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    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

Prepping for the Empty Nest, Part 2
March 20, 2011 - 3:37pm

My first response to "Felicity"'s comment on my last post was defensive. I thought she had a lot of nerve presuming that she knew anything significant about my life, or lack thereof, from a series of blog posts. I had drafted a response along the lines of:

A) This is a parenting blog, so I write about parenting issues. A casual reader of my posts on Buzz, Balls & Hype might not even realize that I had a child;

B) Although I have stated more than once that I don't write much about my husband because he doesn't like to be written about, people keep taking his relatively small role in these posts as evidence of a minor role in our lives; and

C) I would have imagined that an academic would recognize hyperbole when she saw it. It would be impossible for me to function successfully in a private practice and a supervisory job; post two columns a week; participate in three to four classes a week; and perform as a singer if I were literally spending half my waking thoughts neurosing about impending separation.

But then it occurred to me that I might be protesting a bit too much. Generally, comments that are completely off the mark are easy to shrug off; those that get under my skin tend to contain at least a kernel of truth. So I decided to try to identify that kernel.

I think it's true that I am more focused on Ben than another mother might be on her child. As is true of pretty much everyone, my attitudes and behavior are strongly influenced by past experiences, particularly early ones. So I thought it might be of interest to outline some of the events that may have contributed to this intense tie.

Please note that I am not asking for your judgements about what is wrong with me or how to fix myself; only sharing some facts to illustrate the connection between experience and behavior, in this case, parenting style.

Although my experiences are mild compared to those of people in other parts of the world, they do reflect somewhat higher than usual amounts of unexpected loss for a middle-class American, especially early on. Some highlights:

My mother had one brother, whom I adored. We lived in the same town, and he would stop by frequently with his close friend, who claimed he was waiting for me to grow up so he could marry me -- and I believed him. My uncle died when I was about three, and my fiancé, as I thought of him, couldn't bear the sight of our home anymore, and cut the relationship off.

A few years later, we lost my father's entire family when my mother, who had converted to Catholicism under duress, rebelled and joined the Episcopalian church. My dad's eight siblings and their spouses and kids, who all lived in the area, formed a colorful, rowdy, warm clan, and when the affection and attention were withdrawn at once, without explanation (as it seemed to a child who was not privy to the behind-doors arguments), it was crushing.

When I was in college, a friend who was becoming a boyfriend was shot to death by an inept hit man who was actually looking for my friend's roommate, who owed a large sum to a drug dealer. Shortly afterward, a family friend, a few years younger than I was, was out with some buddies. He left to put money in the parking meter, and was apparently mugged and stabbed to death a few yards from the restaurant.

My college years also included the first of at least nine miscarriages/spontaneous abortions that plagued me from 1972 until a few years before Ben's birth in 1994.

Given all this, it might not be so striking that I would be a little more clingy than someone whose experience is that if you kiss a loved one goodnight on Tuesday, you will be able to kiss them good morning on Wednesday.

When Ben was small, he also suffered a series of difficult losses, including the deaths of both of my parents, to whom he was very attached; the deaths of two (unrelated) friends of mine, the mothers of his friends, within months of each other when he was four; and the loss of a recently recovered cousin on my father's side in the WTC disaster, which we could see from the promenade a few blocks from our home. Ben developed some separation issues as a result. Fortunately, he is a stronger person than I am (and, if I say so myself, he got much stronger and more enlightened parental support than I did), and these have passed. He is now an independent, resourceful young man who looks forward to his travels and, yes, thanks, Felicity, to going away to college. I will cry when he goes, miss him terribly, and worry about him, but I wouldn't hold him back for the world.

 

 

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