Am I wrong to feel disgusted that Siri and Facebook contain programming to remind me of my oldest kid’s birthday? As if I could ever forget it. The birth of that day. It’s been thirty years. And today is appropriately the “Super Black New Moon” in Virgo.
Where does that time go? In that thirty year span I’ve many, many failures and regrets to gnaw over in my darker moments, but the birth and raising of my children are not among them. The children may argue with me and their father about the “success” of their childhoods or the skill of our parenting, but while I deeply regret mistakes I made and the times I got things totally wrong, overall I don’t regret the unrelenting work of childrearing and the attempts to do right by them. My two kids are “the loves of my life,” when you really get down to it. I gave as much as I had to give.
When this first child of mine (who perhaps regards himself as a changeling) was first put into my arms, I was struck by the valor of the new soul. Nothing is so brave as a newborn–physically helpless and relying utterly on their own charm and the animal hope that our intentions toward them are benign, at the very least.
And to incarnate in this shitstorm of an epoch? That takes guts. I was twelve when I began to observe the warning signs of world-wide dystopia and disaster-in-the-making and now here I was, age thirty-six, daring to bring another into the world. Love is foolish, desire for family runs deep. I was not immune to the hubris that says “I can do this.”
The pregnancy was difficult. When I was quite far along, I was put on eleven weeks of strict bedrest to prevent pre-term labor (one week in the hospital, ten at home). I was also prescribed Terbutaline, a drug now contra-indicated for pre-term labor “because of the potential for serious maternal heart problems and death.” (Here’s the 2011 FDA warning.) Terbutaline feels like speed. Imagine having a body and mind that can’t stop racing, yet being forced to lie flat in bed (only allowed to get up to use the restroom) because to do otherwise might imperil your child? I lived with constant fear and chafed at my helplessness. And what were effects of terbutaline and my fear on the fetus?
During these eleven weeks of bedrest, my sister was coping with having rented an apartment to a man later wanted for killing his own mother with a pickaxe. (The crime happened in another state). I’d get several calls a day from her, first while he was on the lam–she was terrified because legally she could not change the locks on his unit–and then later she would call about all the weird crap found in his place, once he was finally captured. This juxtaposition of my endangered pregnancy with the theme of matricide was deeply disturbing. A couple of years later I attempted to write a murder mystery using some of this material, but I never completed it.
And if that weren’t enough, the gestation and birth of my child also contained the onset of my environmental illness. Before I’d been confined to bedrest, I had begun to notice extreme adverse reactions to fragrances and other substances: headaches, dizziness, fatigue, trouble breathing, and so on. Forays into the outer world were becoming unexpectedly difficult as a result, but I didn’t have a name for what was happening to me.
Once I was freed from the confines of bedrest, and able to lumber about for a couple of weeks before my due date (because a week or two early wouldn’t matter so much), I tried to make the most of my time: lunches with friends, last minute shopping for baby items. In the late 80’s, Noe Valley in San Francisco was the epicenter for the “older first-time mom” phenomena. Women my age or older were suddenly pushing strollers on 24th Street. The woman who ran the store for used baby clothing was a former punk in the SF scene. I felt right at home.
Once our little one was born, I began my time of total immersion in motherhood: nursing, changing diapers, wobbly hormones, hyper-vigilance, sleep deprivation, exhaustion. Due to unforseen circumstances, I was alone for most of the daylight hours, struggling to cope. The Loma Prieta quake hit when the baby was four months old.
I also began to have a feeling that the couple I’d been a part of was for some reason already eroding, even as we had enfolded another into our lives. (We did try our best to keep it together, for many years, even past the birth of our second child…but that’s not a story I want to tell here.) But I/we also had the intense sweetness of bonding with the baby. There’s nothing like it. And I cherish those memories.
It’s also riveting to watch the development of a tiny human as she/he/they/ze grows in size and complexity. I sang silly songs to my baby. The toddler would sing back to me. I remember one time in particular, on the back outside steps of our tiny cottage… I could have died then from happiness. Later there were drawings and stories and harp lessons and anguished observations of bullying directed against my kid. There were passionate friendships and struggles to arrange playdates, especially with one particular mother who didn’t care that her feckless, last minute playdate cancellations were devastating for my kid. There were many, many trips to the California Academy of Sciences and the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park. There were annual Revels. There was Waldorf School (now a source of sour critique). There is so much I remember, and so much forgotten, and so much that my thirty-year old kid would probably like to forget–because there were times I let him down. Badly. The times I was there, doing all the things that mothers do, those are barely worth mentioning as they are part of the young animal’s assumption of care, and for the human in us, part of the atmosphere we breathe. Hopefully not too toxic or cloying, most of the time.
Children must pull away from their parents. They must critique their childhoods and their parents, and reshape themselves in their own chosen images. They are sculptors of self. Even so, as a parent it is hard to watch the teens and twenties. It’s like being on bedrest again, utterly impotent. And yet I’ve never been anything but happy and proud to know this person. So here is my “Son of the Morning,” not so much a star as a streaming millennial comet, determined, self-made, relentlessly creative, and as a song of his says, “never this young again.” His youth he did not waste. I trust his maturity will be wise and fine.
Happy Birthday to My Firstborn.