It’s been 15 years since my primary self-definition changed from child to parent. I like to tell soon-to-be parents that I can’t explain it, but that they’ll get it on the drive home from the hospital. It is something that needs to be experienced to be understood.
But, even after I saw myself as a parent, I continued to cling to my definition as a child. Not surprisingly, the role that had been my first was still the most familiar. I remembered going through the life stages and I hadn’t yet experienced helping my own children navigate through them. Over time I built-up the ‘parent’ wiring in my brain and then *snap* it took over. I don’t remember when it happened, but I remember the moment that I realized it had happened.
I was reading a book called The Glass Castle, written by Jeannette Walls. The back cover describes it as, “a remarkable memoir of resilience and redemption, and revelatory look into a family at once deeply dysfunctional and uniquely vibrant.” The book is compelling and I strongly recommend it but I don’t remember it for its literary strength. I remember it because for the first time ever I read a book and found myself connecting my own experience not to the children but to the parents.
Maybe it was the fact that my kids were the same age as the book’s kids. Maybe it was the fact that an early scene put a young child at risk and I went deep into mama bear mode. I’m not sure what combination of factors were at play, but all I know is that by the end of that book I was incapable of seeing the book from the kids’ point of view. Every example of the parents putting the kids in a dangerous situation or leaving the kids to struggle to find a meal made me cringe. I was angry, so angry, at what the characters had done. What people like me — parents — had done.
At book club the other readers tried to get me to see another point of view, one that reflected the growth through adversity. I heard them, but I just couldn’t rotate my perspective and that surprised me. I didn’t care for one minute that the kids loved their parents. Or that they grew up to be successful adults who felt that their creativity and resilience was a gift from their unique experience. I found myself mentally stuck in the parent point of view. There was a skipping record in my head, “How could they do that? How could they do that? How could they do that?” Truth be told, I haven’t shaken the needle loose since then.
That’s why when the news (and Facebook) has shifted to the refugee crisis my first point of view is that of a parent. One of my friends posted a link to a photo documentary of refugee children and where they are sleeping — sad, heartbreaking images of children sleeping out in the open, in hospital beds and on cardboard boxes. My thoughts immediately went to my reality: of tucking my own children in each night in comfortable beds with warm blankets where they are safe and welcomed and home. Regardless of politics, regardless of other suffering, I understand why those parents want my reality for their children.
I’ve never been asked to sacrifice like that for my children, but I know my heart. I believe that if bombs were to fall on my home or threaten my family that I would walk away from everything. I would leave behind my trappings and my comfort, I would make myself into whatever they needed me to be to survive. I would be, without regret, one of the thousands of mothers dirty and huddled on a boat and in the streets and at a train station. I would demean myself and make myself as small or as big as I needed to be. I would battle, beg or bargain because the only point of view I know now is that of a parent.
And, like most parents, I would desperately hope that whatever I did was enough.