Wednesday, February 11, 2009

grief and mother magic

Two terrible tragic events have come out of Victoria in recent times. The first, an unspeakably cruel death of a child, the second (although, more correctly, at last count, 2nd to 181st) the deaths of ordinary people trapped in the worst bushfires this country has ever seen, at least some of which have been deliberately lit.

I have been trying hard not to think of the terrible last moments of those affected, but the images just keep popping up in my mind of the burnt out wrecks of four cars that had collided in the frantic effort to escape the terror of a firestorm. And the thought of desperate families trying to flee, but overwhelmed.

I am not personally involved in either of these events. Although I have relatives who live in rural Victoria, mercifully, none of those live in the affected areas. But these horrors strike me in a way I haven't ever really fully realised before.

Before I became a mother, that is.

I used to think that the whole 'kids with cancer' pathos was a little overdone. A little cliched. Why the general public got so stirred up about 'kwc' but didn't appear to give a hoot about, say, little old ladies with fractured femurs who often die in the months following these fractures seemed a little, well, inequitable to me. But now I *get it*. I didn't ever truly appreciate why the children we had admitted to intensive care tugged at the heartstrings of the nurses involved in their care any more than a dearly loved grandfather with overwhelming sepsis. But now I do.

I am now so totally besotted with Patrick than I ever have been before. Maybe it is a sign of my inner insecurity and selfishness that until he was old enough to be demonstrative in his affections, wants and conversation I didn't really get what women said about being "so in love" with their babies was all about. I also have to say I feel more than a bit cheated by the fact that some women feel this infatuated glow right from the moment of birth and that I have been robbed of this golden emotion. In any case, sometimes I just want to spend hours brushing his hair, or gazing at his eyes, or cuddling and tickling on the couch. Or to read book after book after book just to see the wonder and absorption on his face. Sometimes I just catch a glimpse of round little leg in a slightly scuffed brown sandal and feel that I am not worthy of such a blessed little creature.

But the flipside of this is the feeling of absolute responsibility and protectiveness. When I was still breastfeeding Patrick, especially when he was little, he would sometimes look into my eyes so earnestly, I would panic. It was a look of complete trust but also mixed with a searching -for what I still don't know. But it was like he was asking me if I knew the meaning of life, and could he trust me, and I wanted to run away from the responsibility.

In my medical training and career I have come up against many, many viva voce exams. And I still have at least two to go. For those of you who have never sat a Viva, it would be best described as a cross between going to see the principal and confession, mixed with the dread of having to have that conversation with a soon-to-be ex that you need to dump. But the true horror is exposed when the examiner asks you a question and you have a complete, and utter mental blank. Nothing. There is steel re-inforced concrete between you and any memory of the subject in question. This is not like an ordinary written exam where you can pass over that question and come back to it when you have done the other parts of the paper. This is someone wanting to know right now what you know (or, more correctly at that moment, what you don't know). It is stupefying.

Well, that's how I felt when Patrick would look into my eyes. Like- "please, I really don't know, can we move along". Of course now he's far too busy busy busy to stop and gaze at me for more than a millisecond before he's off again, so, mercifully, I don't have to face that maybe daily torture. But it's been replaced. Do you remember being a child and having a mother that seemed truly omniscient and omnipotent? A mum who not only knew everything about, well, everything, but had 'eyes in the back of her head' and also had the power to scare away monsters, the bogeyman, germs, nuclear war and everything else bad in the world? Whose kiss and a band-aid could ease the sharpest pain? That's how I saw my mum. But I don't feel like I have that power. I haven't been invested of it yet. My super, special qualification certificate hasn't yet been delivered by registered post and activated by a secret codeword to be emailed to me. When Patrick falls down and scrapes his knee, or bumps his head on a low-flying swing, or loses his favourite toy, I don't feel like I have the special power to make it all better. Far from being omnipotent, I feel impotent. And it scares the hell out of me.

now how does this relate to the tragedies in Victoria? Well, when I think- unwittingly, but there it is- of the awful last moments of those who have perished, I can't but help thinking of the children looking to their parents to tell them everything will be OK, to activate the magic of grown-ups and get things to go right again. To turn on mother magic. And the helplessness of those parents (or in the first case, one parent but not the other) to do anything makes me think of my own inadequacy, my own failure of superpower to make it all better. Those poor parents had no control over their surroundings, but I feel just as useless. I really feel not up to the job.

I'm not special. I'm not worthy of motherly miracle making status. I'm not qualified. I feel like I haven't read the compulsory textbooks to get through this course. I feel like I've been skipping the lectures and going to do something else (probably that diversion known as having a profession) when I should have been stying up late getting to grips with basic mothers' defence against the dark arts 101. I'd love to take a summer course and catch up, but i don't know where to apply.

How do I earn it? How do I unlock the secrets of cures for all childhood ills? Will I ever know? Will Patrick grow up bereft of magic kisses for banged fingers and sore tummies? Is it a sudden difference or will it grow slowly, like grey hairs and middle aged spread?

Does anybody know?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

maybe our magic mums didn't feel it either. maybe the magic isn't in us, it's in the kids?

but the horror of how those parents must have felt on the weekend has been on my mind too.

12/2/09 01:03  
Blogger E, SS and the Little Man said...

How could we feel competent or omnipotent in a job that we have had only a few years? Give it time, and I bet you will be singing your superpowers. This post was beautiful and a bit heartbreaking. It was nice to see the words you wrote about being so in love with your little man right now. Hold him tight. Life is short.

17/2/09 21:15  
Anonymous minnie said...

i do think we automagickly get the magic. our kids love us even when we are not behaving perfectly. they are resilient and also humans beings with empathy. by not being perfect ourselves we teach them that is is okay to not be prefect and that no one really is.
i remember when i was quite old, 10 or 11, and my mom dropped her bike on her leg and started to cry. i had never seen her cry and i suddenly realized that she was not a perfect magic creature but just like me. i cried and was really upset but it was an important moment for me.

26/2/09 11:02  

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