Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Grown Up

I still haven't quite gotten used to it, how hard it is being a grown-up.

I'm not thinking right now about the truly hard things, the anger, the sleep-deprivation, the jettisoning of small dreams. I'm thinking of things like arranging pre-approved mortgages and remembering to take your car in for emissions testing so you can renew your licence plates - the sheer dizzying amount of knowledge required to do something as commonplace as buying a house or changing an address. I feel weighted down by knowledge today, my mind crowded full of uninteresting facts: ceramic floors are hard underfoot but don't contain PVCs; proof of insurance must be kept in the glove box of the car; vaccination records must be presented upon registration in kindergarten; furnace filters ought to be cleaned at least once a year.

Underneath all these petty tasks, these bits of modern life, is a soft thrum of remembrance today for a friend who is undergoing her first miscarriage, that rite of passage no one tells you about, that almost universal step on the road of motherhood.

The novel I'm teaching this week includes this poem, written by the fictional Mary Swann:

Blood pronounces my name
Blisters the day with shame
Spends what little I own
Robbing the hour, rubbing the bone.

Characters in the novel project onto this cryptic verse their own preoccupations and needs: biographer Morton Jimroy considers the poem "a pretty direct reference to the sacrament of holy communion"; Sarah Maloney (Ph.D.) reads it as a testament to the power of familial ties; country spinster Rose Hindmarch is pretty sure it's about menstruation. Following their example, I read those lines and recall the losses so many of us have known, marked by the blood we refer to so politely as "spotting." I look out at the sea of undergraduate faces in my classroom and recognize how meaningless that interpretation is to them. They are eighteen, nineteen years old, still in that precarious, giddy stage where babies are a given, a disaster that must be kept at bay by careful birth control, a world where babies are crowding at the portal just waiting for a single slip-up to rush into existence.

43 comments:

Karen said...

You have summed up all my complaints about adulthood very nicely. Thank you. As you for friend, I hope, in time, she knows that company she keeps among mothers will be a strength. Not many are spared this small/big pain and all feel it or the possibility of it.

Anonymous said...

I often insensitively wonder, "What do stupid people do?". I have actually said that out loud in the middle of tedious transactions like car loans, school registration, health forms...and the answer is "They require a lot of help." Having a job with a computer, phone and fax at my disposal should greatly ease the stress yet the tedious things of life are still just hard.

Things to mull over in the dark while counting blessings.

cinnamon gurl said...

Ok anonymous's comment just took my sadness at your friend's and everyone else's losses, including the loss of that fertile innocence with a fit of giggles.

As for the furnace filter, it should be changed every three months, which we found out when we first moved into our house and after a year (maybe two?), it started to get VERY cold. Eventually we were forced to call a furnace repairman and he told us to change our filter. The things no one tells you!

You know I'm in exactly the same place...

Bea said...

Anonymous - EXACTLY. (Are you the same anonymous who told stories by the roaring fire instead of watching videos?)

Amy said...

My sentiments exactly about growing up. Only, often I learn these things too late: "You mean I have to CHANGE the filter in my heater?"

I remember being 19, 20, and thinking that having children was a given. It took a long road full of many medications and a miscarriage to get here, but that makes motherhood even more sweet.

Maddy said...

Too true. 'Spotting' is just such an inappropriate word. What could we use instead that would describe that sear of [mental] pain?
Best wishes

Lisa b said...

There are too many things to remember. The first years we owned out home I was desperately seeking a book like 'houses for dummies'. Being a grown up is too hard.

I know well that feeling that you have picked an analogy that is meaningless to your class.

winslow1204 said...

Thought provoking poem!

Naomi (Urban Mummy) said...

Lisa - what about a "real life" for dummies? I've often mused aloud like anonymous, I am just amazed at the things I need to deal with on a daily basis.

Mad Hatter said...

So much I could say here but I'm not sure I can. I'm not even sure if I am the friend in question because there are just so damn many of us.

I have been parceling out my thoughts and coping strategies everywhere: in emails and short conversations with friends; in longer talks with my husband. No one is getting the bulk of my coping b/c I find that the way I cope doesn't come out in bulk form. I scratch at an issue here and there, distract myself with Austen and other writerly amusements, cry, eat too much, have a glass of wine, and move on bit by bit.

I felt a big pang when I read your sentence about your students and their thoughts on reproduction. I had a conversation with a co-volunteer at the clinic today who is 24 and applying to do a PhD. She plans to have children someday but you could tell that she sees her fertility as infinitely deferrable. You and I, Bea, we know what academia does to a woman's fertile years...for there I was at 38 finally in a job with benefits that would grant me a maternity leave. I had waited because I always believed I could. Wouldn't you know it, I got pregnant in 10 months of trying and had a healthy baby by the time I was 39. It is only now that I see my hubris and realize how freakishly lucky I was.

