My brain has no filter. All of the things that pass before me, from the earth shattering to the inconsequentially trivial, just seems to get lodged permanently in my brain. I don’t make any special effort to memorize things, it just happens. I have often pondered why this is. I think it all has to do with some subconscious process of cataloging by association. Everything is connected somehow. This is all well and fine when studying in school. It was easy to remember lectures. But can you imagine being in a relationship with someone for thirty plus years who remembers every word you ever said to them? Every movie you ever saw, who you were with, which theater. That being said, having a good memory is really all a matter of perspective. Rae says having a good memory means knowing what to forget.
April 18th, 1988. Kibbutz Matzuva, Israel. At the time, we were about two months into an intensive Hebrew course on Kibbutz Matzuva in the northern Galilee. It was an average morning in class spent wondering what on earth the teacher was talking about. I never understood why they made us start class at 6:00. I was always too busy thinking about food and watching the clock to learn anything. This morning, I recall time was going particularly slowly, it seemed that the hands of the clock were on strike. When 6:30 finally did creep around, I ran back to our room, but Rae had not gotten out of her class yet. Rather than going to the dining hall for breakfast, I thought I would prepare a couple of bowls of fruit salad from what we had left in the fridge. Rae arrived a few minutes later and we sat on the steps outside our room to eat in the balmy early morning sun. By the time we had finished with breakfast and had cleaned up, it was 6:55. We had five minutes to spare before class started again. I don’t recall if it was my idea or Rae’s, or whether it was one of those times when we just looked into each other’s eyes and had the same idea at the same time, but a few minutes later we were running down the path to the classrooms and yes, we made it to class by 7:00.
Nine months later in London on the morning of January 20th, food was the last thing on my mind. Rae was curled up on a beanbag in front of me. Neither of us had slept a wink the previous night. All I could think of was that, maybe, she would go through just one contraction without asking me to massage her back so that, maybe, I could get ten minutes sleep, or five minutes, anything. I had begun to wonder if she was doing this to me deliberately. That if she was going to “suffer” she wasn’t going to do it alone. Finally, at 1:26 p.m., after 13 hours of hard work, as if by magic, a head appeared where a second ago there wasn’t one. Shortly there followed two arms, a body and two legs. If I had not seen it with my own eyes, I would never have believed it. Actually, even though I did see it, I still don’t believe it. Rae was reaching out with both hands, tears in her eyes, to hold the baby: “Come to Mommy, come to Mommy.” With those simple words, a curtain was drawn in our lives separating all that had gone before and all that would come after.
Have taken the trike for a spin a couple of times since coming home. Normally at this time of year I’m exercising indoors but there’s this whole Ride for Ray thing that’s still going on. So am trying to do my part. I hope he appreciates it. I’ve ridden these roads countless times but the vantage point from the trike gives you a different perspective. Or maybe it’s just me that has a different perspective. Last time I rode here the corn was being harvested. Last time I rode here I had more functional body parts. I have spent the entire year training for this one huge event. Becoming acquainted with and working within limitations to achieve a goal. But now I find the limitations becoming more absolute and there is increasingly less leeway when it comes to working within them. My body has taken to defining its own limitations and I’m not being consulted. A cyclist pulled out onto the road ahead of me. Generally I would have watched his or her riding form for a few minutes before deciding whether or not to make the effort to catch up with them. But now it seems that watching their form is just a token gesture as they disappear off into the distance ahead of me.
To say that we were apprehensive about having a child would have been an understatement. I often hear people say they are not ready to have kids. Starting a family is probably the most insanely impractical thing we ever do to ourselves. Those of us who think we’re ready to be parents are clearly delusional. That’s the Catch 22 of parenthood. Knowing you’re not ready is the first indication that you might actually be ready. Or as ready as it’s possible to be. The arrival of our daughter Lisa obviously had some drastic effects on our life. The focus of our world seemed to turn inwards. Prior to her arrival, we regularly went out to movies, pubs, parties and visited with friends, but after the birth we didn’t feel a need to go out. To play with the baby is all we ever wanted (other than more time to play with the baby). She would laugh, we would laugh back. She would babble, we would babble back. She would sleep, we would watch. When we finally started to go out on our own again, we would regularly phone home to see how Lisa was doing. The first big heartbreak of parenthood was hearing that she was quite alright without us.
Being a parent is like that. When you become a parent that is all you are. For so much time your identity ceases to exist outside of being someone’s mum or dad. Every decision you make involves consideration for multiple individuals. Perhaps initially when the kids are small your family is sort of a big blob that goes along with you. But gradually everyone develops their own interests and schedules that need to be taken into account. For decades this subconscious juggling act is part of your being. Then as time passes, one by one, the kids disappear off into the distance ahead. And suddenly one night you find yourself making phone calls to friends at three in the morning because the cat’s not home.
When the kids were small if we had no reason to get up, they would join us in bed. Sometimes we would read to them, sometimes they used us as a jungle gym and had a great time. We were all they needed to make them happy. We enjoyed those moments, but as joyful as these times were, there was also a hint of sadness involved. I was always aware that there would come a time when they wouldn’t want to play with us any more, or may not want to have anything to do with us at all. However, instead of letting these thoughts detract from such a rewarding experience, we are just thankful that we had children who, for a period of time, no matter how short it may now seem, let us share in their world.
Our children are part of us. Literally and figuratively. We provide the building blocks that make them. We pour every fiber of our being into raising them and hope that we give them enough to navigate the world without too much pain. I have previously said that I have no clue what goes into making a successful relationship. The same is true of parenting. There is an industry out there of parenting books and advice columns designed primarily, it seems, to make us feel incompetent. But each child is a unique expression of a human being that has never been before and never will be again. Life is too dynamic to be compartmentalized. Just because something works for someone else’s kid doesn’t mean it will work for yours. Our parenting experience is going to be different from yours but if I was going to offer advice I could sum it up in one word. Listen. Sounds simple but it’s not. We ask them why they do things but really we’re not asking to seek understanding. Their answer is often irrelevant. Our questions are too often just a vehicle to interview ourselves about why we disapprove of their actions or choices. Forego the rebuttal. Just listen. I recall spending a lot of time upset with the children when they would try to express their independence. I probably threatened them too. But of course, the only thing this succeeds in doing is driving them further away. Everyone who had been through this before with their kids tries to reassure you that one day the kids will come back. But at the time this helps not one iota. Did our kids come back as we were assured they would? Of course. Maybe a little more tattooed and pierced than before they went away but come back they do. And the time spent quarreling is such a waste of life. Listen.
Their is no road map to parenting. You do your best and hope you have made the right choices for them. Then one day something happens and you have a “yes!” moment. And you know you did right. I recall an event, many years ago, when Sophia, our youngest daughter, was still in middle school. The phone rang and Sophia who was closest to the phone picked it up. After listening for a moment she asked “Mr or Mrs?” She looked toward me as if about to say something but paused. She then turned back to the phone and said “He can’t come to the phone right now, he’s drinking his tea.”
Peace, love and midwives