When Virgil wrote, in his tenth Eclogue, that love conquers all – omnia vincit amor – he was not making a statement about the power of love to overcome all obstacles. He was not suggesting that love can or should prevail over anyone or anything that might stand in its way; he was not asserting that love is subject only to its own rules; he was not saying, with the poet Bono, that love is a higher law. He was not saying that love conquers everything. He was saying that love conquers everyone. Love conquers us all – it defeats all of us, it claims dominion over all of us, it overpowers every single one of us – and so we really should just consider surrendering. Omni vincit amor et nos cedamus amori, bitches.
There’s a home for the elderly that Emilia and Jasper and I pass every day on our walks to and from preschool and junior kindergarten and ballet lessons and karate. Emilia calls the ladies who live there her ladies – “we need to wave to my ladies, Mommy!” – and she waves and blows kisses to them when we see them sitting in their enclosed verandah, and, when they come out outside for their daily constitutionals, she stops for chats and hugs. They give her extra candy at Halloween. She thinks that they’re awesome. “Just like Grandma, only not so far away and also they give me candy instead of cake.” Which is an important difference, you know.
The other day, after passing her ladies and dispensing the requisite waves and kisses, Emilia asked this: “why are some grandmas in wheelchairs?”
“Because they’re older, sweetie, and their bodies aren’t working so well anymore, and they can’t walk as much as they used to, so they need help. Wheelchairs help them get around.”
“Are they going to die? Because their bodies aren’t working?”
“Not just yet, I don’t think. But yes, when people get much older, they’re closer to dying.”
“And when their bodies aren’t working they’re closer to dying too?”
This is what you get when death is a semi-regular topic in your household. “Yes, sweetie, when their bodies aren’t working.”
“Is Tanner going to die?”
A writer at Newsweek wrote last week about how her son – and the general state of being that is motherhood – is torturing her. Then a writer at Jezebel responded to the story with something very close to exasperation: “I was left, as I often am by pieces on parenting, at sea. Nowadays, there is such a dichotomy at work: the hazy romanticizing of baby culture wars with the it’s-a-nightmare/I-don’t-love-my-child/I-wanted-another-sex” backlash and while one is surely designed to remedy the other, those of us who haven’t had a baby are left, ironically, with no very clear idea of the reality.” A consequence of this, apparently, is that childless women – unconvinced by the hazy romanticism of some stories and horrified by the ‘it’s-a-nightmare’ confessions of others – become terrified by the Unknowable But Very Probably Sort Of Horrible condition of motherhood and are put off having children. Population control!
The reality is, none of us can paint an entirely clear picture of the reality of motherhood, because the reality of motherhood defies tidy characterization. Which is why, arguably, we see so much cultural discourse about motherhood that skews strongly in one direction or the other: we are constantly trying to get our bearings, and sometimes it’s just easier to do so by telling ourselves that motherhood is just so undeniably all-around awesome or that holy hell this shit is HARD and sticking to those stories. And yes, those stories that skew dark are frightening, but then, so much of motherhood is frightening, notwithstanding the moments – and there are many – of awesome, so.
This weekend, you turned four years old. You were so excited to turn four years old. For months you asked how many weeks it would be before you turned four, and for weeks you asked that we count down the days until you turned four, and for days you insisted that we tick off the hours until you turned four, and when the day finally came you said “Guess what, Mommy? Today, I am FOUR.”
And I smiled and hugged you and said “yes, yes, I know.”