Sunday, February 10, 2008

Will I always think I am who I was?

I was riding the train on Friday when a woman took the seat beside me. She plunked herself down, shopping bags and iPod in hand. I could hear some old school heavy metal streaming into her ears. I later realized it was Poison when I recognized the chorus to "Every rose has its thorn."

She had long blonde hair pulled up into a ponytail. Her bangs were curled down into a perfect tunnel that just grazed her forehead. She was dressed in classic 80's headbanger gear from head to toe: tight, tappered light jeans, black leather patchwork jacket. She had a small bag on her lap that she opened. Out of it came a red, heart-covered chinese food container. She opened it and peeled away several layers of fancy tissue paper to reveal a yellow rubber ducky with devil horns on it. She left the duck in public view long enough to show it off, smiled and rewrapped it. I imagine it was a valentine for someone special. She was so pleased with her modest purchase, so happy to be chugging along on the train listening to her favorite band. She just seemed so happy in her "here and now" that she seemed completely oblivious to the fact that it is no longer 1987. I loved this about her. She still is who she was - and she doesn't give a damn.

She was 45 going on 19. She was one of those people who stopped at 18. She still listened to the same music. She still wears the same style clothes, the same haircut. I started to wonder if we aren't all victims to this phenomenon to a certain degree. Don't we all still perceive of ourselves as the person we were somewhere between 19 and 23? Don't we all still wonder when we are going to "grow up" even though we already are?

I have never felt like an adult, despite the fact that I actually am one. I am the youngest in my family, and I am sure this plays a part in the way I perceive of myself. I own a house. That is pretty grown up. I teach college. That is pretty grown up. But there is that one last milestone I have left to hurdle, which to me, might be the one that actually makes me realize my adulthood: becoming a parent.

I was reminded of this unattained goal so clearly this evening. Last night our friends in DC welcomed their son into the world. They got pregnant at the near exact time as us. They are really my husbands friends and I have always felt strange around them. J. called them this evening and congratulate them. I was feeling very happy for them, and glad that I wasn't instead dwelling on the fact that I might have been holding my own son/daughter this week. It felt good to feel good for them - despite everything.

About an hour later an email announcement arrived with pictures and this statement, "There is nothing more beautiful in the world than your own child." And that is when it hit me. What if I never get to leave this person who I am: the non-adult me. What if I never get to hold my own child? Does that mean I am somehow incapable of experiencing beauty? Or do I just get to experience some half-assed, second-rate beauty? And if this statement is really true, well then I feel really sad for the world. Yes, having a child is a profound and beautiful experience, ummm, I think. Because I don't know that yet. I just get really scared of statements that are so exclusionary. What about those who can not have children? What happens to those who choose not to have children? The implication is an assumed superiority based on an experience, an experience that some may never have. Those with children are in the know. Those without children are inherently incapable of a particular breadth in their capacity for love which manifests in beauty? I think something like, "We are overjoyed at the arrival of our son and can not wait for you to meet him" would have served the same purpose, no? Why do I have to be constantly and unknowingly whacked over the head with my outsider status?

I am not a joiner. I never have been. But joining the club of "parenthood" casts over me like a skyscraper on a winter day. It is like no matter what direction I turn, it is there, throwing me back into the darkness. I wish I could implode it. I wish I could name a million other "beautiful" experiences that I have had that totally top the moment this friend had when he first held his kid. But I can't. I can't, not because I can not think of a truly beautiful experience, but because I am not in the club. I have nothing to compare it to.

I am left to wonder if I will always be who I was. Or will I get to join this club, that never appeared very hard to join, but apparently for some, it is. Yes, I am a joiner. I want a family. But not so I can tell everyone what they are missing. But so I can share and feel the love that right now I can only imagine.


loribeth said...

I too am sometimes (often?!) bothered by the way the club(cult??) of parenthood excludes those who haven't experienced it. I know it's true that you'll never understand it until you experience it yourself (just as nobody can truly understand infertility unless they've been there, done that). But it's the careless rubbing of that fact in everyone's faces without any consideration given to those outside the club (who would love to be members...) that bothers me.

K77 said...

The stupid comments never cease.

Freyja said...

Love this post!

First as far as the growing up - I feel the same way. I'm not sure but I think we're around the same age. I own a house. I run a business. I have two degrees. I have a husband. And yet, inside I still feel like a kid... except that I don't do very many of the things I did when I could be safely classified as a kid. Hrm. Disconnect. On day not very long ago my dad and I were talking about this. He said that sometimes he will think to himself "Someday I'm going to..." as if he was 25. But he's not; he's 53. And so even though he may do some version of whateveritis, it isn't the same context as he imagines it. They years have passed but his mind still in many ways perceives his perception of his future self has stood still. Just like our perceptions of our "current" self has stood still. After this convo with my dad, I talked to a coworker whose 57 and she confirmed that she has the same phenomenon. It's funny that time can pass we don't feel ourselves aging.

As for the: "There is nothing more beautiful in the world than your own child" comment - that guy has retarded social skills. That statement is fucked up in several ways. What if you adopt - does that not count as your own? I bet if we asked him he's say "no". But it sure sounds like it. I've come to the conclusion that most people are hadicapped when it comes to empathy or sensitivity.