She—my baby girl Rachel—so badly wants babies. And we tell her: go to college, get married, have babies, in that order. She’s cool with this (she’s five), but the problem is: she really doesn’t like boys. Except her big brother, and sometimes her dad, and even less often her little brother. Boys, she says, are the losing team. They stink, and have too much body hair, and if they nursed babies it would be dirt-milk. So how to achieve her goal of motherhood? This, I want to tell her, is a problem women have faced for centuries.
She informed us tonight at dinner that men aren’t necessary for the birth of babies. My husband took umbrage at this and sought my support in convincing our daughter otherwise. I cocked my eye at him and said, “That’s a fine line, dear. She’s talking about carrying the baby inside and giving birth and nursing it. Do you really want to cross that line and tell her just exactly how it is that men contribute?” That put an end to that, and our daughter remains convinced that mamas are all that are needed. A lot of mamas think this too, and it’s kind of dragging us womenfolk down, all this hard work of going at life and parenting alone.
I should know: I did the single parent thing for right at twelve years. Technically I was married for about 18 months of those 12 years, but not in such a way that anyone would’ve noticed. Overall, those single years were some of the happiest of my life. My son makes for a wonderful life companion and I am the most introverted of introverts so being alone kind of suited me. But while happy, those years were also extremely, extremely hard. Like Chris Rock says, “Sure, you can be a single mom, but should you be?” It depends, of course, so I’ll just leave that one alone. Too many caveats.
I remember this girl from law school who was pretty much the most anti-marriage woman I’d ever met outside of a punk club. “It’s the worst contract for women ever! It’s killing us and bringing us down! We’re losing our selves, our careers, our potential!” And so on and so forth. That (wonderful) woman is now happily married with two kids and often posts Pinterest-worthy photos of homemade crafts on her Facebook page. She also is now “self-employed,” which we female lawyer-types know is really shorthand for “I want more flexibility than the jerks who run law firms (and some non-profits) will let me have.”
There is also the infamous case of Gloria Steinem who said women need men like fish need a bicycle (as in, not at freakin’ all). She is now married as well. I’m not sure if she’s happy or not because I haven’t checked. But regardless.
My personal ambivalence towards marriage could be because my first marriage was such an abomination. It was full of abuse, affairs, bar fights, and lots of drugs, none of which were perpetrated, had, started, or used by me. The innocent party stands highly wronged here, and though I’ve reached a level of forgiveness, the PTSD is a little harder to shake. What did come from that first marriage are two of the most beautiful people God ever created, and lots of what some might call “wisdom,” but only because it’s stuff I learned before the age of fifty; to anyone over fifty it’s mere common knowledge.
For some Godforsaken reason I decided to get marriage at fifteen. I think being pregnant had something to do with it. My parents yelled and screamed and forbade the marriage (as they should have), but his parents were gleeful and facilitated the whole shebang. I realize now the reasons for this were many. One, they were happy that their oldest son, whom they worried about greatly, had found a gentle and God-fearing partner who could influence him for good. Two, seeing as how I was pregnant, and that they were fundamentalists Christian types in a kindly and charismatic spirit-led sort of way, they figured we better make things legal to please Jesus.
So off we went in the middle of the night in an old Mustang that ended up stranding us halfway to the airport. Me, scared, pregnant, and hungry. Him, just happy to be doing something frowned upon by the establishment.
That baby, the one making me hungry, is the one who later died at not quite one year old. But even after that the ex and I stayed together and soon had another baby. That baby is now eighteen, in college, and the love of my life. Without him—as I often say while loving and hugging him hard—I’d probably have wound up in a cardboard box somewhere, spanging and dumpster diving with a tear tattooed on my face.
But instead, I’m here.
In case I haven’t mentioned it thus far, let me now say with emphasis: things happen for a reason. So I try not to even question it, this voluptuously curvaceous life, choosing instead to marvel at the mundane, squint so as not to bat my eyes at the ironic and absurd, and keep focused on the faithful, such as finding myself squarely in these middle years, strangely, dizzily, ironically, married.
7 thoughts on “Things That Are and Could Have Been”
What a beautiful story filled with grace and love and redemption!
Thanks, Michael. It’s the first time I’ve shared this part of my story, so hearing encouraging words of support is especially wonderful right now.
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Jamie, surely part of the “everything happens for a reason” is that in this time and space you enlarge my hope for the two of our children who were absolutely crushed by misfortune in spite of all my beloved husband and I as Christians could do — and still do. They have zero faith in the possibility for society to change, but they love individuals with a self-sacrificing love. As God moves, they change; so their ability to believe in the power of Jesus to cause change one person at a time will grow. Your transparency in telling your story helps me to be faithful, hopeful, and expectant of astonishing change.
Your hope should be enormous! We know great things — impossible things! — can and do and will happen.
I’m choking back tears, Jamie. Thank you for your transparency. It’s enjoyable reading your post now, because you write as you speak in conversation over breakfast – as you are, and as things are. I have the added advantage of being able to envision your gorgeously-applied black eyeliner – all Cleopatra-like and perfect. When you speak and write from your life “wisdom,” though, I realize that your life was far from perfect. Who’s is? Few.
I’m fixing to write up a review/comment on Marlena Proper-Graves’s (another Bud) book “A Beautiful Disaster,” which examines her undesirably-difficult early years in light of God’s presence – or seeming lack thereof at times. Really good. Go get it. I’ll be mentioning something along the lines of the crucible of life galvanizing our understanding of God’s mercy and love, as well as care, even when it doesn’t seem so. The crucible is inevitable for us all and we face we face opportunity to see God’s hand in it or not.
P.S. I so enjoyed getting to know you a teeny bit this weekend at the Redbud weekend.
Thank you, Natalie! I love having your comment and encouragement here.
I will indeed get Marlena’s book! I’ve been meaning to for a while, and you’ve given me the reminder I needed.
As for the breakfast and the weekend… I’m already counting down the days until the next Retreat. It was wonderful sharing space and stories with you and with so many other remarkable women. Can’t wait ’til next time!
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