The Newest New Year

Someone asked me the other day how my life has changed now that I have a child. My immediate answer was simple: everything has changed.

I have this new appendage--a semi-autonomous creature who never leaves my side for more than a few hours or my thoughts for more than a few minutes. I'm sharing my life now in a way that dwarfs even my marriage. I could attribute the intensity of this connection to breastfeeding, but I think that is just a physical manifestation of something that goes much deeper. I don't think I'll ever feel truly alone in the world, so long as my son exists, even when he is thirty years old, with a wife or husband and kids of his own.

That sounds like it would be comforting, an end to loneliness, but it is more of a feeling of responsibility than comfort. And in some ways, responsibility is lonely. I'm more afraid of death now than I've ever been before. Isn't that strange, now that my immortality is somewhat assured? Somehow my son makes me keenly aware of my mortality. Maybe because I know he will most likely (pray God) survive me.

Other people talk about the unconditional love one gets from one's children, but I have no illusions about this. Children don't love their parents unconditionally. We have to earn their love and trust, right from the start. And there is no one who will judge us more harshly than our children, because there is no one who will be more deeply affected by our failures. And for us, the parents, there is no one whose judgment, whose giving or withholding of love, can so deeply wound or save us.

My son's power over me is beyond even his own control. Even before Nugget was born, when I was still pregnant with him, I felt this new fear. The very existence of my child is like a sword of Damocles. The latent potential for unimaginable pain entered my world with him. I wondered, will that feeling ever go away? Will I ever be able to watch him climb a jungle gym or get in a car without terror? I don't think so. I think I'll just get used to its constant presence.

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