On Permanence

“Never alone again.”

That’s what I thought while adjusting to the fact of motherhood, after we’d taken the magic test that confirmed what my body was telling me.

Never alone again.

The lack of solitude isn’t actually what bothers me about that statement. It is the permanence. The never that really gives me pause and has been weighing on my mind for the last week.

This may sound obvious, but a baby is permanent, being a mother never goes away. It is one of the few identities that I can think of that is both a choice and immutable once taken on. Maybe you know of others, I’d be open to hearing what they are.

It is worth noting here that I am commitment adverse. That is, I don’t commit to things easily or readily or well. I like to think of it as a virtue: that I don’t sign on for things I don’t believe in. But I also know it for a flaw: a secret tendency to float along in silence, neither confirming nor denying my involvement until it is convenient for me. I put a lot of weight on choice. The fact that I chose to be a mother, not stumbled into it trapped and on accident, gives me some sort of moral higher ground. Or at least makes the limits of the life of a mother more survivable.

So I chose to get pregnant. Good for me. And I chose to keep the baby. (Insert here a rant about the upside of a society where a woman can get an abortion on demand and without apology: all babies are wanted babies.) And after all that choosing, I keep coming back to the biggest hinge between to do and not to do – a baby is permanent.

I generally avoid doing things that are permanent. But here I am, realizing that my next vacation will have to be planned to include a child, and every vacation thereafter for the next…oh, 20 years…and that’s just the tip of it. My next house will have to be child-proofed, then teenager-proofed. My future computers will have to be child-friendly… there is not one decision I can think of more complicated than what I have to lunch that will not, in someway, include my child. And even what I have for lunch will depend on what they’re having, if there’s already lunchmeat in the fridge, if I was up too late helping with a science fair project to make something…

There is something terrifying about all this. Something heavy and awe-filled. I feel the weight between my eyes, not of responsibility – that’s easy – but of constant-ness, of constriction, of choice and the freedom to make one, of having chosen. This is my existential crisis: the relationship between freedom to choose and the responsibility of once I have chosen, to never take it back. There is no do-over here, no eraser, no divorce from this new reality…Heavy and awe-filled and constant.

In the midst of the angst, all the thinking and rethinking and second guessing, I realize that being a mother is a welcome permanence. That I somehow don’t mind the changes this new identity presses upon me. I look forward to making new, different plans, to rearranging my perspective. I accept that this new journey will present me with all new, endless, friction-filled negotiations between wants, needs, and dreams I can’t even imagine.

And yet, motherhood changes my life into something else. I am now me and also someone else’s mother. My trajectory is no longer a straight line, it is now a spiral, spun out with myself, my husband, and my child at the center. Heavy and awe-filled and constant.

Every experience trains me to be a better part of this permanence, to embrace and enjoy it instead of fearing it. I am closer now, I think, to the virtue of being slow to commit, than I have ever been before.

Published in: on April 8, 2011 at 8:48 pm  Leave a Comment  
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