Later she says "I never had any questions except the one about the moment when I would die. I should have chosen the moment before the arrival of my children, for since then I've lost the option of dying. The sharp smell of their sun-baked hair, the smell of sweat on their backs when they wake from a nightmare, the dusty smell of their hands when they leave a classroom, meant that I have to live, to be dazzled by the shadow of their eyelashes, moved by a snowflake, bowled over by a tear on their cheek. My children have given me the exclusive power to blow on a wound to make the pain disappear, to understand words unpronounced, to possess the universal truth, to be a fairy" (113).
And so it is that to love your child is not so much a feeling but an eternal impulse, a constant action. Loving my son is an all encompassing, perpetual thing. It is not a choice, not something I work at, but something that lives in me like another organ next to my heart. And as Thuy's narrator so eloquently expresses, this love is not always a gift. It can be heavy, it can rip you to shreds, it can lead to the most extraordinary outbursts of rage, because no matter what your child does you cannot stop loving them, and that knowledge is a hard thing to carry. Think of the mother in We Need to Talk About Kevin who finds that she loves her child even as he sits before her in prison, a convicted murderer. Containing such a love means facing the full catastrophe. It has its own neural network that plugs in to your mind, your body. It allows you to experience great tenderness but only if you are willing to experience great pain, only if you are willing to be horrified by the violence of your emotional landscape.
It is cliche to say that we live again through the eyes of our children. Thuy turns this cliche upside-down and writes that the arrival of children removes "the option of dying." It's easier, sometimes, to let ourselves die to the world, to allow ourselves to become numb, unresponsive, unseeing. As a parent you no longer have the option of dying. A child makes everything hyper-present. Every experience is intensified, every tear is a symbol of the greatest hurt, every outburst is a wail of unparalleled grief, every smile reflects the most expansive joy and wonder. It is exhausting to confront life so magnified. And any parent could be forgiven for saying, "I didn't know it would be like this. Please just let me close my eyes for a moment, shut out the cacophony, retreat to a dull and colourless dream where the edges of the world become hazy and indistinct." When does beauty become so sharp that it turns to pain? When does elation spill over into despair? My son shows me that the line between them is an illusion. In him every experience, every emotion lives untempered by the social systems that will eventually wear the mountains of feeling down into harmless pebbles. He is a daily storm that leaves me raw with love, stripped down to the bone. When the narrator of Thuy's book says that "If I had known what it meant to love, I wouldn't have had children," this is not a statement of regret. She clearly does not regret the presence of her boys, but she expresses the crushing weight of forever, of being under the control of a love more powerful than any other force in the universe. This is not regret but awe. How is it that a person so small brings the entire universe with him when he is born? He carries it like the compressed matter of a baby star, drawing in everything that dares to enter its gravitational field.
|Collecting. Copyright Andrea Paterson. 2014.|