Motherhood has a way of forcing us to confront big unanswerable questions, questions about meaning and purpose, questions about morality and the state of the world, questions about just how much poop can come out of one tiny human butt.
Seriously, there are no answers to these questions, and yet we mothers find ourselves asking them anyway. Alone in the wee hours of the morning, rocking children that just won't sleep, we ponder the deeper questions of the universe. Perhaps those big questions seem so important because of the weight of the little lives that we carry in our arms, or by that maternal hormone cocktail surging through our bodies, or (more probably) by sheer delirious exhaustion and sleep deprivation.
Later, when those babies learn to talk, they come up with their own questions. The "What's dat?" labeling phase can leave a mom feeling like she has all the answers. While labeling everything from dogs to body parts to cheese toast might make you feel super smart and totally with it, do not succumb to that ego trip, because children have always been the great humblers of mothers. Remember how small you felt in the wee hours of the morning contemplating the meaning of life and the weight of parental responsibility? I assure you more questions without answers will flow from your child's lips.
"Why doesn't the sky fall on us?"
"When did air start?"
"When will I die?"
See? That's what we get for being cocky.
My kids are older now, able to read, capable of more complex thought, and have mad googling skills so I haven't had many tough questions from them in recent years. They have been busy finding their own answers to questions. It's rather nice.
But yesterday, I had a very existential conversation with a dear friend. During our conversation, I realized I am still plagued with unanswerable questions.
This week my oldest child graduates from Army basic training. From there, he goes on to Airborne jump school to learn how to jump from perfectly good aircraft. All of those years that I managed to prevent him jumping from the top of the playground slide seem suddenly pointless. (Perhaps I should have just let him get it out of his system when he was six. It might have been worth the emergency room visit.) A mother's worry isn't easily assuaged even knowing that her son is highly skilled and well-trained by the U.S. government (It could be that "U.S. government" part that has me worried. I'm not sure.) From there, it's off to Fort Bragg, NC where he will be a proud member of the 82nd Airborne Division, the primary fighting arm of the XVIII Airborne Corps.
While basic training, with its initial drastic separation and months of limited contact has been difficult, the next part seems harder. I don't even mean the "jumping out of planes" part. I'm referring to the "primary fighting arm" part.
My son, the same one who felt so heavy in my arms, who kept me up and deprived me of sleep, who forced me to ask the big unanswerable questions of the Universe... the same one who pelted me with rapid-fire questions of "what" and then "why"... the son I have loved so deeply and fought so ruthlessly to protect for twenty long (yet incredibly short) years, will willingly step into harm's way. When people have offered up congratulations and gushing sentiments about military opportunities and GI bills and paid education, I always counter with, "True... but it's highly likely that people will be shooting at my child." I'm just trying to keep it real. Put things into perspective.
It's more than I think my soul can bear and it's forced up more big unanswerable questions.
"How can I love this human being so very much?"
"How can I feel so much pride without bursting wide open?"
"How many prayers? How many offerings? How many candles? And to how many gods will it take to keep him safe?"
Because I need to know.
Can someone please tell me?
Why does it feel like the sky is falling on me?