The constancy of parenthood

There’s lightness, almost unbearable.

He brings his face an inch from mine and places an open palm on each of my cheeks. Mama kiss, he declares earnestly, and presses his slack, spitty mouth to my upper lip. We stare at each other, eyes clownishly wide, lash-to-lash. I always crack up first. Now dada turn! Dada, whea ahh yoooou?

But then there’s darkness. From the moment you see squirming purple legs, something deep and visceral, almost animal, takes root. The umbilical cord only gets stronger with every moment that passes since it’s been cut.

We hear of it ending prematurely for others — parents parted from children — and it reverberates like an electric shock. Alone in a roomful of thieves you crouch over a treasure, knowing that one of them will inevitably succeed in taking you from it, or it from you. Will it be today, tomorrow, or fifty years from now?

To contemplate the answer ties us into knots. Thank goodness for emotional respite: continued, grassroots demand for kisses, fresh bums and grilled cheese sandwiches.

I occupy the vast gulf between compost and white beards. There’s too much mystery in the world for life’s end to be the exclusive domain of micro-organisms. Yet there’s too much relativity in life for heaven to be a club, at which a father, son and ghost reduce the sum of our deeds to You Get In, and You Don’t.

My God smells like Murphy’s Oil Soap. He is a kindly university professor with a nubby argyle sweater and sensible shoes. He’s not awesome, fearsome or any other sort of -some. He listens to what we don’t say. He never needs to point out when we’re on the wrong path. He simply asks the right questions until we figure that out on our own. He has nothing to prove, and he’s far too rational to hold it against us when we doubt him. He invites Darwin and Galileo over for tea and whoopie pies every Tuesday. He’s a little worn out, but endlessly patient. He thinks we’d get along much better if we weren’t so insufferably literal. He’s not nearly as cut-and-dried as religion would have us believe.

I’m pregnant. The darkness and the dread picks up strength, a chemical phenomenon. Parenting and loss, absence and presence. Vulnerability and fleeting preciousness as these babies turn somersaults inside me.

Recently, I got a letter from my Grandma Joe. She had a friend pass it on.

She had written it in the late-1980s to a friends’ daughter who had given birth to twins. They forwarded it on to my parents a few months ago after finding it in an old desk. The Robsons might like to see one of Billie’s old letters, they thought randomly, and put it in the mail less than a week after our twin-confirming ultrasound. They knew nothing of me, Billie’s granddaughter, clobbered flat with this news.

But she knew. She was the first to know. She was with me in the ultrasound room as I lay staring at the ceiling. She didn’t say anything — she just sat quietly in the chair, hands folded on her lap, looking from me to the screen and back again, smiling.

She died in 1997.

But if you knew my grandmother, you’d agree: it is so like her that she willed these words to find us. She is practicality incarnate.

…I feel a strong bond with anyone else who has twins. For one thing, I felt so blessed — after all, it isn’t everyone who is smart enough to produce twins, and the joys far exceed the ‘difficulties’… which is hardly the right word to use, as things do work out and it’s fun to meet the challenges — sort of like learning to juggle, I suppose!

What a memorable time your mother will have when she visits you and gets acquainted with the babies! I’d like to be a mouse in the corner. Those babies won’t be tiny for very long — before you know it they’ll be running around getting into mischief and you’ll wonder where the time went.

I didn’t know until after they arrived that I’d had twins, so I had no time to figure out how to handle things. But one day at a time, we managed and enjoyed it. And you will too! Love, Billie

An umbilical cord stretches from one dimension to another, regardless of mother or father, making itself known. Have you ever felt that tug? An inexplicable feeling of company, commentary, listening or watching?

The love of a mother or father endures, a constant force, even though it can be faint, transmitted through many layers of interference. After all, the origin of that love — that enduring, unconditional love — may reside a long, long way away, munching on tea and whoopie pies in some other dimension.