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09 September, 2007

Drawn by Dragons

So, yeah. Thursday night I broke down in tears on the way home while talking some stuff out with my husband, and then asked Little Light if she could remember any myths touching on female monsters who devoured their children. We didn't get much of anywhere, and I sort of lost the thread, and then when I actually get around to catching up on blogs, I see antiprincess has posted about fatherhood.

So let's see where I can go from here.

I am the product of a generational curse. I don't know if it is older than my grandmother, but it is at least that old: the oldest child in some way rejected, emotionally neglected or vilified, probably in part because it's the first child that changes a parent's life the most. I am my mother's oldest child; my mother, my grandmother's oldest child. Growing up in the center of maternal resentment is ... hard.

I do not exaggerate when I say my deepest, bone-deep terror is perpetuating this curse, swallowing my children (especially the first, the most vulnerable, the most likely) alive in this horror of transformation, this profound change that is becoming a parent. Talking with my husband, what I kept repeating brokenly through the tears was, "I don't want to turn into a monster. I don't want to turn into a monster."

(Which of course is why I was looking for myths -- ways of relating to this internal Beast so as to be able to not go off my own map. Monsters have our own nightmares.)

I don't believe a two-parent family is enough to get healthy children. Even with two parents with a wide range of interests and experiences, the potential range of kids is further. (My brother had no sporty parents, though my father tried quite hard to be there.) Two parents and a community -- extended family, friends, neighbors, teachers -- gets closer.

I was raised in a community of parents with kids about my brother's age, all of whom served as semi-parental figures, who traded little cards with "1/2 hour" printed on them around so that nobody was crushed under the weight of constant kids, so that they could maintain themselves as well as raising their children. I adopted the neighbors across the street as honorary grandparents and learned to play solitaire and learned about painting porcelain from them (a plate she painted a kitten onto is on my ancestor shrine; I attended her funeral years and years ago); the next-door neighbor taught me folksy crafts and introduced me to her budgie. I wound up at one point getting involved in a church community, which could also have been part of that had I been someone else.

My friends with kids have ties to an extensive supportive community, diffused over area but still present. (One friend of mine has taken over childcare for another, a stay-at-home-dad, for this week -- on the condition that he leave the house.) A different level of intimacy and support, but still enough to take some of the pressure off, to keep the whole 'two parent family' from being a seething mass of personal inadequacy because people think they ought to be able to handle all the childrearing stuff and fail or burn out or just desperately need a vacation.

And I look at the insides of my head, my family curse, and try to figure out how to get my eventual kids some reasonable chance of having adequate support in their lives -- taking into account the possibility that I might wind up less than a whole parent. (I hope I won't become a negative parent. I hope. I fear. I ... don't want to be a monster.) Because if I lose my shit in any of the ways I think plausible, my husband will not only be dealing with parenting without much assistance from me, but also dealing with taking care of me.

Antiprincess asks what fatherhood is about.

Fatherhood is about what my husband said to me over ten years ago, that my children will also be his children, because he's committed to them and their welfare. That he is willing to make that investment in theoretical human beings, without the personal bonds that may come of incubating them, in advance, without just saying 'If there's a crisis, I'll be there.' Being there before the crisis, from the beginning, being a part of their matrix of living from the beginning.

And I'm afraid of being a burden, of going mad, of withdrawing from the world, of the possibility that I like my mother before me and her mother before her will eat my children alive; fatherhood is something more secure and trustable than motherhood to me, without the burden of generations of monstering. Something I want my children to have a wealth of, because the mothering I have in me may be untrustworthy or flawed. I want my children to have fathering, along with the richness of crazy auncles that I know our friends will supply.

I know the terror of the curse is the thing most likely to make that thing manifest, the thing most likely to push me over the edge. If I can be secure in the knowledge that my children will have enough fathering to get by, then I believe I can shed the madness of the mothering I learned well enough to put my faith in the wisdom of Hetharu, the great Mother, and accept Her guidance. (Dua Hethert.)


Anonymous said...

any myths touching on female monsters who devoured their children.

In Greek there was Lamia who devoured others' children; Kronos/Saturn ate his children. I think there's something like that in India as well, though I can't recall.

Anonymous said...

On fathers...I think I want to share a bit with you about my father.

My father can be stubborn, opinionated, and paranoid. He also is one of the most responsible, patient, tolerant, and loving men I know, and I feel very lucky to have had him (and still have him).

My parents were both in their 30s when they had me (first and only child), and had been married for at least 10 years already. My father chose where he was going to work as a doctor so that he'd have regular hours (not always easy to find) and could be home in the evenings to spend time with me.

When I was an infant, one of my feet was sickled. I was way too little to remember, of course, but supposedly my dad walked around carrying me and carefully holding my foot out so that it would straighten. I'm guessing that it was a bonding experience; I'm pretty sure that if that hadn't presented itself, something similar would have occurred anyway.

I don't want to go on forever about how there are pictures of me at about 2 years old sleeping on top of him on the couch, or about how he taught me to read every night during my baths when I was three, or about how he used to make his hands into puppet shapes that would dance while I did my violin exercises when I was 5 (and went to every lesson with me), or every other single way that he was completely involved with my life.

The summer before I went away to college, I remember sitting in the car with him (before I even left home), and how he cried at the thought of my going away. I can't even remember him crying before. I cried too. I'm crying now just remembering it.

I remember how once when I was being an obnoxious teenager, he told me that he loved me, he would always love me, even though he didn't like me very much at that moment.

So I guess what I'm trying to say is this. I don't think fathers are more or less important than mothers. But I do think that fathers can be just as good parents as mothers can, even without physically bearing the child (I mean, look at adoptive parents - they bond with their children, even without any specific biological tie at all).

And re-reading that and what you wrote, I don't want you to feel that I don't think you value fatherhood - much the contrary. I guess I'm trying to reassure that there are good fathers out there, ones who want to be a true partner in raising a child. And I don't think it's anti-feminist to say so (egalitarian, though - egalitarian all the way).

(And while just being there in a crisis is valuable - in a lot of ways, I think being a parent is about being there -before- the crisis, and instead of the crisis, and as a buffer through the crisis.)