Monday, 16 June 2014

To be free or not to be?

I spent a lovely day on Saturday with an old friend. He's a fellow Aquarian and this may or not have something to do with the fact that he's something of a free spirit, like myself. As a childless man, he was asking me whether having children is really all it's cracked up to be. People with children, like people who are married, often seem determined to convince friends that theirs is the only valid path through life and that if you're unmarried and don't have children there must be something wrong with you. Personally I don't think there's anything wrong with either state and I have childless friends who enjoy talking to me because, although I love my children, I'm honest about the fact that having children is a mixed blessing.

Having children is a lot of hard work and harder for me because my youngest child has a rare condition (along with other health issues) called Eosinophilic Colitis. It makes him allergic to just about everything and foods, viruses, pollens and chemicals flare up his colon causing him pain. And his pain is my pain, not just because I wish I could take it away from him, but because it causes him to wake at night (and wake me) and it also makes his behaviour a challenge. The disease is quite literally a pain in the arse. Sometimes I wonder why some other mums of sick children seem to cope better with the illness then I do and I think it's to do with their aspirations and where they get their happiness from. Some women seem to get most of their joy from their home life. For me my biggest joy has always been my work. My happiness comes from exploration. I love to explore myself and others and I love to explore the world. I love to write and play and create. I love to be spontaneous and I like the idea that we should try to make the most of every moment: carpe diem and all that. The way I used to live has been massively impacted by the needs of my child. I was never a domestic creature and now I spend hours and hours lovingly creating food that he can eat and delight in and I can't leave the house without bags of food and hypoallergenic formula. Travelling has become an enormous challenge where there used to be nothing
I liked more than hopping on a plane with a backpack and only the vaguest notion of where I was going. Now, if I go away with my child, I can only go to countries where they sell butternut squash (one of his two foods) and I can only stay in accommodation that is equipped with cookers, fridges and freezers. I pretty much do need to travel with the kitchen sink.

Sometimes I wonder if I would swap it all for my previous childless existence. The truth is I couldn't wish my children away. They are beautiful, joyful creatures who fill my life with laughter and happiness just as much as they cause me stress and worry. They restrict my life massively, but, at the same time, children are experts at delighting in the minutiae of life and they remind me to pay attention to this moment in all its wonderful detail: this tiny snail on the path, the petals of a sunflower, a rainbow in the sky. Children live in the present where the rest of us are mostly looking to the future or reliving the past, whether that be through rose-tinted nostalgia or regret.

A counsellor once said to me that marriage was a good thing because the restrictions of the union enabled more growth in the two individuals than constantly moving on and trying again. Maybe children are the same. There is no commitment greater than the commitment to children. We can't swap them and move on when they're not behaving the way we'd like them to. So, we have to challenge ourselves to find ways to keep loving them in spite of everything. Sometimes putting someone else's needs above our own is the most challenging path there is.

It made me think about poetry. I love to free write, to just let the pen flow onto the paper without worrying about my direction or the point of what I'm writing. It's pure creativity. But, sometimes, poets enjoy the challenge of working with the restrictions of a form. In formal verse, you have to work harder to create something beautiful and meaningful. Maybe marriage or parenthood is the same.  The easiest path isn't always the most rewarding. This article about parenthood has always resonated with me. Maybe carpe diem isn't the right motto for a parent. And maybe we can find creativity in new places, such as making interesting recipes out of two foods!

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