Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Beloved

A Perfect Post

Her Bad Mother’s recent post on the Eros of mothering has me thinking about the physical pleasures of motherhood. As always, her words are inspiring:

And I want to write about this, too: how my love for her is physical, desperately physical. How my love for her wants to cleave to her, always, to feel her pressed against me, her breath on my cheek, her tiny hands tangled in my hair, her wee proud belly warm against my chest.

Did anyone – can anyone – read those words without feeling a shock of recognition? And yet when I grope for words of my own, what I keep bumping into is the reality that the physical part of motherhood has been slow in coming for me. In pregnancy, I gave my body over joyfully, loving the little rippling stream of kicks and hiccups, the feel of a sharp elbow tickling my belly button. I felt healthy and glowing and unbelievably powerful; I reveled in my ability to eat an entire French Breakfast combo at a single sitting (three eggs over easy, hash browns, bacon and sausage, French toast with maple syrup, and a side order of brown toast with strawberry jam).

And then I gave birth, and traded that glorious enceinte body for a ravaged wreck. The stitches from my episiotomy protested every time I tried to move; my arms quivered with the effort of holding a spoon. What overwhelmed me then and for months thereafter was how heavy my baby felt in my arms. Two months to the day after he was born, Bub weighed in at fifteen pounds, and my aching shoulders and back and tailbone gave shrieking testimony to the sheer heft of this unwieldy burden. In my bath, I cautiously touched the lopsided skin over my collapsed uterus, and felt unbearably lonely.

I cried the first time I realized that breastfeeding occupied eight hours of my day. And I cried when I realized that I was spending every minute of my baby’s naps on the computer, trying to rescue some semblance of an adult life. If my cat tried to curl up on my lap, purring and nudging my chin with her nose, I was flooded with hatred because the one thing I absolutely could not stand was anyone else demanding something from my body – comfort, pleasure, nurture, companionship.

Bub, too, came slowly to the kind of love that expresses itself in hugs and kisses, in the quiet cleaving of one body to another. His was a head that never willingly rested on a shoulder; always, always, his body struggled for independence. Occasionally, at a playgroup, he would sit on my lap, calm and still as he watched the riotous two- and three-year-olds gamboling like kittens. More often, he demanded to be carried around the room, facing out so that he could survey the changing scenery. When I think of his infancy now, I see the two of us chained together like inmates of a medieval dungeon, struggling inexpertly to arrange ourselves, limbs splayed awkwardly, those pesky iron shackles chafing our necks and wrists.

It worried me, once, that I never felt the urge to kiss my children. With my eyes, I worshipped them, their round cobalt eyes, their butterscotch hair. My heart swelled painfully at the touch of a small hand on my shoulder. After the Pie was born I joyously reclaimed my lap, loving the way Bub fitted so neatly in the space his sister had so recently vacated. But my babies’ cheeks, as round as apples, remained mostly unkissed, and only with a conscious effort could I form my mouth into the words "I love you."

I’ve been learning, over the last few months, to press kisses into those soft warm cheeks, to nibble softly on those plump, smooth toes. But I don’t think I will ever be the kind of parent Catherine Newman describes in Bringing Up Ben and Birdy:

A few nights ago I was at a dinner party where a friend had brought her two teenagers, a boy and a girl. And they were just so beautiful, these kids. I mean, sure, they looked very teenager — army-surplus type clothing, vaguely menacing expressions, that funny kind of hiding posture. But after dinner they sat on the floor, curled sleepily around their mother while she talked with her grown-up friends. And they rested their heads in her lap, calm and relaxed, while she absent-mindedly stroked their hair, and I thought: that's what I hope for. For my body to be that kind of home the children can return to, for as long as they want.

The boundaries of my body are more sharply defined than that. I cannot sleep, as she does, sprawled on a bed with the sweet breath of toddlers enmeshed in my own, their smooth, chubby limbs nestled against the softness of my belly. The grief of parturition, for me, is that for whatever reason I cannot share my body with my children; at best I can loan it out from time to time, bridging that separateness for a few brief, ecstatic moments when a tired head rests on my chest or a cheek sticky with bananas and applesauce finds its way into the curve of my neck.

But for all that, Bub and I are finding our way together. We are better at the side-by-side than we are at the face-to-face. Each night when it’s time for his story he lies down beside me, two heads on one pillow, and keeps time with his own book, turning each page as I do, his motions synchronized carefully to mine. The Pie, walking sturdily on her own two feet, is learning the language of smiles and glances, her laughter beckoning to me across the space between our bodies. And in that separateness, my children are also finding each other, leaving the occasional bruise as they clamber over one another, testing their strength in numerous bouts of tug-of-war. The Pie ripples with laughter as her brother’s impatient slaps morph into an impromptu game of patty-cake. They are puzzle pieces, all flailing arms and legs yet fitting together perfectly in those moments of quietness when they discover the joy of warmth and companionship and love. And I look on, humbled and appreciative but always, a little bit, on my own.

27 comments:

metro mama said...

This was so honest and lovely. Thanks for writing it.

virtualsprite said...

That was beautiful. I can really relate. My own Ubergoober is notoriously un-snuggly and we struggle to express our parent-child affection. My heart just ached the first time he asked for a hug. Thank you for expressing this feeling so eloquently.

kittenpie said...

This was lovely! I was quite the opposite about pregnancy, not loveing it at all. I am not particularly moved to love by new babies. But now, oh, now, she is everything. I know why mothers can't shut up about their children now.

OddMix said...

Very well written! And what a beautiful picture of Bub and Pie!

sunshine scribe said...

