Five years ago to this day you were born from my body, and I swore I’d protect and nurture you with everything I had.
Little did I anticipate that all the years I’d lived and seen before you were born would also enter into that vow, and give it even more intensity.
Which is why, more than a week after this historic presidential election to which I gave so much, I feel empty.
Depleted. A tiny bit broken, from overuse.
Pleased, absolutely, that we have a President Obama to look forward to, but the effort has also left me completely spent.
And yes, even a little sad.
Because never did I imagine that to keep you safe, I’d have to subtly set you aside. Never did I imagine that your Tomorrows would have to come before your Today, your Now. You, who live in today, had a hard time understanding why Mama needed you to watch one more Thomas or Pingu or Star Wars video so Mama could finish the research for one of her posts on MOMocrats. You wanted to pull me into your moment–”let’s play trains!” or “will you build a lego skyscraper with me, please?” And I tried to be present but there were times I resisted. I tried to carve out space for you in our afternoons, when we’d have time together after I picked you up from school, but sometimes those were exactly the times a post needed to go up or a debate needed covering. Topical is topical; and because the campaign shifted ground so quickly, sometimes it was necessary that a post go up right away.
99% of the time I was able to squeeze most of my writing and research for my posts into the hours after you fell asleep (10 pm to 3 or 4 am), but there were some posts that were impossible to do unless they took place between the usual business hours. Your father did a wonderful and uncomplaining job of taking you to school in the mornings so I could manage some sleep after a late night post. Or squeeze out a little more writing in the morning. Or participate in a campaign call for blogger journalists.
During a period of about five months, my office was flooded, the ensuing repairs took weeks to complete, we were burglarized, and we bought one house then sold our existing one and packed, moved, and unpacked all our belongings. Those were all things your father very well couldn’t have taken on in addition to his stressful job. So they became my job too. In addition to everything else I was committed to. Right after we came back from the DNC I could feel my internal fuel gauge dipping dangerously low. By Halloween, the kickoff of our fall-winter marathon of holidays/birthdays, I was already running on fumes. As it is now, I’m limping into the last of the holidays.
It wasn’t all bad–and that’s the thing. I never knew or will know how many people I reached with my writing there, or how many may have changed their minds or their votes. (Given that I was trained to teach, we never thought to replace the faith that some can be reached with quantifiable statistics to prove same. Because the effects of a good education are cumulative, indirect, and long-term; more art than science.) But from the feedback we got, we did reach many. We created a community. We reaffirmed core values for people who live in parts of the country dominated by Republican ideology and gave them a tendril of hope that they weren’t insane for thinking or voting otherwise. We each wrote, and gained a certain amount of notoriety and praise for doing so, but we also urged others to join us in acting.
I fought hard with all my strength (as did so many others) to say NO to “100 years occupation of Iraq.” NO to the steady Bushian erosion of principles, the principles we bothered to encapsulate in our Constitution that makes our country unique and filled with wonderful possibility. NO to the slow grinding down of working and poor people’s spirits, and their dignity, from having to struggle for subsistence.
I called. Emailed. Worked on immediate family members. Some of my friendships couldn’t survive the intensity; I also made new friends. Together, we did something unprecedented–we raised our voices and said YES to admitting we have serious problems. We said YES to finding solutions. We said YES to helping to implement those solutions. We said YES to the right to TRY to make our kids’ lives better than our own. No guarantees, just the right to a decent shot at trying. Isn’t that the true measure of progress?
I really felt our country was on the brink of fascism, disgusting devil-take-the-hindmost social Darwinism, and flamboyant displays of shameless ignorance masquerading as religious faith. This is not only where I would not want to continue living, it’s not what I’d want to bequeath to you.
See, many believe that people’s strongest motivation to act is fear.
I strongly disagree.
Despite the fact that I felt deep fear for the future of my beloved America. (If my country has no future, then it makes your future as a citizen of it that much more bleak.) That wasn’t what kept me researching, writing, and posting (often 3 or more times a week) over the course of nine months, from February to November.
