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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Separation, Part Two (Children Mentioned)

My neighbour comes over to my house. It is 7:30 at night. "Have you seen, A?" he asks, referring to his estranged wife. I saw her that morning. He starts the conversation in a light voice and it gets progressively more upset. She is not returning his phone calls, emails or text messages. He returned to his old home to find it completely empty. She moved over the weekend without telling him. A secret parting. He doesn't know where his children are.

I didn't want the twins out of my body. I knew once they came out, they would always be moving away from me.

Someone pointed out recently the closeness of unrelated words. Marriage and miscarriage. The difference of three added letters. I am fixated on the word mother. And smother. The inclusion of a single "s".

It doesn't matter whether I'm infertile or not. There has to be a final child. I am so proud of them when they do something on their own, master self-feeding, slip their arms into their sleeves unaided. I am so hurt by this human impulse to separate, to become self-sufficient. It isn't me--I know that. I know their desire to become their own person separate from us has nothing to do with whether I am lovable. It has a lot to do with proper parenting. If you are doing a good job, a child should be moving away from you, leaving threads that run between you, thin strings of emotion. I am forever bound to my parents. I love them beyond words. But I am my own person making my own decisions. They raised me well. I must have broken their hearts a thousand times growing up. My children are breaking my heart and this needs to happen.

When Amish men marry, they grow a beard. A ring can be taken off the finger. It can be slipped into a pocket. The ring, like the marriage, can be forgotten. When someone or something is forgotten, it is no longer held sacred. A beard cannot be removed without a razor. It is a purposeful act, the separation of a man and woman. It requires a straight-edge.

It goes back to the tree, with the roots constantly growing downward, grounding it and nourishing it. With the exception of death (and it's impossible to not think about death on a day like today if you live in America), no other separation is completely permanent. There is always the chance for reconciliation, the possibility that circumstances will align and bring two people back together regardless of the tumultuous waters that have passed under the bridge. Regardless, certain separations have the air of permanence. A woman who runs away with a man's children does not seem to be moving towards a common understanding. A live and let live. Do these actions sever those roots? Once they are cut, can a person ever be whole again or is he constantly grieving, a missing piece of his heart shuttled somewhere across the world. He doesn't know where it is.

There have been thousands of times when my parents don't know where I am. Millions of times. In a few minutes, I will go to the grocery store. Purchase all-purpose flour, potatoes, and eggs. My mother will never know. Growing up means growing away, leaving your parents, gathering secrets that are not even meant to be secrets. There is just a finite amount of time in the day. The more I do, the less my parents know, by the sheer fact that I cannot tell them everything. Beyond the time when they are in their room and the door is closed, I know everything my children do. Every sip of water they take or toy they touch or book they read. There will be a day--too soon--when my children will go to school. A teacher will get to take a greater portion of their waking hours than the parents. A teacher will know what they drank, what they touched, what they read. I will either be told or I won't. I will enter into a space of not knowing.

2739. Give or take a couple hundred. Every meal is a reminder that he is my son. My picky eater. A three year old who looks at noodles in revulsion. Who has a rotating menu of six items--all bizarrely unrelated--who gags on an m&m, who shrinks from jelly beans. Except they're not my fears. Grilled cheese is one of the six whereas my own food phobias extend to anything beyond mozzarella on pizza. People laugh when they see him eat and say, "oh, he is so Melissa's son." But his food aversions are his own. This is not biology at work. This is simply two picky eaters living in the same house. But I laugh and repeat the joke too because I want it to be a bond between us. Our finickiness. Our lack of desire to try new foods. I want him to see himself in me, put weight in that biology, that bond. I don't want him to ever go.

Does biology even matter when it comes to bonding? Won't he either love me or not based on his own personality, his own set of beliefs, his own point-of-view or interpretation of his world? Won't he either love me or not based on my own ability to give love and accept love? There are children who are adopted who love their parents unconditionally. There are children who are biologically related who hate their parents completely. It feels entirely out of my hands at a point, like I'm letting that love roll off of my hands and I can barely feel the impression left by my own love on my fingertips. I have given it away; a person is constantly waiting to see if it continues to return. A boomarang motion. Basing that love in biology, that bonding in biology, feels like a quest to control it. To make love a promise rather than a constant dance of give and take.

