The crone reflects

September 14, 2009

My pediatrician told my mother once that I was “three going on thirty,” but the first time I really knew I was getting old came about five years ago.  I was working as a graduate assistant in a library and felt the urge to tell an undergraduate sporting gym shorts and a tank top, in November, to make sure to wear his jacket when he headed outside.  You’re old now, I said to myself.  There’s no avoiding it.

I was old, and I wasn’t, as it turned out.

This morning, a fire alarm went off in the library where I work.  It was early, so not that many students were in the building yet.  As I walked to the door, encouraging the more reluctant ones to leave the building, a voice came on over the intercom: “This is not a drill.  This is an actual fire.  Leave the building now.”

Most did.

I stood outside with my coworkers and watched the firetrucks arrive.  And then, after the firefighters went into the building came the expected but somehow still surprising moment when students who’d decided to work through the incredibly loud alarm sauntered out of the front doors.  This happens every time the alarms go off, whether it’s just a drill or not, but today it hit me really hard.  I thought of how much these kids would be missed if they died in a fiery blaze of tinder-dry books and old journals, of how guilty everyone who worked in the library would feel about not getting them out, about what a stupid and senseless waste it would be.

While I was worrying about the lack of self-preservation skills, I also have to admit marveling at the innocence and arrogance these kids possess.  They believe that whatever they’re reading or writing or talking about is more important than their safety.  They believe that whatever happens they will be okay, even while listening to the voice saying, “This is not a drill.”

And, of course, they were right.  The small fire (something to do with an elevator) was extinguished; we were allowed to re-enter the building and resume the work of the day; the firefighters packed up their axes and drove off in their fire trucks, and the day returned to normal.

I don’t remember feeling especially immortal at 18, but I had some of this assurance that I’d be okay, no matter what.  I had some of that five years ago, biting back the urge to tell that kid to wear his jacket.  Now that I’m older still, more battered, and wiser than I’d like to be, I stand back, watch, and worry.  My life has so much fear in it now that it’s amazing to see such fearlessness.  I’m jealous of it, but I’m also a little angry, and I’m scared all over again.

I miss Teddy so much; I don’t want to miss anyone like this again.  However, one of the things I know about motherhood is that it’s a complete risking of your heart.  I’ve signed up for this again, and I’ve done it knowing what’s at stake.  Some days I have to wonder if I’m right in the head.

What if this baby makes it?  It’s hard enough to know that this child could be born healthy and then be lost to an act of nature, a drunk driver, a virulent strain of flu, or to human carelessness or cruelty, but what if s/he is fearless and doesn’t believe in fire alarms?  What if my old and creaky soul isn’t brave enough to parent in a way that celebrates fearlessness and confidence while also making damned sure my kid knows a little about self preservation?



  1. Oh yes, I hear you Erica. In fact I said to Simon just last night, in a moment of worry, “remind me why we’re doing this again…..”

  2. “However, one of the things I know about motherhood is that it’s a complete risking of your heart.” But such a worthwhile risk, even when your heart gets battered. You will find balance, find you way.

  3. beautiful post Erica, and so true.

  4. I feel like I aged 20 years, at least, when our son died. Wisdom was also gained. The hard part is to balance the new wisdom and an ability to live life. I too am scared for our C.T. – who will probably absorb our fear to some extent.

    I continue to hope for you and your new baby.

  5. sometimes…only now, that the shock of death has fully reverberated and i stand, instead, surprised by the bounty of life and things going RIGHT most of the time…i get literally stopped in my tracks by my own vulnerability, by the ridiculous cornucopia of what i COULD lose, now that i have these two living children.

    and in those moments, Finn feels like the safe one to me, the one that makes sense. it’s crazy. and yet i wonder if it happens to other parents who lose their first and are lucky enough to go on to have other children who make it…to me, my two with me feel like stories whose ends i do not know, whereas my first born? i have come to terms with it all. and there is a strange peace in that. nothing in that story can hurt me in any new way.

    of course, if my whole life were like that, perhaps i would not be living?

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