My oldest sister's first baby died at 3 days old. My sister was scarcely more than a teen at the time. My other sister suffered infertility for years and went through hellish fertility treatments that also involved painful decisions she continues to live with. She had 3 children eventually but, as you know, one battled cancer and nearly lost the fight.

Aye, I am so keenly aware of my hubris these days. I am grieving many things right now: the end of my fertile years, my lost potential child, and my headstrong youth: all gone in 11 days of blood. In its wake, I have been given a more fulsome sense of myself as a woman and as a biological being. As you know, I hate the word "sisterhood" when it gets bandied about freely but given the experiences of my biological sisters and of so many other women besides, I am feeling an affinity to that word right about now.

I am tempted to email you this comment rather than posting it b/c it is so raw. In the end, I think it important that other people see what I have to say about my personal journey through miscarriage b/c so many of us are in this together. Oddly enough, though, I have become extremely reluctant to blog about it.

Mad Hatter said...

One more thing: Anon, are you my anonymous as well? I think I have only the one and she definitely is clever and playful.

minnesotamom said...

Do I have to grow up?

I guess I kind of have, but I know I'd be up a creek if anything happened to my husband. He's done most of these "annoying" things for me...

I have known the pain of losing a parent, but not of losing a child. I imagine it is even worse.

Julie Pippert said...

times I look at other people who manage to keep up their house,a ll the little details, and their yards (God help me) and I wonder whether they sleep. Or goof off. I like to reassure myself that at the end of my days I'll be more glad that we went camping as a family instead of doing yard work.

But oy are there a million little pieces to being an adult or what.

So well put.

Good luck. Change always brings out extra.

Leter9 said...

Your diction today seems different, your meter a bit slower. Fitting for the post at hand.

Lawyer Mama said...

Being a grown up sucks.

I always thought my fertility was a given too....

(Anonymous made me giggle too.)

Beck said...

I sometimes think that being an adult means figuring out a way to keep getting out of bed every morning with all of the sad knowledge we must bear.

Angela said...

Growing up more each day. Each day you learn something.

I had three miscarriages it just doesn't get easier.

cinnamon gurl said...

Oh - and I meant to cheer you for succumbing to your new name... good job!! And I love that it was really chosen by many of your most faithful readers.

SuburbanCorrespondent said...

Everyone warned me not to get tile floors, they are too hard on the feet and legs - but I love mine. Of course, I always have decent shoes on in the house. If you tend to go around barefoot, they might bother you.

Not that you asked...

And the furnace guy just told me I need to clean the filter once a month. Is my house dirtier than yours?

Bea said...

Oh, Mad.

Kelly @ Love Well said...

As a 19-year-old, I was terrified of pregnancy and babies. (Too much "Little House on the Prairie," I always say.)

Then I got married, and we didn't even think about children for eight years. Once we decided to "pull the goalie," I had a gut feeling I wouldn't be able to get pregnant without help.

I was wrong. We conceived two children quickly and easily. Then there was that third, who slipped away in an ER last February. We conceived our darling little daughter, born last month, shortly thereafter. Still, as you said, it seems miscarriage is one of those unspoken steps many woman take.

Chaotic Joy said...

Ah friend, You became Bea when I wasn't looking, but your wisdom and words are the same.

Although I think "What do stupid people do?" sums it up remarkably well.

chickadee said...

i'm thankful mad hatter left her comment there instead of in an email. i too am reluctant to blog about my fertile years suddenly seeming to come to an abrupt end after my miscarriage last year. but i feel it so sharply. and have been neglecting to schedule my yearly appointment because what's the point when there is no heartbeat to hear.

the dragonfly said...

I actually started worrying about my fertility when I was very young, in high school. Not because I wanted to be pregnant then (or was doing anything to become so!) but because I wanted to be pregnant someday...and my period was so ridiculously unpredictable. Two months apart one cycle, thirteen months apart the next cycle. (I'm not kidding.) In college I asked a doctor if there was anything I needed to do, if there was any way to fix it. She said, "no, this is perfectly normal. You'll have no trouble getting pregnant."

She lied.

It took several years and many drugs to get pregnant with the Little Mister.

So, in my mind, fertility is never "a given." I wish it could be that way...

Mimi said...

I'm so feeling the weight of mundane adulthood today. Nicely put.

Jess said...

Mad Hatter's post brought tears to my eyes. Thank you for sharing. I miscarried my first child and I sometimes still cry for her at night.

Great post Bea.

a. beaverhausen said...

And yet? I distincly recall believing (as a kid) that adults got all the breaks. Staying up late. Not having to follow parental edicts. Eating whatever I wanted (hahahaha!)

What a fool I was.

painted maypole said...

i see you've given yourself a new online name... did I miss the announcement, Bea? ;)

and i think similar things about adulthood nearly daily.

Mouse said...

