My inability to get around easily these past few weeks has brought to light just how heavily I’ve been leaning on other people.
There’s a section of my last post on “Just Being a Mom”–even if it was written a long time ago–that keeps recurring to me, and making me cringe. It was the paragraph I spent complaining about wiping bottoms, during which I said something about how I considered such actions “beneath my talents.” I have to own that I once thought those thoughts, but I must have been kind of a jerk.
It struck me in the hospital, what a dangerous world we would live in if more people felt that cleaning those who can’t clean themselves is “beneath their talents.” Consider that my OB doc, a highly skilled professional, spent about thirty minutes post delivery…uh… cleaning things up, and that later it was the nurses who helped me to the bathroom, following that, the housekeeper who, for a living, mops the floors and collects the trash and towels of women who’ve just given birth–there are many, many people on many different pay scales, making a living wiping people’s bottoms.
Having spent some time talking to the housekeeper, about how she home schooled her kids, and taught them all to play guitar and piano by ear, so that they later formed a family Gospel band, I have to say, thank God for the people who do things that are beneath their talents.
And there's more . . . You will want to read the whole essay.
Funnily enough, the older I got, the easier the births and recoveries became. The first birth was a C-section; in the course of the second birth, four days before my thirty-third birthday and long before all this elderly set in, I did something to my pelvis which made me unable to walk for two weeks.
In those days, Aelred was an Episcopal priest, and we lived next door to the church, which meant that people came to see us a lot, because there we were. I remember once, when I was home alone, hearing the doorbell ring, struggling up painfully out of bed, and, with the baby gripped like a football beneath the arm that wasn't connecting me to the support of the wall, shuffling like a geriatric mad thing to answer it. I got as far as the dining room table, from which vantage point (I was beside it, mind you, not on top of it), I could see a flock of altar-guild ladies descending my front steps, shaking their heads. Someone must have told them I was home, and heaven knows what they thought. I wanted to burst into tears. Now that I think of it, it's quite possible that I actually did burst into tears.
By contrast, although the medical staff were writing elderly all over my chart, I bounced right back from childbirth at thirty-seven and thirty-nine. I bounced back deceptively, that is -- there's nothing like thinking, Rowr. I can do all things. Double rowr, only to have the bottom fall out of your fertility in the ensuing eighteen months, because forty-one is not thirty-nine, no, no, indeed, and then your neck go all ropy like some . . . old woman's, which you notice only because you're vain enough to take a picture of yourself in your new bifocals. I might have been less shocked by all that had it been ten years since I'd last had a baby, if I'd been set up to be an empty nester, like now. Instead, one minute I was overflowing with fecundity, ageless and boundless in my energies and possibilities, and the next minute reality bit down hard.
Which is the way of it, of course. You buy the new car, and you back into the mailbox. You put on the clean white shirt and spill your coffee. You're born, and then you die, a truth which everything in your life is signaling to you every minute. It's a fast ride, lady. Hold on loosely, and be ready to let go.
Elizabeth's essay reminds me -- oddly enough, maybe -- of the goodness of childbirth. I mean, my favorite word for it was always over, until it really was over, but what she has to say about leaning on other people calls to mind that time when I couldn't walk to the door, and I'm grateful for that, because it was simultaneously one of the worst times of my life and one of the best. Worst for obvious reasons, because pain and helplessness are never fun, but best for reasons even beyond the equally obvious one of the baby, who was and is worth every minute of my puny suffering and more.
In the midst of life, we tend to think that life is what we're in the midst of, and nothing else: we're young, we're strong, we're desirable, we're all that. Childbirth is good for us that way, because we're forced to confront not only the humanity of this new creature which our body has produced, but the humanity of that body itself, which we have to learn not to admire, as in the mirror, but to love and live in, as an imperfect house in which things go wrong. Because it's that house we'll be living in, and with, the Memento Mori house.
Maybe it's just the grim weather that's making me so death-haunted, I don't know. I do know this: that I miss the excuse of a new baby on nights like this, when I'd really love not to go out to Holy Hour, though I also know that there's nothing I need more right now than to go. So in just a while I'll pack up the kids at home, pick up another child on the way, and go to pray in the incense-heavy warmth of the church while outside, maybe, the rain turns to snow. I rather hope it doesn't turn to snow just now: Epiphany's set to get on a plane to Rome tomorrow, to be gone for five months, and as much as I'd love her to stay right here, we really do need to get her to the airport on time, and off to the rest of her life. Because it never stands still. Mine, hers, nobody's. Outside the rainwater's rushing down the gutters, on its way somewhere as fast as it can surrender to gravity. I can't say where the water will end up, but it won't be nowhere.