Tuesday, September 27, 2005

A Twisted Bit of Freedom

Just the other day I was chatting with a friend I've known since grade school. We met on the playground on my first day of "big girl" school at Governor Winslow Elementary. We were friends then, and still are now. (That's 34 years, by the way.) His name is Pete.

Pete was lamenting the loss of noise in his house as his youngest went off to college this fall. I never had children. This was a conscious decision on my part. Ahmed and I used to discuss the possibility of adopting later on, but since my PF diagnosis this is out of the question. I found, during my battles with cancer in years past, that I was very, very glad to have made this decision. It left me with a certain degree of freedom. It eliminated a significant amount of fear.

When you face the possibility of leaving children behind you, death is not just the enemy. Death for a parent is more terror inspiring than the childless can ever imagine. I certainly can't even begin to fathom being terminally ill with a child.

So I was speaking along those lines with Pete, telling him how lucky I think he is to have had such great kids (John and Annie). The great thing about Petey-- one of them, anyway-- is that he is one of those parents who never gripes and always agrees with that premise. Yes, he knows he is lucky. Yes, they are great kids, aren't they? His eyes shine. I loved him before he became a dad, but when he talks about his kids my heart takes another breath for him, swells just a bit more.

I think people often misunderstand my decision not to have children. They mistake it for selfishness, a lack of maternal instinct, or a dislike for children. My fear and loathing of all things to do with infants is legendary. I do admit freely to being terrified of newborns. They're smushy and break easily. Those who love me often joke about it. Those who love me and KNOW me joke gently.

The truth is I could not have loved teaching so whole-heartedly if I didn't love kids. I could not have been such a hands-on, overprotective, maniac-proud aunt and godmother if I didn't love kids. I could certainly never have stayed in touch with dozens of students over the years (some still email me semi-daily even now-- hi Jenny, Tom, Marc, and Paula) if I didn't love kids.

I see so many good parents among my friends: Pete, Allie and Eamon, Maria and Mac, Dami, Marcus. So many outstanding mothers and fathers have shown me what the true spirit of parenting really is. What troubles me is how often I see it go utterly wrong. People sometimes have children so that they can feel something within themselves... so that they can fill an emptiness. People sometimes have children in a misguided attempt to save bad marriages. People within families compete to have the first boy... first girl... first genius... first sports star.

For every stellar parent I know I can name five who are tragic examples.

Being a parent is the hardest job on earth. It's ironic that so many people who make the choice NOT to take on a responsibility of such serious weight and consequence are often snickered at or dismissed as flawed. I've had one woman giggle over my choice, posing the theory that I am a closet lesbian, and spreading gossip with a sort of uneducated, rabid fervor.

Petey thinks it's funny. "If you were gay you'd be the outest gay in the history of gaydom," is how he responded. He's probably right. I support gay rights anyway. If I were actually gay I'd probably be some kind of lesbian terrorist. I'm not exactly sure what a lesbian terrorist would do, but it would probably involve hair clippers and jailhouse porn... or something. Err.

I might be bothered by it, but she screams at and slaps her kids, rarely spends free time with them, and makes bad decisions almost daily that effect their lives negatively. If I thought DYS competent enough to recognize her subtle kind of abuse I'd have called already. I wish spanking were a crime. I wish spending money on trinkets while your kids have no college fund were a crime. I wish women like her were forced at gun point to have their tubes tied and give up the beautiful children they are quietly, gradually warping with their selfishness. But wishes ain't horses, so I'm out of manure.

"You would have made an incredible mom," Pete said to me just the other day.

Anyone who knows me-- really knows me-- would agree. But I also would have made a late mom, having found Ahmed as I approached middle age. And I would have made a rather sad mom, having faced so many battles with my body during what would have been a child's formative years. And I would have made a widow of my childrens' father. And any children I had would be motherless before they finished high school.

But I had no children.

It may be hard to understand, but there is a blessed freedom in that. All the children I love (so many-- I've been lucky, too) will have parents when I go. They will have someone to soften the blow of losing an aunt or godmother who was important, but not vital, in their lives. I can give them fun. I can provide 20 bucks when mom or dad are in a pinch. I can tell them stories and give them a shoulder to cry on when they don't want a parent. I can shove them toward mom or dad when they DO-- even if they don't know it. But I am not responsible for college funds or medical insurance. I am a bonus, not a requirement.

Their parents are not. Even bad parents are not. The sad thing is that some mothers and fathers never completely grasp the fierceness of their importance.

Was I too selfish for children? My god, how selfish would I have been to become a mother without truly considering the motherless ones I would leave behind?

Weirdly, long before I had a terminal disease, my favorite poem predicted some of my current issues, attitudes, and understandings. It's Dylan Thomas-- but not the one you're thinking of. I'll share it here:

Fern Hill
by Dylan Thomas

Now as I was young and easy under the apple boughs
About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green,
The night above the dingle starry,
Time let me hail and climb
Golden in the heydays of his eyes,
And honoured among wagons I was prince of the apple towns
And once below a time I lordly had the trees and leaves
Trail with daisies and barley
Down the rivers of the windfall light.

And as I was green and carefree, famous among the barns
About the happy yard and singing as the farm was home,
In the sun that is young once only,
Time let me play and be
Golden in the mercy of his means,
And green and golden I was huntsman and herdsman, the calves
Sang to my horn, the foxes on the hills barked clear and cold,
And the sabbath rang slowly
In the pebbles of the holy streams.

All the sun long it was running, it was lovely, the hay
Fields high as the house, the tunes from the chimneys, it was air
And playing, lovely and watery
And fire green as grass.
And nightly under the simple stars
As I rode to sleep the owls were bearing the farm away,
All the moon long I heard, blessed among stables, the nightjars
Flying with the ricks, and the horses
Flashing into the dark.

And then to awake, and the farm, like a wanderer white
With the dew, come back, the cock on his shoulder: it was all
Shining, it was Adam and maiden,
The sky gathered again
And the sun grew round that very day.
So it must have been after the birth of the simple light
In the first, spinning place, the spellbound horses walking warm
Out of the whinnying green stable
On to the fields of praise.

And honoured among foxes and pheasants by the gay house
Under the new made clouds and happy as the heart was long,
In the sun born over and over,
I ran my heedless ways,
My wishes raced through the house high hay
And nothing I cared, at my sky blue trades, that time allows
In all his tuneful turning so few and such morning songs
Before the children green and golden
Follow him out of grace.

Nothing I cared, in the lamb white days, that time would
take me
Up to the swallow thronged loft by the shadow of my hand,
In the moon that is always rising,
Nor that riding to sleep
I should hear him fly with the high fields
And wake to the farm forever fled from the childless land.
Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means,
Time held me green and dying
Though I sang in my chains like the sea.


The sun is, indeed, only young once. We are green and golden, and lucky to be suffered by Time's graces. And I, for one, am very grateful to leave only Ahmed behind, really. Only my poor Aji will have a great hole in his life, but he is very strong. We are all young and easy in the mercy of his means. I am grateful, indeed, for my twisted bit of freedom, to sing alone in my chains with a wise, worldly audience of one.

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