We just watched Away We Go, a beautiful and hilarious film about a couple expecting their first child and their quest to find the right place to settle down. It precisely captured how I still feel about trying to figure out where I want our future to happen. Where do I want Lily to grow up? Where are we most nourished? Where do we do the most good? And--most importantly--why do I still feel like I barely have it together?
In one brilliantly touching scene at a pancake house, friends in Montreal who have a vibrant, loving family with several adopted children try to explain how they hold it together. They talk about having to get up at 5:30 in the morning after a night with a sick child throwing up, knowing that you’re going to be exhausted for the whole day, for the whole week, for the rest of your foreseeable life. But somehow still doing it. Being a better person than you know you are.
And then they illustrate the love that has to flow from the parents to cover the house, the children, the tiredness--all of it--with syrup over a pancake. “You have to use it all,” the husband says, as he drenches his pancake and empties the maple syrup bottle. The syrup runs over the pancakes, starts pooling at the edge of the plate, and begins to dribble over the side. It’s probably the most beautiful philosophy of love and parenting that I’ve encountered.
I’m not doing the scene justice, but it made me cry, probably because we were in the midst of our own parenting crisis. We were watching the film while being interrupted every hour or so to care for Lily, who came down with a really nasty stomach bug and was throwing up every few hours. I was in the midst of being called to be that better person, and I wasn’t answering in the affirmative.
I'm afraid that throughout Lily’s sickness, I wasn’t a vision of nurturing love and tireless comfort. In addition to taking care of Lily and being really the only source of her nutrition and comfort (breast milk was all that she could keep down), Stephen got sick too, likely with the same stomach virus. Somehow I found myself resentful and incredibly annoyed at Stephen for getting sick. It was more than I could handle.
I felt abandoned and betrayed. Oh--and did I mention annoyed? I think I was so tired, so overwhelmed with the move and then a sick baby to take care of that I just couldn’t bring myself to care for a sick husband as well. I managed a few cups of tea for him and a lot of grumpy, “Are you doing all you can to get better? I don’t see you gargling” types of accusatory comments.
A mom friend from an email group that I’m a part of wrote me with some homeopathic suggestions to try (she’s a practicing homeopath) for Lily and Stephen, and I wrote back asking if there was a remedy for “feeling put upon.” If there was one, I was in dire need of it in copious amounts.
Her honest reply about how hard it is to care of others during times of crisis made me smile. “I think the remedy for that is fantasies of running away from home.”
In the Away We Go making of featurette, the main actor, John Krasinski, talks about how he views the relationship of the expectant couple, who are clearly deeply in love with a realistic view of each other. I’m paraphrasing here, but he says that his character, Burt, is an idealistic romantic (he wants to raise their daughter in a Huck-finnish world with a love of “woodcrafts” and “the lore of the Mississippi”). His partner, Maya, he says, “is like the bumpers in a bowling alley.” So even if his throw is wildly off, his ball will never go into the gutter because she’s there. He might not get a strike, but she's there helping to guard the edges (h/t to CB for that great idea of "guarding the edges").
That view of a relationship just floored me. I so want to be that partner. I want to find that selflessness within me to be the bumpers in the bowling alley for Stephen. That's probably one of the best gifts we can give our children.
One of the main reasons why I’m an advocate for marriage equality is that marriage, like nothing else in life, calls us to live for more than ourselves. It’s a lifelong process of learning to truly be selfless--and something that I’m still a novice at, obviously. Adding children to this equation, even on healthy days, takes this lesson in learning to love selflessly to an entirely new level of rubber meets the road.
It’s just plain hard, hard work.
That’s it. No big insights or epiphanies. Just a realization that doing this well, with love enough to run over and dribble onto the table, takes a lot of hard work.
Maybe I need to take a cue from Lily. We’ve gone back to a family bed with her illness, and we’re kind of enjoying it even though she’s fully recovered now. She wakes up in the morning, usually with an easy smile, and then takes stock of the most important things in her life.
“Yes, baby,” I try to sound happy to be awake.
“Hmmm, good morning sweet baby bird,” Stephen says, as he rolls over.
“Woof-woof,” she says as she does the sign for dog and looks around for Pali.
Then she signs for her favorite lovee blanket. I hand it to her, and she buries her face in it happily with a loud sigh of satisfaction.
And then, always then, another “Mama” as she looks at me and makes the sign for “milkies.”
She's got her priorities straight. And they're pretty simple. Her love flows over.
I told Stephen I want to see the sequel of this couple after a year of baby bliss and extreme sleep-deprivation. Maybe that's the project I need to write next!