Monday, August 2, 2010

White Elephant

I seem to be back on top in the battle for parental supremacy. T thinks I'm C's new favorite because I'm willing to spend hours crouched on the floor drawing giraffes on demand. I know that it's just a phase. Soon enough she won't want anything to do with me.

That's just the way it is, I'm afraid. The mother-daughter relationship is always fraught with tension. The mother looks at her daughter and sees another shot at missed opportunities, the daughter looks at the mother and sees someone who is clueless about everything. I wonder if it's less tense with more than one daughter around to bear the brunt of mom's deferred dreams. As an only daughter raising an only daughter, I won't ever know for sure.

I can't imagine ever being anything less than completely smitten with my feisty, silly girl. If she grows up to be anxious and moody I'll admire her depth of character. If she dates the wrong kind of boy (or girl) I'll silently applaud her romantic spirit even as I'm spouting off about STDs and birth control and exclaiming over the attributes of others I consider more suitable.

She has such a light in her--just like we all do before time bends us low. I can't help but worry about the first gust of wind that will threaten to extinguish it. I worry that it will be something I say or do that makes her feel like she's not enough.

When my Dad died I went to great lengths to keep my Mom happy and busy. I thought I could fill the space in her life if I just poured enough stuff into it. I placed quantity over quality. I didn't want to see that I could never be an adequate replacement for her husband. Even five years later I'm a little wounded by the realization that I can't make my Mom happy.

Sometimes I watch C sleep and wonder what her future holds and then I stop myself, unwilling to tempt fate. Three years ago today I was in the hospital wondering the same thing. At the time I wasn't thinking about any sort of distant future, I was focused on finding out when the perinatologist would be by with his handy portable sonogram machine. Judging from the frantic tugging at my ribcage, I knew C was still alive and I could feel R hiccuping away on the lower righthand side of my belly but I knew things could change in a moment.

I remember thinking about what I would do if C died. I played with the idea of both of them dying and I even talked to T briefly about what he should do if all three of us died. But, C was really the one I worried about most. It wasn't a heavy, emotional thing. My dad had died two years earlier and I was still dealing with the logistical aftermath. Faced with the possibility of another tragic episode, I wanted to have a plan. So, I imagined a future with different arrangements of cremated remains and I took a nap.

The concept of C having many possible futures in August 2010 feels so strange as compared to the high-intensity rapid shifts of August 2007. Three years ago I made peace with her impending death. I told myself that I could survive it and then August 14 came and she was suddenly healthy again. And R, who had seemed so much more likely, was suddenly gone.

On Sunday T and I were discussing our hopes for C and I realized that I have a bit of a block. He was all "advanced degrees" and "making a difference in the world" and I was sort of stuck on "breathing" and "ambulatory."

In this five minute conversation I saw a vision of my own future as one of those sunshine-blowing, enabling nightmare mothers and I started to worry a bit. It's one thing to have my own expectations of the world crumble a bit in the wake of my R's death but, I can't stand the thought of C losing out because of it.

I feel as though I've traded in my ability to hope and plan for more capacity to cope with "very bad things." What if there are sunny skies and advanced degrees ahead? Is it my job to serve as C's chief apologist if she turns out to be a fuck-up? Am I turning her into a fuck-up with my low expectation?

And so, I know this is the slow season for blogging and I know I've been bad about commenting on other blogs but, I could use some advice here. How do you go about parenting responsibly when you're so relieved to have a living child that you can't figure out what ought to come next?

I know that a lot of you are holding onto parenting advice that you can't share with the IRL folks because it involves death and loss.

Lay it on me.


  1. I have a child also born in 2007, so my parenting advice doesn't come from far longer, more weathered years of experience or anything. I can only tell you what I do:

    Wing it.

    I know there is no comfort here in Planet Dead Baby. But I do take a wee bit of comfort to think our ability to cut through the bullshit now and focus on what is important as well as understanding impermanence and the small string by which we are all existing is only going to work in our favor when they are teenagers. If living vs. not living is the measure by which we are doing okay as parents, then we can roll with some pretty heavy teenage crap. If we don't expect years with our child, then maybe we can savor the moments we do have. If we are living moment by moment, then we aren't building unrealistic expectations for our children. They can be who they want to be and that is amazing, fiery, independent spirits who do not easily disappoint us. We also will have some more years under our belt when they get to that point and be able to face those future planning decisions as we get to them.

    But to be honest, sometimes, when I am worn out, I just try to imagine what other parents do, and then I do it.

  2. Don't underestimate the capacity to cope with "very bad things" in the list of things that make one an amazing parent. In fact, I might place it higher on the list than the hoping and planning. Shit. Anyone can do that.

    Back in the days when I had the big C, I was constantly struck by the way my mom was able to cope with those very big things. Amazed by her strength. Every time I needed to be at the hospital, she was there. Cleaning my puke, questioning the doctors. My mom and I, we're not the closest, but I will never forget that SHE was the one that pressed the issue of preserving my eggs before chemo. (only to be laughed off, more or less, by the docs) In her coping, she showed her true love and ability.

    There is a hoping and planning that is a part of dealing with very bad things because in the dealing there is a recognition that there is a point and a reason for getting through. If there was no hope, there would be no point in coping. We would just let the bad roll over us and leave us flat like your beloved squirrel.

  3. I just love your writing Tracy. You've nailed so many, many things that I could never articulate half as clearly.

    I would have to second Angie's point above about these experiences giving us the ability to roll with the heavy, teenage crap. I may well still be stuck with breathing and ambulatory as aspirations for many years to come. Because I'm so very pleased that she is those two things when I had very serious doubts there for a time.

    I spend a lot of time worrying about that inevitable gust of wind, trying to puff myself up into some sort of human windbreak, as though I could surround her completely.

    So I don't have any parenting advice. My most recent discussions with J's consultant involved the phrases 'taking charge', 'setting boundaries' and 'manipulation'. So I can only conclude that I am indeed 'tucking her up' as all parents do in my inability to strong arm by two year old into doing anything she doesn't want to. But I'm trying. I'm just so damn relieved that she is alive that I can't see round it.

    You know that I am only the 2008 vintage in this game and, as such, should probably keep schtum anyhow. But I think m is right. I would say that there is a strand of hope and optimism running through preparedness through the worse. And I think that C is lucky to have you