Monday, January 16, 2012

When children realize adults are more than just their parents

I just finished Twenty Chickens for a Saddle by Robyn Scott.

Twenty chickens for a saddle - Robyn ScottIt's a great memoir of a really unusual childhood in an unusual family in Botswana. Turns out the girl is just a year older than me. Her parents were hipsters before hipsters even existed. They were all about unschooling, vegetarian/real food, and natural health remedies. All of that in the middle of Botswana, where the kids roamed among the snakes and crocodiles. The stories are hilarious, and all of it unfolds as the AIDs virus takes over Africa, deeply affecting the practice of the father of the family, who is a doctor. I keenly related to the cross-cultural childhood, the quirky family, and rootlessness of a third-culture kid.

I almost cried when I finished the book last night, because as Robyn describes what has happened to the family since those days in Botswana, she mentions that her parents split up just after all the kids had left the house for college. Despite the fact that they remain friends and the family is still semi-intact because of it, I found myself mourning over it.

It brought to mind this post by Gypsy Mama, in which she ponders the strange differences in being a mother and being a child in how well you know each other. She lost her mom as a teen and now she's raising her own infant daughter, and her thoughts are profound.

Eighteen is a lifetime for me and a smudge for her. Blurry moments of being mothered, being told no, feeling herself stretch against and away from me.
She will have hardly drawn the breath of living memory by eighteen.
I will have lived a hundred lifetimes of love for her by then.
Eighteen is too short to know a mother.
Eighteen is the deep well of knowing a daughter.
That's what struck me after finishing the book. In the book I saw 15 years through the eyes of a child, in which the parents play a central role but are known not so much as individuals but as a part of the circle of the family. Coming to adulthood and discovering that your parents have seen it all from a different perspective, from an adult world in which the marital relationship needs more than the family circle to sustain it. It's a betrayal to a child, who has only ever known the parents together, and yet the parents may have in reality hardly been truly together at all in all those years.

It's strange, the difference in perspective of a child and parent. If we were to lose Judah, the imprint of his 13 months on our life would be immense. Gypsy Mama is right, I know all of him. I have memorized him. And yet if he were to lose us at the same stage, he wouldn't even remember us. Even in a few years, when his memory is stronger, he will know our family as his home and his world, but he will hardly know us as individuals until he himself is an adult.

What are the implications of that for our life? Understanding that the mothering stage is just one stage of my life makes me both willing to put my career on hold and also determined to keep in mind that I have a responsibility to other vocations after mothering begins to wane. I want my children to be given their parent's full love and attention, but I also want them to have parents who have a strong sense of self outside of the children so that they don't change entirely after the children are gone. It reminds me again of the importance of nurturing a marriage outside of the context of a family, because when the children are gone there must be a relationship left instead of two people who barely know each other outside of parenting.


Rach said...

Thanks for the review...I will probably read it soon. I love book recommendations from you. Have you read Don't Let's Go To The Dogs Tonight? It sounds kind of similar, and I really enjoyed that one.

Kacie said...

Haven't read it, and what I just looked up sounds fascinating! I'll put that on my wish list.