Part One: Michael Jackson’s Mother
Walking the dog on a rainy morning, I am listening to adult music for a change. As I turn the corner Michael Jackson begins to sing, “She’s Out of my Life”.
Jackson’s clear young voice rings with sincerity, and as I sing along I picture the beautiful young man he once was. I can’t help imagining how I would feel if one of my kids created something so beautiful. A lump rises in my throat.
I think about things like this often, now that I’m a parent. Once, while watching this video of some high school students in a talent show, I actually got a tear in my eye, imagining myself in the audience watching Scarlett with her friends.
I wonder how Jackson’s parents feel now. Are they devastated by the turns thier son’s life has taken? Or are they too crazy themselves to realize their son has flipped his lid? If they do recognize his situation, how do they deal with thier own powerlessness to save him?
That’s one of the benefits of parenthood. This supersonic empathy, this expanded feeling of connectedness with mothers everywhere; even my own. With people, in general.
It’s also one of the curses. It tears my heart even to see a tired child crying in the grocery store. I can forget about watching the news.
Part Two: Shock and Awe
When I was pregnant with Scarlett I was amazed that every single person in the world had gotten here by coming through some woman’s body. I lived in New York City then, and I walked sidewalks teeming with people. It seemed impossible that so many women had signed up for this duty. Now that I’m raising two kids, my awe has grown expotentially.
Now, when I see a news story about somebody hit by a bus or killed in Iraq I am stunned by the magnitude of the loss. Somebody changed that boy’s diapers, taught him to eat solid foods, rocked him in a steamy bathroom at 4 a.m. when he had croup. Somebody helped that girl with her homework, joined the PTA instead of the country club, saved for her college education. Every single person walking the Earth represents a tremendous investment; worry, lost sleep, skipped movie nights, ruined waistlines, and depleted bank accounts are only some of the sacrifices somebody made for each and every one of us.
Part Three: Secret Parent Handshake
On Facebook tonight I watched a video of a friend’s new baby son. His first child. When forming my congratulations, I couldn’t help wanting to welcome him to to the club, to make some clever predicitions about how his life is going to change. I wanted to repeat the same cliched-sounding things other parents had said to me when Scarlett was born. How tired those things would sound to a new parent; someone with all his ideals intact, and all of his experience still ahead of him.
Why is there no secret parent handshake?
In the end, I wrote the only thing any new parent really wants to hear.
“What a beautiful little boy. Congratulations.”
What I thought was,
“What a beautiful hard journey you’ve started. I look forward to meeting the new you in a year or two.”
Part Four: Even George W. Bush is Somebody’s Baby
When we set out to have kids, I knew that parenthood was going to be hard work for me. I believed that, like every other leap of faith that I have taken, raising these kids would change me in ways I could never predict. That I would be a better person for having done it.
Look how much has changed already.