My children were so very, very young – still babes in arms – when I saw the 1998 film Hideous Kinky. It was not a satisfying film in many ways; a bit navel-gazing, perhaps, and a subject matter I usually react to by rolling my eyes in the back of my head until they click: a young, flaky hippie mother (for realz? I’ve had enough “hippie” in my life, thanks) named Julia and her two young daughters drifting about Morocco apparently because life in England wasn’t fun enough or whatever – for Julia. It was a relatively harmless film. But still, as a newly-minted mother myself it was almost unbearable to watch a caregiver who was primarily self-absorbed, her children getting ill or lost and treated as afterthoughts in her aimless search for fulfillment. I remember – although danger never heats up too terribly for these two young girls – white-knuckling it through parts of what to another person might seem relatively innocuous. It’s not that danger lurks around every corner: it’s that our children rely on us for every safety and bit of care those early years and this has always made the hair on the back of my neck stand up a bit.
I remember a scene in the movie though, when Julia (as played by the always-awesome Kate Winslet) and her daughters are waking in the morning. They’re in a barely-furnished room on a pallet on the floor and the woman and girls are in a state of undress, piled together with arms tangled on a bed. They’re cuddling and talking and in no hurry to get up. The scene struck me viscerally; these three on their own together, sleeping and living as one, no rules or schedules or anything but the adventure ahead. A simple life.
Now at the time I was still convinced we’d be doing things the mostly-normal way because to me the mostly-normal way was apparently a Moral Imperative, that is scheduling the kids’ nap and putting them in playschool then preschool then school and then soccer practice or whatever, with bedtimes and wake-up times and dentist appointments and Doing Everything Right and mostly doing what everyone else does. It was like a part of me wanted one life but didn’t believe it was possible and was doing the best to live the Normal life because the Normal life must be good, or else why would everyone do it?
So, actually as it turns out, I have the life I wanted back then. I have it now. No, I’m not in Morocco or anywhere fabulously exotic (to an American anyway). But everything Free and amazing and nurturing and loving and whole about that scene in the sun-dappled room, two sleepy children and their mother together, a trio that have the whole day together – I have this. I have this and sometimes I barely want to talk about it. I don’t want to say anything for worry someone will come in and try to stop it. Or maybe more accurately, that by saying I have it somehow I will curse it and come to an end, because no one deserves this kind of daily, marching happiness.
When I had young babies I used to dream of getting “a break”. I got one now and then but not nearly enough. I used to make jokes about how hideous life with babes was; if I looked at old entries here in this journal I would find these jokes. I try to forgive myself for what I said. Becasue I realize now that our culture is terribly isolating and shitty to new mothers and carers. Our society is terribly un-nurturing to children, whatever lip service is given to Family Values etc. I wasn’t the problem when I had young babies and my children certainly weren’t. At the time I looked forward to school so I could have Time To Myself and Get Things Done, you know those Important Things that are Real Life. Now I know that it was my culture and to an extent my family who screwed up in teaching me about Real Life; it is my children I learned and am learning through. I don’t hold a lot of ill will toward those who let me down (although I can lay down with accuracy in how they did so). I’ve found the truth for myself and I am daily incredibly grateful I began this discovery. It has brought me untold amounts of joy.
These days I don’t hardly ever, ever, ever need A Break. I write joyfully and sew joyfully and wash dishes joyfully and meet with friends joyfully and run around town with my children joyfully. I love taking care of their bodies and I love being the one they run to when they are hurt (so rare, and so quick they are to jump up and run off). I sometimes feel guilty I am not doing that Real Important Stuff like having a status-y career, which would make me Perfect in the eyes of the mainstream. I don’t miss the status-y career thing enough to be tempted, I don’t even miss the money enough to be tempted (ahh… it was good money though) but I feel guilty because many people seem to have lives they don’t want and I have one I want so much. I have a life I want so much that sometimes I feel like a Weirdo for A. enjoying it and B. getting away with it. We all have our down days and I have them, yes. Also I am only one small tragedy or illness from having myself challenged and from suffering.
But I have been so fortunate so far.
Since we are a one-car family and Ralph keeps needing the car, today we spent our day on the bikes running errands – taking our down comforter to the laundromat and paying rent and paying the garbage bill and meeting my mother for lunch. I love spending time with the children on our bikes; they have the best observances and I genuinely enjoy their company tremendously. For the first time in a long time, since we had to be on the bikes for so long, I found myself saying, “I hope it doesn’t rain.” But there was no small bit of peace in that as well, because I knew I had to run these errands and we had to be out in the weather; and if the weather treated us poorly we’d have no one to blame, only the situation to bear with as much good grace as we could.
And it didn’t rain.
Tomorrow I get to wake up with them crumpled against me. & then again, and again. & I drink up every drop.