I wasn’t going to comment on the little controversy over that mom who wrote that Babble post that put forward that horribly awkward assertion that she loved her son more than her daughter, to the extent that she thought that ‘it wouldn’t be so bad’ if she lost daughter, so long as she didn’t lose her son. For one thing, I just can’t relate at all; the idea of losing either of my children fills me with such terror that I have to go sit down and breath deeply into a paper bag. I don’t even want to think about that fear, never mind poke at it and write about it. It’s too close to home. But, too – and this would be the larger reason why I didn’t want to comment – I refuse to judge another mother for her feelings about her children, because I get – I totally get – that those feelings are complicated and can become even more complicated if depression or anxiety or even just plain old exhaustion are involved. So, I wasn’t going to comment.
But then I was asked by a few people, and then a few more, what I thought about the ethics of that mom stating, publicly and on the permanent record, that she would rather her daughter die than her son? Not the feelings themselves, but the articulation of those feelings, in a space where a vast audience could read and comment and where, one day, her children might find it. And I still wasn’t going to comment, because, ugh, ugh – I worry about this stuff, the ethics and consequences of public revelation (it’s one reason why I maintain the Basement), but that doesn’t mean that I want to talk about it any more than I have to – I get sick of myself, too, you know – but then I remembered that I actually did comment, before the fact, last week, in this Washington Post story about the ethics of sharing our childrens’ lives and baring our parenting souls in the public sphere. And I thought that it was worth revisiting the thoughts that I shared there, which is to say, the thoughts that I prattled, maybe a little defensively, to the writer of the story – who, I must say, bore my self-defensive rambling with grace – because they are thoughts that I am constantly struggling to keep front of mind, to maintain as course-correcting lodestones, keeping me on the path that I want to walk as a writer and a mother.
I said this: that I endeavor to limit what I write about my children to “stories [that] are driven by love and affection” and that there be “nothing mean-spirited or critical or negative in the stories” that I tell. I told Ann Hornaday, the writer of the story, that I aimed to ensure that when the day comes that my children are able to look back upon what I’d written, they’ll do so and laugh and smile and feel pride and love and more pride and, yes, maybe a twinge or two or two hundred of mild embarrassment. But never pain. Never, ever pain.
I also said that it was a struggle, sometimes, many times, to balance my belief – my sincere belief – that telling the truth about motherhood serves an important public and cultural and historical service with some of my reservations about the practice of telling that truth. Because, as I said above, motherhood does involve a lot of complicated feelings and our children do not always walk a perfectly straight line in providing us with charming stories in which they are perfectly adorable and perfectly lovable and, let’s face it, the truth about motherhood – about parenthood – is sometimes painful. William Wordsworth exhorts us to fill our paper with the breathings of our hearts, but sometimes the breath catches, is ragged, hurts upon exhale.
So I endeavor to tell that truth, always, within the frame of this larger truth: that I love my children more than I love any other thing on this earth, with the exception of their father, and that the truth of my motherhood is that I would endure any pain on their behalf, that I would take on any pain to protect them from pain, even that meant biting my tongue, hard, and keeping the darker nuances of truth to myself. Sometimes I might slip – my breath catches and my paper fills with the gasps, the stammerings – we all do this, those of us who put our hearts to the page – but I try to keep whatever pain is captured there my own, hurtful only to me, only ever to me. I fail sometimes, I think; we all of us fail, sometimes. I try to not.
I try to remember that I am a mother before I am a writer. The breathings of my heart that my children inspire must always be exhaled in love. Always.