Through a series of unfortunate coincidences I am unable to visit my daughter in Ottawa this month. Leigh is 24 weeks pregnant and counting and, rather than seeing the baby bump in person, I have to be content with Snapchats keeping me apprised of her increasing girth.
She asks a lot of questions: What does a baby wear during the day? What is a receiving blanket? Is a bassinet necessary? Unfolding an online order of baby outfits that arrived the other day brought back memories of carefully arranged drawers filled with bright, tiny T-shirts and sleepers in anticipation of our first. I remember sitting in the nursery in our very small apartment, unable to imagine a baby in our midst. As a first-time parent I was terrified, and I suspect not much has changed.
Back in high school I remember a friend telling me her mother would sometimes say she wished she’d never had children. I’ve been asked if I’d do it all over again if I had the chance. Others contemplating starting a family wonder Why have a baby? Why mess with a life you are handling for what is sure to be unpredictable chaos?
They remember experiences they had as a child, and project worry onto the unknown future. What if my child hates school as much as I did? What if my child has no friends or feels isolated? How will I cope with the problems I experience as a parent?
People rarely project the positives. What if I can’t wait to put my baby into the stroller and walk on a shady street in the heat of a July morning? What if his art pinned to the refrigerator door brings a smile to my face every day? What if we enjoy playing catch together? What if I like sharing music with her?
The scenarios are as endless as they are unpredictable, but what is predictable for a mother and a father is that having a child expands their universe. A child forces you to become larger in spirit and be generous with your love and your time and your energy. Children take up room. Once a child comes into being she takes up room in your house, in your heart and mind, and that will never change, no matter how old the child gets.
People have kids later now and it seems there’s more time to think about options. There actually are options whereas when I was a young woman there were only expectations. When I look back, expectations might have been the thing that made my life. Without expectations, I sometimes wonder if I would have had that first child.
In the week before Mother’s Day this year, first child asked me to give her a song request. She has a weekly one-hour radio show on a community radio station. Who could have predicted that?
The song request was a tough assignment. I could have gone back to my youth with a choice from The Beatles (Here Comes the Sun). We were a Beatles family, but at age 12 one of my favourite songs was Paul McCartney’s Maybe I’m Amazed. It was considered traitorous to like one of the Beatles in the wake of their breakup, so I was a rebel. It might have been predictable that my kids are rebels of sorts too.
But I was more pulled to the songs that reminded me of my kids. Route 101 — from 1982 when Janice was born — by the great Herb Alpert. It has just the sort of sunny upbeat dreamy hopefulness I needed when I wasn’t feeling it with a new baby.
Or maybe something from 1985 when Leigh was born. Tears for Fears’ Everybody Wants to Rule the World. Good choice.
In 1989 when Allison was born the Fine Young Cannibals were making the charts. How about She Drives Me Crazy? Just joking.
Enter Sandman by Metallica was released the year after Gerard was born in 1990. I didn’t become a Metallica fan until the kids were a little older, and that song holds memories of bringing Gerard and his friend Colby to see a Metallica concert when they were in Grade 7. It’s predictable that a mother bringing boys to a metal concert needs to be as unobtrusive as possible.
The first concert I ever took one of my kids to was The Tragically Hip in 1996. Janice was 14. I’ll never forget the huge raucous crowd moving in undulating waves as the spotlight scanned the smoky stadium, with Janice a few rows down from me because we were unable to get tickets together.
Recently the Tragically Hip’s Gord Downie was diagnosed with a brain tumour and since hearing the news I’ve read and listened to a few of his past interviews. Asked how his family has influenced his music (Downie and his wife have four children), his response is unreserved: “They’ve given me a chance to see things again.”
“They inspire everything. . . . You settle into the fact that you let these kids affect you in their great and positive ways, and that can only affect your work in great and positive ways,” says Downie.
I can’t think of a better answer to the question of why to start a family.
In the end, the song request I went with was my favourite from a group that is part of the soundtrack of Janice’s and her siblings’ growing-up years — The Stone Roses’ This Is the One. Significant because it was a special song at Janice and Kalon’s wedding — they walked in together while it played — I chose it in honour of their 11th anniversary Mother’s Day weekend. Oldest child — the “one” who first taught me about being a mother — first one married, and the first of four to teach me to “see” in new ways.
My four children have taught me how to love, and continue to teach me how to live.
Leigh might be terrified as a first-time parent, but if there’s any advice I have to give it’s just this: Be not afraid. The child will teach her everything she needs to know.