Friday, February 13, 2009

Footloose Friday - III (Not)

Feeling neither footloose nor fancy free today.

Got up this morning to this story of a plane crashing into a home in New York. All passengers and crew on the plane and one occupant of the house died. Two other people in the house escaped with injuries. No matter how you rationalize to yourself the deaths on the plane, what do you say or think about the person in the house? If it was a burglary gone bad it would be something. A tornado, a hurricane, even a tree falling on the house. But it was none of that. Neither was it anything the person did. To not do anything that is remotely risky - step out of the house, cross the street - but still meet your death anyway is simply unfathomable.

Among the people on the plane was the widow of one of the people who died on 9/11. She was flying to Buffalo to commemorate her late husband's birthday.

One of the victims of the Buffalo commuter plane crash, Beverly Eckert, was a Sept. 11 widow who put her never-ending grief to good use to make the country safer.


A week before her death, Eckert met with Obama at the White House as part of a group of 9/11 families and relatives of those killed in the bombing of the USS Cole, discussing how the new administration would handle terror suspects.

Eckert was flying to Buffalo Thursday night to celebrate what would have been her husband Sean Rooney's 58th birthday.

Then the husband sent me a link to a story we'd tried to keep an eye on. We'd both been in tears as we watched David Goldman tell his story on NBC. This week, David, after four years of running from pillar to post, finally got to see and hold his son. I've linked to the story in the post below. One of the things his son, Sean, asked him when he saw his father was why he did not try to see him for the past four years. What a heartbreaking thing to hear for a father who'd been trying, every waking moment of his life, to get his son back. How do you explain adult problems, adult greed and adult foibles, to a child? How do you convince him you tried to see him, that he was not forgotten, and not shred his faith in humanity at the same time?

Still later, went to Broom's blog to find two posts - one made up of her twitter updates and another a short post - about finally telling her dad that she's gay. This would mean that she did not need to hide anymore, she could live her life the way she wants to out in the open. The posts are short, mostly in phrases, but they clearly convey her fears for her father, for what it means in terms of their relationship going forward. Their exchanges are heartwarming. Most exhilarating of all is her father's reaction.

As I was reading the posts I found myself in a strange situation. Here I was, not far removed from once being in her predicament (OK, not too far removed) - desperately wanting your life to go one way but afraid of what it might do to your parents - but also being able to see the picture from her parents' perspective. No matter how much you think ahead and plan your life and tell yourself this is how you're going to be as a mother, none of it matters when you actually become a mother.

You tell yourself you will not be overprotective, but when your child wants to walk over to a friend's house two blocks away (replace with any activity of your choice), while your head says he'll be fine, your heart panics. You see all the things that can go wrong in technicolor clarity. You want to protect him from every slight, every hurt, every mistake, even when you full well know it's not practical, not desirable even. You tell yourself you will let them make their choices, but when they are so clearly choosing the wrong thing, your heart screams to intervene. When your heart is walking outside of you, in places you cannot see, connected to you only by some invisible thread, all you want is for it to be safe.

And this is just when they're still so young. Can you imagine when they grow older and the choices become starker, when their activities really carry risk?

From my son's perspective, I can see very clearly the injustice of it all. I can remember that feeling all too well. The confidence you have in yourself, the feeling that nothing will go wrong, that you know how to deal with a situation, that you know exactly what you want forever. If only your parents could trust your instincts.

As a mother I know enough to know that I don't know much. That there are problems I haven't yet seen, knots I haven't yet had to unravel, mysteries of motherhood I haven't yet had to solve. I am looking for clues and figuring them out as I go along and on the way I am watching children struggle, parents anguish and some of them not be able to see eye to eye at all.

But when my partner and I decided to get married that changed. My parents wouldn't come. And, what was worse in my eyes, they wouldn't discuss it with me. They just told me they couldn't be there. When I sent photos of our ceremony in Massachusetts, they didn't respond. When, two year later, I called to tell them about Raya, my mom cried and my dad said they had to go. I don't call them anymore.
This is not a lone story. The parent-child relationship falls apart for so many reasons - lifestyle choices, career choices, college choices, choices of spouse, child rearing choices, financial choices.

Each time I read, see, hear a story about a parent not being able to live with, let alone welcome, their children's decisions, my heart sinks a little bit. Am I consigned to their fate? Will I not be able to understand my own children? Will my love for them not be able to overcome whatever it is they want to do, however bad it is?

How can it not? That's how we all start out. We have love, so much of it that it comes out in tears at the drop of a hat. Yes, we have frustration, anger, impatience. Sometimes we want to be left alone. Sometimes we long for those footloose and fancy free days, when the thorniest decision we had to make was which channel to watch on television. But we also know that we would not exchange what we have for a millionth of a second. We would not know what to do if we were not mothers. If we did not have children to love, take care of, nurture, make feel better, rejoice with, cry with.

So what goes wrong then? Where does that love disappear? Why do social mores and family pressures mean more to us than the love of and for our children?