What kept me going–my biggest motivation–was you. And love; my love for you. February to November (of 2003) is coincidentally the period of time you gestated in my body. I kept you as safe as I could there, gave you the best possible chances I could, and I see my job as no different now that you’re out and walking about, playing guitar, and retelling/re-enacting Star Wars tales to me for my enjoyment. It’s painful and hard sometimes, but as your mother I’m the guardian of your tomorrows. Sometimes those tomorrows will have to take precedence over your todays. If I’m lucky at all, I can balance it so that we secure good times in both.
What people don’t understand is that love can make you ferocious. The fiercest animal of any species is the mother protecting her young. Antlers thwacking against each other in the wilderness to prove some abstract point about strength is just hot air and wounded pride.
So why aren’t I happier now that “we’ve won”? Because on one hand it’s so clear this victory is only the beginning. Ha, you thought you made it through arduous childbirth? Tomorrow, try raising that kid on no more than 2 hours of sleep at any one time. And add on yet another challenge of parenting. By the way, did anyone mention to you that it’s an uphill climb? As a people, we’re facing a scary future and mounting problems. We’ve only just birthed new political possibilities. They haven’t matured into our new ways of doing things yet.
On the other hand, if I have a touch of the blues, it’s because I can now focus on how empty I am–of you. I’ve missed you. If you’ve felt set aside, know that it wasn’t easy to set you aside. I’ve wanted to continue my commitment to help the Obama administration somehow, but am torn because you’re already growing up so quickly in front of me.
This year, you abruptly decided that you were too grown up for Thomas stories, trains, or toys. You sprinted at warp speed into thorny moral questions of good and evil in the Star Wars universe. You tried to make sense of people who are mean or do bad things. Your imagination has caught fire in unpredictable, amazing ways. Your stories are richer, more complex; your questions, unending. You asked me, with unexpected brilliance, if McCain was a Sith Lord and Obama a Jedi Knight. I tried to pull you into our grownups’ world of tomorrows in a way you could understand, so you could simultaneously cherish the uniqueness of electing a gifted, wise, consensus-seeking man who only a hundred years ago might’ve feared for his life under Jim Crow, and yet take his unusual, landslide election as completely, mundanely ordinary–as it must be if our democracy is to move forward at all by recognizing individual merit and collective will.
I know you’ve missed me. I have missed you terribly. And this is the heartbreak of growing older and realizing how vast the world is beyond the snug very-young-child’s embrace of you and me. You’ve learned this year that there are some things that will exert a greater gravitational pull on me than you will, even if in the end I say “It’s for your future I fought.” And you’ve learned that you will thrive and and even be happy without me by your side. It’s okay. It’s not a betrayal. We haven’t betrayed each other. Not at all, dearest child.
You like to say on occasion “I love you more than you love me.” At first I was shocked and guiltily defensive, wondering if this hit at some essential truth that I could never admit to myself, but that you with your child’s incapacity for lies about things that matter had divined. But I talked it through with you: “No dear, I love you more than you love me, and that will always be true. You see, you’ll grow up and move away, find someone to love and make a family with, and I will still love you as much as the day you were born, if not more. And that’s fine, because that’s how it should be.”
You listened closely; my words were a tuning fork you struck and got a corresponding note in your heart. Still, I think you felt sad at hearing the truth. Your eyes misted up and you hugged me hard, twisting your fingers in my hair, and whispered into my ear, “I’ll still love you, mama, even after you’re dead.”
Which seemed to me both comically heartbreakingly true in its inartful bluntness, and at the same time the most beautiful promise of devotion I could ever hear.
Happy Birthday, son. And congratulations on evolving from the Unreliable Narrator to Hiro Protagonist. May you venture forth valiantly, and with courage; and stand strong for what you know to be good, with loyal, worthy friends to help you.