February 7, 2012

Mortality and the Meaning of Parenthood

Watching cartoons in Mommy and Daddy's bed
Today is a sick day.

I'm writing from my dinky little netbook, reclining in my bed, watching Super Why on the amazing new TV M got us for Christmachannukwanzakah.  Normally, I wouldn't be spending my morning this way.  But I don't feel like a total loser.  You see, I have company.

Tucked under the blanket on M's side of the bed is one curly headed moppet, clinging to a Grandma made pound puppy, a green frog lovey, and a cup of juice.

On my feet there's a second moppet cuddled up, caressing a pink lovey and with another cup of juice nearby.

Lovely readers, my children and I are having a sick day.

Normally, when the girls are sick, they get parked in front of the TV in the living room.  They get to eat snacks in front of the tube, and watch all the Disney movies they want.  It keeps the sick-related whining to a minimum.

But today...

Today SI woke at just after dawn crying her little eyes out.  Being sick can be so hard.  And DD, who is more stoic about her illness, feels just as dreadful.

And me?  I'm too tired for anything other than zoning out.  So I might as well be comfortable too.

I had considered our usual illness routine, but while I was forcing my unwell children to eat their blueberry oatmeal, I checked my email.  And in my inbox was some sobering news.

The internet is, as I've mentioned, amazing for connecting to other people.  I have been fortunate to become not exactly friends, but acquaintances of a sort with many other bloggers. Almost friends. I watch their kids grow, they watch mine, and we commiserate on the burdens and struggles of parenthood or school or whatever life brings to us.

So this morning, I received news from a fellow mom blogger about a new challenge in her life. "Revital Shiri-Horowitz- the novelist and blogger- has just been diagnosed with lymphoma.

I understand what she has gone through, emotionally, in the last few days.  She has four sons, three still at home.

I was never afraid of my mortality before I was a mother.  Death seemed almost irrelevant- an inevitable event that would be followed by the dissolution of all cares of what had constituted my life.  I didn't fear for myself.  I didn't fear for the afterlife, or for my remains.

But now I fear death.  Now I fear for my children.

They are so young. would they even remember their mother?  What effect would if have on their lives, to grow up without a mother?

And little Baby X... there is no chance of Baby X remembering me.  Not yet.

Every time I look at the stitches on my chest (finally coming out this week), I am grateful.  Relieved that I caught that mole before it got worse, before I was looking at chemo and God only knows what else.  I am sure that the scar will give me reason to be grateful every day of my life.

And I think about M, and our choice to have children when we did.  We had planned to wait, but with his cancer there was just so much uncertainty.

The longer we would have as a family, the better.  So the sooner we could start a family, the better.

And here we are.

When M turns 30, we'll be a family of five.  If he reaches the goal he set before our wedding, to have spent more of his life married to me than not, Baby X will be 20 years old.

It's a long time from now.  A lot can happen.  When I was 20, I considered what I had to be a whole life.

I had no idea how fortunate I was to have both of my parents.  I don't think I ever truly appreciated them until I had children of my own.  Until I had any idea what they had spent the last three decades going through.

I still don't.  I still don't know how it feels to go through the struggles and pains they have experienced.

I hope that, for some of them, I never do.

Revital does, though.  For some of it.

The fact is, we parents have more similarities than differences.  No matter what we do, what we believe, where we live, the choices we make...

We are- almost all of us- fundamentally motivated by love for our children.  All the choices we make, from keeping our relationships with our spouses as a priority, to the way we earn our incomes, to the sacrifices we make... these are all an expression of the love we have for our children.

And I am learning that there is nothing on this earth like the love one has for one's children to really understand your place in life.  To understand, first of all, how incredibly unimportant you are in comparison to the thing you have created.  And at the same time, to understand how because of that same person, you are the most important thing at the same time.  Because you are in charge of them.  of their happiness, of their growth, of meeting their potential.  You aren't the most important thing in your own life, you are the most important thing in the life of the thing that is most important to you.

It's a huge responsibility.  It's an enormous weight.  Every single mistake you make, every single choice you get wrong... these might have lifelong consequences for that person you literally live for.

It's why parents are so vicious to each other.  Because seeing another parent make a different choice is an indictment of your own choice to do things another way.  Because if their child is in any way better off because of a choice they made differently than you, you imagine that your choice hurt your child.

And to think that you have caused your child some damage is unbearable.

I think of my death as one of the worst things that could possibly happen to my children.  Because no person can make the choices for my children that I can make.  Because no matter how much they are loved by others, my love will always be one of the most important things in their lives.  And if I am not here to love them, they will be hurt, damaged, by that.

Is it selfish?  Is it deluded?

I don't know.

I do know that the idea of a parent's love being the most important thing in a child's life has been reinforced over and over again to me, from the time I was small.  I remember reading Hans Christian Anderson's Little Matchstick Girl, which has the "happy ending" of the little girl dying, and getting to be an angel in heaven with her grandmother, having never known her own mother.

I still cry when I think of that book.

And I keep all parents struggling with illness in my heart.  I keep them in my thoughts, and in my prayers, and I wish them the fastest and least painful recovery possible. 

I wish for Revital a quick and successful round of treatments.  I wish her a long life with her sons.

I grieve for all the children who have lost their parents.  And I grieve for all parents who fear they must leave this world and their children.

I grieve for the parents who are left behind.

Today, I am playing in bed with my daughters.  Today, I am watching DD and SI as they wrestle and fall down, hugging and giggling.  Today I am watching "Le Ballon Rouge" and listening to their narration of the mostly silent film.

Today, I am reveling in them.  Because who knows how much time any of us have.

Today, we are staying in our pajamas and playing games and singing songs and getting lots of rest.  Because being sick is no fun.

This is the best way to be sick.
Today, we are enjoying being sick.  It's something that as grownups we almost never get to do.  When we're sick as grownups, we're *really* sick.  We have cancer, or we have heart disease, or we have diabetes.

We don't get to spend a day being pampered and loved, we don't get to build the memories of people who magically make everything better.

We don't begin to build the mythology of our parents.

Today is a sick day for my kids.  The sort of sick day they will look back on fondly, as I do of my early childhood sick days when my mother would park me in front of Fairy Tale Theatre and feed me bottomless bowls of ramen.

Today is a sick day.

And I, for one, am grateful.

Please keep Revital and her family in your thoughts and prayers.  And if you are so inclined to read, she will be writing about her battle on her blog as it unfolds.  Thank you.


  1. Your post really resonated with me. I went through a series of health issues last year and even though nothing turned out to be major, they had the potential to be. The whole time I kept praying that my daughter would not grow up without her mother. It is amazing how having a child changes you. You are right, I never thought of death before except as an eventuality. But, now, I am worried about timing. I find myself saying little prayers that it not be until she is older. The good thing from it is that you learn to really cherish the little things. You make a greater effort to spend quality time together.

  2. My thoughts are with her. It's amazing how often we take things for granted until we are hit with news like this. Then, everything stands out and is beautiful. because we remember how random life can be, how quickly it can be taken away from us, and how sometimes we have no control over that. It's sobering and scary. But it also reminds us to cherish the small things. Cherish your sick day and hug your kids. I'll be doing the same.

  3. I think of this very often. I have precise ways of clipping their nails, making their chocolate milk (on the light side), and I know how to make them stop crying when they are hurt or upset. I feel like they are extensions of me and at times, it may not be healthy, but it is what it is. Whenever I think about me dying, I cry because the kids would have to adapt and that just sucks so bad. Sending prayers.

  4. It scares me to think that anything could happen to me and that I wouldn't be around for me kids. It freaks me out.



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