Of all the types of mother that I imagined I’d be – when, that is I did imagine being a mother, which was not all that often – I never imagined that I’d be an absentee mother.
I imagined that I’d work, of course – staying at home was nothing that I ever aspired to, which is why it was so surprising when I ended up doing exactly that, for a time – and I imagined that I’d travel and I imagined that I would, broadly speaking, have a life outside of motherhood. That was, in fact, a condition that I imposed on my future motherhood: I would be more than ‘just’ a mother. I would do things other than ‘mother.’ But even given the conditions and parameters that I placed upon my future motherhood, I always assumed that wherever I was as a mother, there I’d be. Putting my kids to bed and getting them dressed in the morning and hugging them and kissing them as often as I could. You know, mothering.
Which is what I did, mostly, for the first few years of my motherhood. I worked some, I stayed at home some, I worked from home some… but regardless of what I was doing, I was always there.
But now I’m not there.
A couple of years ago, I wrote about spanking. I wrote a few posts, actually, and one magazine article, because I’d spanked my own child, and admitted it, and the ensuing uproar from outraged observers demanded its own commentary. And then the commentary kind of got out of hand – the topic was, after all, spanking – and I decided to just stop talking about it, and, indeed, I thought that I’d never write about spanking again. But then the issue of spanking hit the interwebs again yesterday, with this story about a mother who lost custody of her kids after spanking her daughter, and I feel kind of driven, against my better judgment, to comment.
The arguments in response to the story skewed in two opposing directions: there was the argument that spanking is okay, because, hey, we were spanked, and we turned out fine, and then there was the argument that spanking is never, ever okay, no way, no how, and any parent who does it should have their parenting license taken away. I’m not comfortable with either of these arguments. I’m also not comfortable admitting to that, which is, really, the thing that I want to talk about. That is, why is this all so hard to talk about?
It was just one night, and one night, measured against the course of a lifetime, doesn’t seem all that significant. But it was a dark night, and I have never been able to shed the weight of the memory of it. I have never been able to put it, as they say, in perspective. I never will.
Jasper was not quite six months old. I had not slept in weeks. I lay awake as he stirred and fussed, bracing myself for the moment when I would have to rouse myself fully to nurse him or change him or soothe him. The darkness that night seemed particularly black, the kind of black that has a density, a weight. To say that it felt like it was closing in would be to use a trope that gets overused when writers are trying to describe dark nights and oppressive fear, but in this case it was true. The darkness was closing in on me like a heavy fog, like an army of ghosts, like a slick of oil, like night made solid and sinister. I couldn’t breathe. Jasper continued to fuss. I fought the dark.
I fought the dark. I think that I won. Even at the time, I wasn’t sure. I’m still not sure.