I just did not understand any of it before they existed.
I have a niece and a nephew, and they were the first to redefine love for me. When I met my nephew, and then my niece, I understood that a child can make you feel so protective you'd throw yourself in front of a bus if it took them out of harm's way. Then I had my own kids. Two at once. Twins. And now I even more fully understand how big this really is, this giant, all consuming thing called loving a child. Before they were born I hadn't ever felt like I would gladly take a bullet for anyone. I would do anything, any thing, any damn thing, for my kids.
When the girls were about six months old J and I took them for a initial meeting at a health clinic we'd been trying to get into since they were born. We each had a glowing, healthy baby sleeping on our chests as we walked into the waiting room of the clinic. And there we met another mother and her daughter. The girl was probably five or six years old, strapped to a rolling stretcher, and her mom had to suction the saliva out of her mouth every few minutes to keep her from choking. In situations like this the question is immediate and inevitable: "Why?" Why did that mom have this enormous challenge handed to her, when I got not one, but two healthy children? How does she cope all day, this mother? The answer to that is pretty clear - she copes because this is her baby, and she would do anything, any thing, any damn thing.
Now that I am a parent I cannot bear hearing about any child suffering. I immediately project the suffering on to my own babies and the mother becomes myself. I cannot watch any film that deals with the death of a child, or cruelty toward children, without feeling my centre of gravity shift.
When O was about a year and a half old her hair grew and hung in her eyes and she'd freak out if I tried to clip it back. Everywhere I went people commented on how she needed to have her bangs trimmed. J asked "Why don't we just cut her hair?" I said "I don't want to change her." I never would have understood that feeling before she existed. Its just hair. But it was the first hair of her life, and she was and is so perfect. The thought of altering the miracle that was changing and morphing before my very eyes seemed like blasphemy.
I once knew a couple who found a house they loved, but they did not buy it. They did not buy the house because the master bedroom was on a different floor from the childrens' rooms. "So what?" thought childless I. Now I SO get it. I could never... I can't even let them sleep in a different room from me yet.
At least once a day I allow myself to indulge in thinking about what it was like before. Leaving the house was so easy. Taking a hot bath all by myself was almost always possible. I used to do my hair and put together an outfit. I miss that old life a lot. But it is not my life any longer. My new life does not find me at its centre. This new life is all about two little kids who turned everything, every thing, every damn thing upside down. My new life is all about taking bullets for them every day. And as much as I loathe it sometimes, I love it almost all the time.
I understand that now that they exist.