Tuesday, May 13, 2014


I had a great Mother's Day.  The best I've ever had, in fact.  The morning started off like this.

Doesn't get any better!
We spent the rest of the day doing activities of my choosing.  A trip to the outlet mall (where I got to shop solo), a stop at a nearby winery (beautiful - Fabbioli Cellars), and dinner at one of my favorite restaurants (Jaleo).  

It was an excellent, excellent day.  

With one small shadow...

Freaking Philomena.  

That's right, Philomena.  That movie with Judi Dench.  This one.  

My sister had recently seen this movie on a flight, and recommended it to me.  So on Saturday night (Mother's Day eve), I decided it would be a good idea to watch it.  Predictably, my husband fell asleep about 5 minutes in, so I was left to watch it by myself.  

Approximately 90 minutes later, I was awake, alone, sobbing like a baby.  Like a really ugly sob.  

Beware - major spoilers about to take place.  

The basic gist is this:  Teen mom gets pregnant.  Teen mom gives birth in a convent in Ireland and they ultimately give her baby up for adoption, over teen mom's protests.  Mom spends the rest of her life searching for her son, until when she is in her late 60's a reporter hears her story and tries to help her. Her search takes her to America and she ultimately learns that her son had died of AIDS a few years prior.  She also learns that her son had spent his life looking for her, and that he had requested to be buried at the Irish convent where he was born, in the hopes his mother would find him.  Movie ends with her standing at his grave, at the convent where it all started  The nuns knew all along they were looking for each other, but kept silent. 

True story, apparently.  And it wrecked me!

I was a mess.  An absolute mess.  I woke up during the night, thinking about Philomena watching her son drive away in a car, never to be seen again.  I woke up Mother's Day morning, picturing Philomena at her son's grave, and pondering the tragedy and irony of it all.  I enjoyed my Mother's Day, of course, but damn you, Philomena.  I couldn't get your sad story out of my head.

I just can't handle this shit anymore.  

I never used to be this way, you know.  I used to be able to watch anything.  It wasn't that I was completely stoic, but I could appreciate a movie or documentary or news show for its own sake, and then go on with my life.  It isn't that I didn't feel empathy for those going through pain, but it wasn't too difficult for me to shake it off after a moment of gratitude that it was happening to them, and not me.  

But since I've had children that's all changed.  Tragedies that I used to be able to read about in an indifferent fashion now bring me to tears.  I find myself turning off the news when they show pictures of victims of war, or do a human interest piece on a sick child.  When Columbine happened back in 1999, I remember being shocked and horrified, but I went on with my day. When Newtown happened, it brought me to my knees, quite literally, and still hasn't really left me.

Becoming a mother has heightened my empathy to extraordinary levels.

I've often thought about why this is, and I haven't been able to come up with a coherent, logical answer.  On Sunday, I posed this issue to my wise friend Valerie (who writes the blog Your (Wo)man in Washington and always has a way with words), and she summed it up beautifully:

"[M]otherhood is a transformative experience, whereby a woman profoundly comes to know a drive stronger than her own self-interest.  Having felt love for another so deeply, the cruelty of which mankind is capable seems searingly contrary."

There is no denying that becoming a mother changes us in fundamental ways, and I suppose in one sense I knew this.  I knew that I would love my children more than life itself, that there would be an intense bond, and that my life would never be the same.  But what I didn't anticipate is the fear and terror that accompanies that.

The best way I can describe it is with a quote by Elizabeth Stone: "Making the decision to have a child is momentous.  It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body."

While my children have given me a love I had never experienced before, it is also true that never before in my life have I ever had so much to lose.  Altruism is a beautiful thing, but it also mean a surrender of control.  Protecting one's self is simple enough.  Protecting others is more challenging.  And the idea of failing in that protection - of something happening to my children, of them being in pain, or of not being with them - is too much to take.  So much so that when other people have experienced it, I feel it along with them.  Not to the extent that they feel, obviously - I just feel the slightest touch of something so, so deep.  But even that touch, that brush of what that must feel like, is too much to take.

So when I watch movies like Philomena, or I hear about a school shooting, it reminds me of what there is to lose.  And when I see that others have lost in such a way, I feel it in ways I never did before having children.

The world would definitely be a better place if women were in charge. 


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  1. I am right with you. There are things I can't read about or watch because they upset me to the point of feeling physically ill. Anything that involves harm to a child or death? I can't do it. You nailed it exactly. I never expected that becoming a mother would make me feel this way.

  2. yes, yes, but I have a suspicion....in the consequent vulnerability of motherhood lies, perhaps, an undreamed of strength, should we wish to realize it.

  3. This is true. sometimes I get the same feelings when I see an injured dog or a cat. It's just so weird that one minute you're normal, the second you're emotional to the point of absurdity.

    I love your blog

  4. It sounds like a great day, but in that last photo, your kid clearly doesn't like red :)

  5. I am right there too. I self censor everything. GoT recent episode where they give the baby to the gods...I had to step out of the room until the entire episode was over. nothing happens to the baby but damn if I couldn't watch it. Its make believe with freaking dragons. I'm a wreck about such things...and on the opposite end, I have such hatred, I mean hatred towards people who harm children. I am not a violent person but I was so angry when a group of older boys surrounded my younger child to look at his toy that I had to talk myself down from what I don't even know. It is hard to be a mother.


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