Maybe it would have been easier if I had just continued to toe the line. Maybe if I didn’t ask so many questions, or try to make sense of things, I’d be gliding through life right now, feeling secure in my place in this world and the next.
But following rules has never been my strong suit.
I got married young, with the message that I should be having a baby about every two years until menopause, or, if it turns out I have a weak constitution, a nervous breakdown.
Maybe if I had done that, I wouldn’t have had time to think. Maybe I would have been able to blame all the disaffection and dissatisfaction on hormones. Maybe, by the time my youngest child was independent enough for me to have a few quiet minutes to think, and ask myself what I truly want out of this crazy ride called life, I would have been a young grandmother, content with her lot, and looking forward to the half of my life where I get to lay back and schep nachas.
But I didn’t. My husband and I veered radically from what we were taught was the appropriate way to conduct our reproductive decisions, and in my late twenties, we decided, with no input from a halachic authority, that our family would not be growing further. And now I have nothing to blame the disaffection and and disillusionment on but my own inner turmoil. It’s not you, it’s me. I’m not tired, depressed, anxious and angry because being the mother of small children is hard.
It’s because I am emotionally unstable. It’s because I need medication to keep the chemicals balanced in my brain. It’s because I have examined my life under a powerful microscope, I’ve shined a light into the most cobwebby corners of my subconscious, and I’ve found dangerous thoughts there. Thoughts I’ve suppressed for over a decade, laying dormant, but no less potent than they were they moment they were created.
And now I need to grapple with those thoughts. I need to ask myself how I want my life to look. How I want the lives of my children to look. Will those two pictures blend into something beautiful? Or will the picture of my children’s future overshadow mine? Or will mine cast a dark pall over theirs?
It occurred to me recently that my husband and I never made the active decision to have children. No one suggested or recommended (or even mentioned with derision) the idea of using birth control for a limited duration in the beginning of our marriage–just so we can get used to our new circumstances–before throwing pregnancy hormones, and prenatal appointments, and then a newborn helpless infant into the mix. It was just expected. If you’re married and childless, there’s no place for birth control in your life. Peru u’revu. Pop those babies out. We lost so many in the Holocaust. It’s our duty to fill the ranks.
But I was foolish enough to stop and ask why. I was foolish enough to flirt with the idea of placing my own needs before everyone else’s, and now that that Pandora’s box has been opened, my own ego came screaming out like a banshee, and there’s no shoving her back inside. I want more. I want more. I want the chance to explore and experiment and to ask myself what I love and who I love, and not have to take anyone else into account.
I love my children with every fiber of my being. I wanted each and every one of them, and I would risk life and limb to protect them from harm. But I don’t know how to hold that feeling in one hand while holding my own ego in the other. It’s a constant struggle. Maybe I’m just a more selfish person than most? Maybe I have a harder time seeing nuance? I think I’m still just reeling from this incredibly strange experience of waking up fifteen years into my marriage and realizing I’ve been moving through life without really living. And I want more.