way deeper than the cultural cache of yo bitch! your kids are sleeping?!? hate hate hate that counts as sisterhood these days. and i know – both out here and among real-life friends who struggle with IF or have lost babies or unlike me did not get one of the gender they’d set their heart on – that i risk revealing myself as an ungrateful moron when a sweet pirate and a baby girl sleep upstairs.
i sat with friends a few weeks ago, all of us mamas a few times over, and a pregnant one (not to be confused with pregnant friend above) recounted the drama of telling her infertile SIL about her news, after SIL had responded to another family pregnancy announcement by crying all day. the pregnant one found this frustrating, hurtful. i found it heartbreaking.
both are true, i think, depending on where you’re standing. i believe we most of us have our heartbreaks, and also that we’re responsible to those we love to try to fix our shit, try to be as good as we can be. i despair at how often it feels like we’re just groundhogs running on hamster wheels, stumbling over the same old thought patterns and habits and emotional minefields, blind and unable to flip the calendar over to a fresh page.
is it just me? do you have responses – emotional and otherwise – that you’d like to leave behind? how do you do it?