The husband read Broom's twitter updates. First I had to explain to him what twitter was all about. Then he said, "Her father is so nice." I can already see that's what he identifies with more. His struggle with his parents is already too far away. Now he's a father. Watching David Goldman's plight was tough for him as was watching Slumdog. He wanted to get up and leave in the middle. And he has clear ideas about how he wants to be as a father. "We should just not hurt them," he says, referring to the kids. Unsaid was this - as long as they are happy, they should be able to do what they want. I should watch Juno, he says (HBO, here I come; he already watched it on a plane). He's still awed by how cool the parents were in that movie. He clearly aspires to that level of comfort as a parent with his children's choices.

The husband and I talk a lot about our children, about what we want for them, about whether what we are doing is right. We want to be mindful, not let things just happen to us or them. This, and Broom's final twitter update (as of now!) and in a weird way, David Goldman's halting success at finally reuniting with his son, give me heart. We may make missteps along the way, but perhaps love is enough to conquer all. Life is just too short to think anything else.

P.S.: A rambling post if ever there was one. Thank you for reading.

Update (Feb. 14th): I went back and read the post, and had to make some word choice changes, including in that one paragraph in which I had used 'situation' five times in the span of three sentences! Thanks.


Unknown said...

This was a 'from the heart' post. All powerful and wonderful too.

Existential dilemmas seem to be a constant in all geographies.

Finding a purpose and ploughing on seems to be an answer that stares at me.

Thanks once again

Anonymous said...

Beautiful, beautiful post. Truly, one from the heart. One that most of us think, feel, agonize over, but arent able to articulate as well.
Thanks for writing

Nino's Mum said...

am so glad I logged on today, instead of the comp-free weekend I resolve on. Thanks for Broom's updates, I feel really guilty I havent' read up her blog these last couple of days.
And then, thank you for the David Goldman post. It's a heartbreaking story and one that makes me shudder.
Your thoughts on parenting and accepting choices are so reflective of what a lot of us think. My sister and I were allowed to choose who we marry, and in her case, try again, because a lot of my family says, that they went through hell when they ran away and got married. no communication from families, being treated as social outcastes. Somehow I think it was always because they love us too much to keep away from us. And that's the kind of parent I hope to be to.
Tight hug.

Nino's Mum said...

I was crying as I typed the above comment, and it's a little unclear. I meant my parents - they had run away and got married and went through hell with their respective families.

Prats said...

You couldn't have said it better. Most times I feel i'm living and dying a life of guilt. But yes, the need to prove to ourselves is much stronger than suffocating the kids. Hopefully things will look far more in retrospect.

Lovely article and i'm glad they made their choices and stood by them.

Take care

Banno said...

Lovely post! Yes, we all change from kids to parents. And that's a drastic change. We forget all our rebellions and running off into the unknown, and want to protect our kids forever. I hope your husband achieves his super-cool dad state of mind. Also, thanks for the link to broombox.

Sujatha Bagal said...

Kavi, thank you. It's more amazing to me how alike we are than how different we are. If that makes any sense.

Sourin bhai, thank you! Loved reading a comment from you after a long while.

Nino's Mum, *huggg*. So much sadness Nino's Mum. Whenever you have alluded to the pain your parents went through I first see them as children. I imagine what they must have gone through and it makes me want to bawl. Hopefully what comes before makes us stronger for the future. I wish your parents did not have to go through what they did. But having his behind you will hopefully give you the ballast you need to be the kind of mother you want to. And from what I know so far, Nino is one lucky kid.

Prats, thank you. I have a feeling that just being mindful of these aspects of parenting (as you so clearly are) will in itself act as a check when we are about to go overboard with the suffocating part.

Banno, thank you. I desperately hope so too.

I wanted to share one more thing with you guys - my dad lost his father when he was 8. He had no role model for how to be a father. So long after I got married he asked my mom one day if he had been a good father and if I was happy. Because, he said, I don't know. I can't tell if I was a good father. I don't know how to tell. Needless to say, my mom and I had a good cry.

Anonymous said...

The last story that you just shared about your father was really touching... What can anyone say to that?

A post that goes deep too...

Dropped in to say that you're tagged:)

Nino's Mum said...

Suj, the annecdote about your dad almost broke my heart. It's eerie how we are never sure we're doing the right thing for our kids, even through years of parenting. Very humbling thought. And we do carry forward the best of our parents and the parenting we've undergone - and sometimes the worst, too.

Choxbox said...

Have nothing to add, you've said it all.
Know what Suj, I think we'll be okay.

Anonymous said...

Not at all rambling, makes perfect sense.

Roshni said...

Hi! I just wandered over to your blog.
Being a mother of two boys just in toddlerhood, I am just holding my breath and waiting to see what happens in the future. All I can say is, I am trying to enjoy the present as much as possible because never again at any age will my boys look at us with such adoration and believe in whatever we tell them!!
I am so glad you shared your inner thoughts with us, though I would like to say, and hope you will take it in a positive way, that you may like to have split it into two about parents and kids and the other about the plane crash etc. Just a suggestion. You're most welcome to visit my blog and let me know your thoughts about it.


Sujatha Bagal said...

NM and NM (!), I wish there is some way to know and some way to mitigate the carrying forward of the worst parts.

Chox and Ra, thanks.

Roshni, welcome to my blog. Thanks for reading and for your thoughtful comment.