Sunday, April 10, 2011

What Parenthood is All About

From the headline, "Sharing the Shame After My Arrest," you'd think today's "Modern Love" column in the New York Times was about remorse at being caught breaking the law.  You'd be wrong: it's about the essence of parenthood.

I haven't cried as much over something I've read in quite a while.

The author, Brooke Rinehart, is a 28-year-old employee of a New York public relations firm whose new husband stole her identity and used it to commit wire and mail fraud, federal offenses.  Before that was established, she was awakened by officers one morning, handcuffed, and hauled out of her newly-purchased home in pajamas.  As her life unraveled over the 90-day period it took to clear her, her mother took on and traveled the emotional distance, physically and soulfully there for her, sleeping, contorted, in a living room chair so as not to be more than a few feet from her distraught daughter, who was sleeping on the couch.

The daughter lost her appetite. So too, the mother.  The daughter grieved her marriage, her lost home, her future, her assessment of reality. So too, the mother.  The father, being male, did his best to be supportive, but in a different (and equally important) way.

My mom in action
When I got to the end of the article, where Brooke's female gynecologist finds out about the whole sordid story and is overcome with emotion about the mom's devotion, I was a basket case.  You can't really put into words the complete investment of a parent in a child, the extent of hopes and prayers for the child's well-being, and the ongoing urgency to prevent, and if necessary, cushion any negative experiences.  Not because the child is you, but because the child is more than you, your sense of possibility and continuity and the repository of years of tiny efforts that seem like privilege because the child then takes that, and from what you gave, becomes an individual.

My children, now launching into their own worlds, probably think me clingy when I want them to kiss me goodbye. When I ask about what they're doing, and need reassurance they're all right.  I was one of those guilty children who couldn't understand my own parents' protectiveness, and as a teen, when I'd grouse, they'd respond that I'd understand someday.  I thought it preposterous.

But here I am. I'd sleep in a chair, too, if my child were going through an ordeal.  That doesn't make me a heroine. That makes me a mother.

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