I am choosing to believe in nurture over nature. There is an active role to take. I do better with active over passive. I am trying to create a space where a person wants to return. I am trying to create a home that will encourage our trees to nourish their roots. I am trying not to smother. I am trying to allow that breathing space, remembering how I felt the first time I kept a secret, built my own life. Those secrets, they're not meant to hurt, to build a wall. They are meant to shape oneself. It is the difference between separation and the cleaving of a heart. The natural order of events and the unnatural loss that comes with a severing of two people.


katd said...

When I packed Lily's newborn things up, I had these feelings. The thoughts of "Oh my goodness, she's going to drive a car someday" and "What will I do when she goes to college?" She's five months old! :) But, she learns every single day how to function in the world without me right next to her. She can use her own hands to grab a toy now - I don't need to give it to her. How did my mom ever survive when I moved four hours away? I have no clue.
I'm with you on the nature vs. nurture. I have to believe that my daughter will KNOW with all certainty and clarity that I am her mom. Not biologically, but in all the ways that count. I'd rather be active than passive, as well.
Your poor, poor neighbors!
This is one of my favorites of all your posts. Beautifully said!

Jess said...

I can relate, even though Ava is just 4 months!!

Recently we had a discussion about sending Ava and Ethan to school and what we would do, who we would send when, and I had previously thought we'd obviously send Ava on time and Ethan late, since he is male and there's just 6 months between them. But it seemed as we talked that sending Ava early would be better. I was panicky. Sending Ava early??? And then Travis says, "Well, and to make sure she's ready, we can send her to preschool the year before." and I was like...NO WAY, she'll only be 3 1/2 and 4. NO.

Heck, I only yesterday have scootched the cosleeper away from the bed to inch ourselves into putting her in the crib in our room and then into the other room in the crib when baby #2 comes. Baby #2 comes in December and I have no desire to push Ava into a new bed and another room all at once with a sibling all of a sudden, so it has to be done soon...but it's SO HARD.

I've really enjoyed the last two posts. Well said. :)

Heather said...

If you asked my husband, his words might be "WIFE" and "STRIFE"...just sayin.

Starfish said...

This post is so horribly true. I think of these same things often, but only heart can't take dwelling on them too much.

Just yesterday we packed up his baby bottles for good. In an instant that phase is over and done with. I realize now that there will always be a phase ending at any given time. It's thrilling and depressing all at the same time. But this is my purpose - to raise a man who will be someone, to himself and to others.

Tina said...

Wow.... Just wow. I have just never really come to grips with the idea of separation...especially from Chris, as he started school yesterday and speech therapy today... you've got my mind going.

Krista said...

Wow, this post made me cry. My little guy is only three months old and I want so badly not to be an overprotective parent, to encourage him to be independant and courageous and polite.... But my god, why do these things mean he will inevitably be less "mine".

Meg (journeytothecentre) said...

Mel - what a great post. This is something I think about a lot. I can't tell you how many poems I've written on the topic of seperation!

I sometimes think we have children just for the purpose of giving them away to the world.

It's not nice, but it's the natural order.

Sunny said...

Great thoughtful post!

Bea said...

This is a heartwrenching post, so I'm a little ashamed to fall back on someone else's words here. Cake again: Let Me Go. Works best if you know the song, of course.


Somewhat Ordinary said...

This is interesting because I was just thinking about how I will be when it comes to seperation and my little one yesterday. My best friend's 2 year old started Montessori on Monday and her nephew started last week. Her nephew has cried every day when his parents left, but my best friend's little girl has bee nperfectly content. I asked her if it made her sad that her little girl just ran off to play. She said, "Actually it made me very happy. I want her to be independent and this just showed me that we've done a good job of teaching her to embrace the outside world." I was amazed by her strength. I wonder if I will be able to be so level headed about my own child's growing up.

I'd like to think that biology doesn't matter when it comes to bonding. This morning when my husband laid his head on my belly and kissed our baby good bye it didn't matter to him that the life was created through the help of a donor. I don't think he would be any different if the child shared his DNA and hopefully that bond of love will go both ways!

chicklet said...

I like so much of this, but the part about how proud you are when your kids do things on your own reminded me that's what I want. Sometimes I forget and wonder if I even want kids, that maybe I'm lost in this land of trying and not being able to stop. Thx.

Beagle said...

There is so much to think about in these two posts.