A love letter to parents
Today’s cartoon in the Gazette is my favorite one so far. And it’s not just because I am the single mother of three little girls, or because my work as an anthropologist focuses on parents and their children fighting for the side of love in the midst of overwhelming difficulty, or because I cry whenever I hear Rainbow Connection. It’s because my home office looks out onto a little roundabout where I watch every day as a little family with a toddler and a small baby come out their door and walk around and and around, cheering on the little ones as they ride their scooters, nervously looking around to make sure that the six foot distance holds, that strangers are kept at bay, that the sky stays up. Rinse, repeat. As I worked on this cartoon from my own lockdown, I watched the mother’s face, all smiles and cheer for that baby as it pushed its doll in a tiny pram, barely holding herself up on the plastic handles. And I watched as that mother looked away and her lip quivered and her face darkened for a moment and I wanted to run into the street and grab her in my arms and tell her that she is a hero, that I know the courage it takes to keep it together every day, to be hope and smiles even as you know the real story and the real fear. Of course, I can’t hug her or help her or say, let me take the kids so you guys can have a minute or a shower or just a good cry, so I wrote this. It’s my love letter.
The rapture of action is attractive, and we often forget that it is the monotony of the relentless everyday that is also holding the line until this is all over. And I believe it is the parents of young children who know and do this kind of heroism best. Their fear for their children can be as massive as is the need to keep smiling and reassuring even if they are screaming inside. They hold and hug and comfort and feed and smile and walk the sleepless walk all the while navigating their own fears, and they do it in isolation, sometimes without enough food or money or security. Sometimes while also working their own jobs. Sometimes in danger at home.
John Steinbeck said that it takes courage to raise children. But Agatha Christie wrote that a mother’s love is power:
“A mother’s love for her child is like nothing else in the world. It knows no law, no pity, it dares all things and crushes down remorselessly all that stands in its path.”
Even if that thing is her own fear and exhaustion and worry and boredom and exasperation. I think the most difficult thing to swallow is that today’s heroism is comprised of a willingness to keep going every damn day knowing what we know and to still keep cutting the grapes in half. This is the hardest, the most invisible and the loneliest work (as every parent knows, you can be surrounded with children every hour of every day and still be so, so very lonely) that many of us will ever do. Also the most hopeful. Keep walking in circles, keep pushing the pram, keep making snack, keep doing what you’re doing to hold fast and despair not. As Shel Silverstein said, with enough small bites we can eat even the massive whale. Heroism works that way, too.