Sunday, March 9, 2008

On Marriage, Motherhood and Minding One's Business

(Originally posted 1/27/2008, elsewhere)

Marriage is hard. Living together is not being "practically married," nor is sleeping at one another's house the majority of the days of the week. Shacking up will not prepare you for marriage. Neither will counseling, or having lots of friends who are married, or helping your sister plan her wedding. Reading marriage books does not prepare you for marriage.
Being a parent is hard. Babysitting, teaching Sunday school, having friends or family members with kids and reading parenting books will not prepare you for parenthood. Being a teacher is not like "having 25 kids." You never have to think about what will happen to those children if you die, or get divorced or become incapacitated. Their entire future life, their very survival, does not depend on the thousand little choices you make every day for years and years.

I gave no thought to whether or not I was "prepared" for marriage or parenthood. It sounds irresponsible, but if everyone was waiting to be ready, our marriage and birth rates would plummet. It isn't that it is terrible. Its that it is impossible to be fully equipped for what is to come. So maybe it is better not to know. I got married, not because I was prepared to face the challenge, but because I was in love. I couldn't stand to go to bed in something that wasn't "our bed" for one more night. I felt, on a primal level, a desire to bear this man's children. I couldn't see straight. And he loved me just as much. It was somewhat impulsive, and instinct was certainly helping navigate even if love was in the driver's seat. But so what? What is wrong with having an insatiable hunger for the person you want to marry? Should marriage be something you enter with only practicality in mind? You hire someone based on their resume, you marry somebody because they excite you enough that you plan to spend a lifetime with them, hopefully with minimal boredom. I didn't marry my tax guy. Right or wrong, I know myself, and I know that if I had it to do over again, I would marry a man who could make me feel that way.

I wasn't prepared to be a mom. And that detracts nothing from my love for my child… I just wasn't expecting it. We had a plan, to wait several years and just "be married" before we had a baby. We wanted years of, lets face it, self indulgence and freedom. And that's a decent goal. But then I got pregnant after 6 months of marriage, and, no, I wasn't ready for it. I may have been better off than a lot of people. Financially, although not rich by any means, we could afford for me to stay home. I had a deep longing to be a mother, even if I had penciled it in many years down the road. My wild days were behind me. There were no vices for me to quit because I had none. And I liked babies. But nothing could have prepared me for how hard it can sometimes be, and though many have tried, I don't think anyone can convey just how worth it all the hardship really is, or how much you can love your child. To say you would die for your child is an understatement. I would die for someone else's child. This is different. I would kill for my child, but I would kill to protect someone else's child, too. There's no way to say it. I would go to hell and back, I would walk through fire, I would give up anything. But realistically, if it was to protect the life of an innocent child, I would do that for any of them. But for my child, I would do it happily. I would do it not just to save my child's life, but even just to protect them from pain, to ensure them a happy life. It isn't possible, thank God, to do that, because we all would. You just can't be prepared for the nights you are going to lay awake thinking of contingency plans for potential disasters, of what you could change or give up to give them the best chance at happiness, or what you could have done to prevent the latest illness or injury. And what is even harder to fathom isn't that you wouldn't change it for anything. Of course, I recommend to friends when they get married that they wait a little while to have children, but for me… I am just thankful I went in unprepared and unafraid.

I've never been the type to look before I leap. It isn't always the best policy, but I just have to feel sorry for the friends I have who are waiting to get it all straight before they start their life.

And that says something, because I assure you, my story hasn't always been a happy one. It has, however, been an interesting one, and one worth telling. I have secrets. One or two that are between me and God, and one or two more that a very select few might know. And I love that. I have loved, and been loved. I have been the physical source of a life. I have had loss. I have some romantic tales to tell. At the risk of sounding self important, I'm tired of hearing about the shoulds, coulds and woulds of marriage and motherhood from people who have never been there. I do not know everything about everything. But I know my story so far. My sense of security may never be what it once was, but my faith has been through the ringer, and has come through no worse for the wear. So planners and advisers and readers of how-to-live books: you write your story, but please, do not attempt to edit mine. I'm doing just fine without your help. I already have a Guide.

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