Anonymous made me laugh too, out of recognition of similar thoughts. Our most recent mortgage experience, complicated by being out-of-country, kept throwing up new obstacles that it took more than just Trillian and me to track down the required information.

Mad, I'm so glad you posted your comment here. It was eye-opening for me to discover just how many of my blogging friends have had miscarriages and fertility problems and made the online community a place of great solace for me when I wasn't able to find it in my daily life (what with many of my classmates still being at the 'prevention' stage of life and trying to fly under the radar of academia).

Bea said...

PM - I hoped that if I didn't announce it, I could avoid the pleas of "Never, never change!" and people would just somehow find themselves calling me Bea without really knowing when or why they started. ;)

Susanne said...

Well, as for stupid people, it is interesting what you can get away with. There are a lot of things that you can let slide without big consequences. (And I know what stupid people do, they turn to me for help.)

As for the miscarriages that's something that you never think of, and then somebody you know has one and when tell about it there are people showing up everywhere.

Often I feel very blessed that my son was an "accident" so I never had to try and try and doubt my fertility.

I often long for somebody to deal with everyday things for me. You know, like being a child again without somebody telling you when to go to bed and what to wear.

The thing I dislike most about being grown-up is that I'm the one who has to get up even when I'm not feeling well.

But every time that I feel bad about grown-up tasks I remember how powerless I felt as a child and how much I love to be able to decide for myself.

Andrea said...

OT--I love that book. I was so sad when we lost Carol Shields.

Thanks for reminding me that I need to get my licence renewed. It's hard to keep track of all these details.

Anonymous said...

Ok Mad Hatter and B&P I am "your" anonymous; roaring fire and blogging on weekends (gotcha) as well as emotional withdrawals and deposits. Being "outted" is quite humbling but also fun.

More than that is the bravery and artistry with which you both write. I am continually inspired and awed by both your talents. It has been my on going regret that we didn't have blogs in "my day".

nomotherearth said...

You captured it exactly -- when I was younger, oh how easy I thought it would be to get pregnant. It's actually quite difficult. And all the more precious because of it.

Amy said...

Good post. Anonymous -- too right!

I've told my about-to-be-19 year old that yes, indeed, it sucks to be a grown up. Of course you think it's all about freedom until you realize you have more to do and keep track of and answer for than ever before! And it only gets worse!

Aliki2006 said...

In so, so many books (and movies, come to think of it) the poor heroine makes one slip-up and ends up pregnant and shamed for life. I always thought about that when we tried for L. and it took months and months and months before it happened, much to my astonishment.

Sarcasta-Mom said...

You said it lady! Being an adult is full of all of those little bits of information, and too many things to remember. G always tells me he can't wait to be an adult, becasue adults get to do whatever they want all the time. I laugh every time.

Aliki2006 said...

And I missed the whole Bea thing, too--sigh. But I like it.

Janet said...

I'm so very sorry for your friend. I'm continually startled by how many of us wear this invisible brand of loss. Yet we carry on, keeping the furnace clean, renewing our licences and burning the grilled cheese.

PS I missed the whole "Bea" thing, but I like!

kgirl said...

I hope that at least some of them never experience that part of growing up.

The thing that struck me most about being a grown-up (besides having a miscarriage and the incredible sense of loss of something you hardly had in the first place can bring) was the sheer number of people you amass - look at who you need just to buy a house - a real estate agent, a mortgage broker, an insurance rep, a lawyer, a home inspector... the list goes on.

And yes - furnace filter - every 3 months! We let it coincide with major holidays - Christmas, Easter, Canada Day, Labour Day. There, you'll never forget again!

Christina said...

I can never remember to pay all my bills anymore, much less remember to switch the batteries in the smoke detectors or keep well-filed tax records.

I consider myself one of the lucky ones - for both my pregnancies, we decided it was time, and I was pregnant in under 2 months. I can't imagine the struggle some go through to get pregnant and keep a pregnancy.

Sus said...

Try cork flooring. Or laminate tiles.

Thanks for the reminder to count blessings wherever we find them. For loud, difficult, unruly, whiny kids that crawl up on your lap and let their little heads fall on your shoulder in complete exhaustion at the end of the day. I feel most acutely in those moments, for women who want to be mothers and haven't been able to. Because there's nothing like the weight of a baby on your shoulder.

Carrien said...

I feel the same about so many things. Every year there is more paperwork, more things to keep track of, more things to forget.

My sister got pregnant the very first time she had sex. She was a teenager and gave the baby up for adoption. THe woman who adopted him had had two ectopic pregnancies removed and had been trying to have a baby for 19 years. There was was something so very poignant, and a little jealous on her face when she heard that for the first time. I can't imagine, I've never lived it.

I cried the first month we tried to get pregnant and it didn't work. I can't imagine trying for years, or losing a child, even though I have cried with my friends who have.