I tried so hard to write what was in my heart on 9/11. Over and over, I tried to sit down at the computer. It never happened. I couldn’t do it.
It’s not what you think. My baby has reflux or gas or something, and she just won’t let me put her down. Even now, she’s swaddled and lying next to me on the couch, and it probably won’t last. Today was better than yesterday, though. She didn’t even nap yesterday. Normally, I can nurse her down around 9:30 and she will sleep two or three hours.
I started writing this on Monday night, and right when I finished that last sentence, Pringles started crying.
It’s a good thing I didn’t write what was in my heart on 9/11, because I was going to write about how different I am now that I am a mother. I was going to discuss the way 9/11 hurts me so much more now than it did then. Luckily, before I had the chance to do that, I read another blog that said doing so would make me a moron and a self-centered narcissist.
So, phew, dodged a bullet there. Boy, would my face be red if I had gone on and on about how much more deeply I feel pain now. Not just the pain in my neck and back, but my deeper connection to other human beings. I didn’t know anyone who died on 9/11. My perspective is completely altered now, though. The paradigm shift that happened to me when I gave birth caused me to realize that everyone is someone’s child. Every person who died on those planes, in the towers, jumping from the towers, or being crushed as they went in to save all of the above was some mother’s son or daughter. Thousands of parents got phone calls and I’ll bet every one of them cried out “My baby, my baby!” when they heard the news. Nevermind that those “babies” were in their twenties, thirties, or even sixties. What I have learned, being a mom, is that every mother will always see her children as her “babies.” No matter how old they are, we will feel the weight of our job to protect them. My pain now, as opposed to ten years ago, comes from empathy. How terrible it must feel to have been unable to protect and comfort their children.
I saw the movie “Parenthood” in 1989 when I was 17. I loved the film and still do, but I didn’t “get it” like I get it now. Jason Robards plays the cold patriarch of the family and he tells his son, played by Steve Martin, that parenthood wasn’t for him because there was too much worry and pain. “And it’s not like that ends when you’re 18 or 21 or 61. It never ends. You never spike the ball and do your touchdown dance.” That made sense to my brain at 17, but I had no concept of what he really meant because I wasn’t a mother.
Am I a moron because I didn’t “get” 9/11 at 29? I don’t think so. Was I self-centered and narcissistic? Definitely. But there is a huge difference between understanding a tragedy intellectually and feeling it in your guts. I feel things in my guts now that I never felt before. Giving birth is a profound, life-altering experience. At least, it was for me. And I think even more so the second time around because the birth was scary and painful, whereas it was boring and tedious the time before.
The blogger I speak of , who I follow faithfully and respect, had read something that offended her. She read about some woman’s reflection on 9/11 and thought “Oh, get OVER yourself, lady.” And here I am, ever worried about what people think of me, going “I almost wrote exactly the kind of thing she’s complaining about!”
She said that some women think 9/11 is all the more tragic because now THEIR children are in the world to experience it. That isn’t quite what I’m trying to convey here. 9/11 isn’t more tragic because Pringles and Viva will see it on TV or because I have to turn their sweet little faces away from the images of destruction played constantly all week.
We all want the world to be better for our children. For example, I want my daughters to experience the beauty of Yosemite like I did. I want it to still be there and I want there to still be clean air and water so they can go outside and see it. That matters more to me than some chemical company’s profit margin today and its ability to create jobs and influence members of congress to “deregulate” economic policies that prevent it from dumping toxic waste into the world’s water supply. I am a vegetarian for many reasons. Chief among them is that I want to feel superior to you. Close to the top is that I know how factory farming in poisoning the soil and water. Google “manure lagoon swine flu” if you want to have nightmares tonight.
When I see previews for the film “Contagion,” I feel my stomach drop like I’m on a rollercoaster. 50% of that is how Matt Damon just gets hotter as he ages. The other half is that I’m terrified of the world I have the responsibility to keep my daughters safe in. I never felt the burden of this before having children. Terrorism and pandemics are part of this world, and for that reason, the events of 9/11 resonate more painfully now that I’m a mom.
And even though I couldn’t love Matt Damon more since he played Tina Fey’s boyfriend Carol on “30 Rock” and does dead-on celebrity impressions, I won’t see “Contagion” (What is up with Jude Law’s teeth in that preview? Why does he look like Michael Caine?).
Having children changed me for the better. It didn’t change 9/11, but it altered my understanding of it. Those weren’t nearly 3000 strangers who died. They were nearly 3000 children. Most of them grown children, to be sure. But those mothers’ hearts didn’t break any less.
And I now have a mother’s heart.