Monday, July 16, 2007

How a Marriage Looks After Kids

The other day a close friend asked how R and I were feeling about eachother.

The answer is not what I would have expected last year at this time. I grew up hearing how awful the first year of my life was. That my parents had been married eight years --"the best eight years of my life," my mother told me--and that I caused a rift that almost broke them. I expected the same. I expected to resent R. I expected to miss my freedom, to long for the days when it was just me. But I don't. I have discovered a new capacity for love, but not just for Samara.

Many of the mothers I know talk of sex in hushed whispers, punctuated by giggles and eye rolls. "I am done with that part of my life," said one mother I know. So how could I tell them that I feel the opposite? That before I was very one-dimensional about sex and about married sex in particular. And now? Now, I am not. I feel human and sexy in a new way. It has nothing to do with bra size or weight or any of the other things on which I wasted my focus. And I love my husband fiercely, passionately. More than I ever could have imagined.

Recently, we have heard a number of stories of women dying in childbirth. In one, the man could choose between his wife and unborn child. He chose his child. The media would have us believe that was the right choice, the solid one. We are supposed to love our children more than anything, more even than our spouses. And we are supposed to value their lives more, to want to protect them more. And yet R said he thought that man made the wrong choice. That to him, his wife--I--would be the greater loss, the one he could not live with.

When we got pregnant, several people told us to remember we were a couple first. That our relationship was the sun around which our planetary children would orbit. And yet, as the child of parents who loved themselves and each other more than us, I disagreed with that idea. I would have said that parents ought to love their children more than anything or anyone else. But I had only ever been a child. I had never been on the other side.

Now that I am, I know one thing. I know that I love Samara more than myself. I could not live without her. I would save her before myself a thousand times. But I also feel that way about R. I would save him before myself, too. When I spoke to my grandmother about the many losses she experienced over the course of her life--her brothers, an infant daughter, a grown daughter, her parents, her husband--she said the hardest, the one she could not recover from, was her husband. I hardly expected to hear that. We always hear that there is no loss greater than that of a child. But what about a partner of 50+ years? What about the person one planned their entire future and life around?

Thinking about this, I did some research and I found Ayelet Waldman's NYTimes piece from 2005. She got a lot of flack for saying what she did, for admitting to feeling more for her husband than for her children. And why not? For our race to continue, we have to adore our children above all else. But in a happy family, Waldman hits it on the nose when she says, " I will tell them (her children) to settle for nothing less than what they saw when they looked at me, looking at him."

Nothing could be more important in a family than two parents who are in love with eachother. I love my husband and child equally. The love I feel for Samara is like the love I feel for myself. We are intrinsically connected. She is me and I am her. But what I feel for R is different. Together, we created her. Without an us, there is no her. I love him more because of her. And I love her more because I see him.

1 comment:

Kristi said...

This was a beautiful post. And I agree. If parents aren't in love, then the entire family structure crumbles, no matter how much each parent loves the child/children.

It's interesting. I grew up with a mother who was the opposite of yours with respect to her relationships. My mom always loved my sister and me more than our dad. And while they had separate issues that had nothing to do with us that caused them to divorce when I was three, my mom continued to put my sister and I first in her life, oftentimes to the exclusion of her husbands, and I have no doubt that this, in part, led to her next two divorces as well.

I'll have to read that Waldman piece soon. I just finished her novel "Love and Other Impossible Pursuits" and it was fantastic.