There are days that I read your blog and I think...I should just close up shop now because this girl's poignat words are impossibly stunning and I feel like I am writing my grocery list in comparison. This was honest and perfect.

Mommy off the Record said...

Beautiful writing. Your little Bub and Pie know you love them, even if you don't smother them with kisses!

Her Bad Mother said...

"If my cat tried to curl up on my lap, purring and nudging my chin with her nose, I was flooded with hatred because the one thing I absolutely could not stand was anyone else demanding something from my body – comfort, pleasure, nurture, companionship."

Oh, I have so been here, too. In fact, I would say that the intense physical love that I have for WB was late coming. And that I still have moments when I need. my. space. From cat, husband, baby, you name it.

Can both experiences - the lusty love and the desire that it not overpower you - co-exist? They must.

Piece of Work said...

Chicka Chicka Boom Boom! They are beautiful, and I like the way we all react to our children differently. I loathed my pregnancies, both of them, and feel an intense closeness to my toddlers, but I don't imagine that I will be that teenage mom either. I need my space too.

Heather said...

Awesome. Poetic even.

I am a pretty huggy-kissy Mom, and my daughter is more of a "don't stop moving unless I have to" kind of girl. But when I catch her and give her hugs and kisses, she protests...with a big smile on her face. We all have our comfort levels with that sort of thing. My parents weren't/aren't huggy-kissy people, but somehow I am.

And it's all just fine.

Love this love letter to your kids.

Binkytown said...

I too was moved by your honesty. There are no right and wrong answers when it comes to loving your children and it sounds like you and Bub have a perfect understanding. Side by side sounds just lovely to me.
PS- that's chicka chicka boom boom!

Mary-LUE said...

Thanks for writing so beautifully about your relationship with your children. It reminded me of the first few weeks with my firstborn. I loved him. I was anxious when he went off with my husband for too long. But he still seemed like a stranger. I didn't know how to talk to him. It all seemed forced. About four weeks in, his umbilical cord FINALLY came off. I had been worried about infection, etc. It was the middle of the night when I picked him up to feed him. There in the dark was the stump. (It was June and very warm, so he was only in a diaper and t-shirt.) I got so excited, I teared up and it just came out of me. "I'm so proud. Look! It's finally gone." And so on. That was it. From there on it was natural.

We all have our own ways of being and doing as mothers but we all have that invisible cord of connection. Whether we are all snuggled up or not, that cord stretches as far as it needs to and doesn't break. No matter how old or how far they travel. They are out babies.

Mary-LUE said...

um... OUR babies. Not out babies.

Mrs. Chicky said...

So beautiful. I have one of those babies that loathe to rest their head for even a second, so I can relate.

Lovely post. Gorgeous imagery. I'm going to hide my head in the sand because I'm overwhelmed at your brilliance. It's just not fair! {stomping feet}

Jaelithe said...

I think these days I think I must kiss my son a billion times a week. (He is already starting to roll his eyes and say, "Stop, Mommy," sometimes, though so I know this won't last).

However, when he was a newborn and I was in pain and exhausted to the point of hallucination and he was attached to my breast for 8 hours a day, there were plenty of days when it took all the strength I could muster to resist the urge to backhand ANYONE who dared touch me one more time, including and especially him. Even if he was the most adorable baby-who-never-slept ever.

deb said...

your words are honest and lovely. (and painful, because I, for one, have some similar issues with touch, and the thoughts you convey in this post ring true.)

Jenny said...

This was honestly the best thing I've read all week. So honest...so true.

Thank you.

Minnehaha Mama said...

Oh, but there are lots of ways to be demonstrative, aren't there? It's also pretty cool to have a mom who can write about worshipping your round cobalt eyes and butterscotch hair. Nice post!

I had a hard time learning to tell my older boys "I love you." I figured out that it was worth it to keep trying to say it.

Rock the Cradle said...

Brave posting, B&P

Thanks.

nonlineargirl said...

To that post I can only say "wow". Ok, and - it is well conceived and beautifully written.

Mayberry said...

I'm with Sunshine Scribe. Honest and perfect. Thank you.

Mother Bumper said...

I love the way you write. I can relate to some of this especially the crying over the realization of how much time breastfeeding takes up (and I cried especially over the fact that I was the only one who could do it when Bumper rejected all advances of the bottle - all types). Thank you for sharing, I had to link to this because it's beautiful.

crazymumma said...

We all find our own level with each other, even our children.

mamatulip said...

Wow. I loved this.

Jessi Louise said...

That was gorgeous writing and I can completely relate to it with my firstborn. He was never cuddly or affectionate and smiled only reluctantly. He has since turned into a very energetic and independent 4 year old. My youngest was the opposite and that changed the whole way I felt about my physical connection with my boys. He constantly wanted to be in contact with my skin and could only sleep on my chest as a newborn. As he got older he wanted us to sleep with our faces touching.
I loved reading this.

Thanks for sharing.

Kristen said...

Man, I'm so late to read this one, but I just wanted to say how much I can relate. I've never been a touchy feely person, I have strict physical boundaries, and I've spent a lot of my kids' lives feeling guilty that I'm NOT the kind of mother Catherine Newman described in that column (I felt the same way you did when I read it the first time, too). But I adore my kids, and I tell them that, and I do make the effort to hug and kiss them - I just have guilt over the fact that it doesn't come more naturally. I could go on and on, but I'll stop now...

Antique Mommy said...

A Perfect Post if there ever was one. So much raw truth. Very good.

Bobita said...

Oh, how I love thee.

I have nothing more profound to say. You have said it all...with more honesty and clarity than I could ever muster.

Perfect. Post.