When I became a mother, two things surprised me. Actually a hell of a lot of things surprised me, but let’s focus on two. The first was how much more patient I had become. Everything sloooooows down with a baby. What used to take five minutes suddenly takes 90. If you make peace with that, then everything else feels like a moment of tranquil Zen–waiting at an eternal red light, driving behind someone going 40 miles per hour in the fast lane, and especially waiting for the mother who is wrangling three small children into uncooperative car seats while you wait for her parking spot. I am more patient and kind to the people and the world around me, and for that I am super grateful. Which I am sometimes smug about, but mostly grateful.
The second thing that surprised me was how my emotions cracked open when Cade was born. Things I had been desensitized to, like violent movies or needy orphans, suddenly overwhelmed me with tragedy. Example:
Before Motherhood: Pulp Fiction is a masterpiece of narrative misdirection and slick dialogue. And it’s great to see John Travolta again!
After Motherhood: Pulp Fiction is a violent, bloody nightmare. What happened to Vincent Vega as a child that turned him into a hit man? Didn’t his mother hug him enough? Does his mother know what he does for a living?? (and now, in 2013) Why the crap is John Travolta using that hair-in-a-can spray? It looks like he dips his head in shoe polish every morning. You’re not fooling anybody, John.
Before: Return of Jedi will never be as cool as Empire Strikes Back. But it’s still pretty cool. Even today, that speeder chase through the Endor forest is pretty awesome.
After: OMG. Wicket loses his best friend in that battle. His little furry buddy. How many Ewok families had to suffer this kind of heart-wrenching loss?
Don’t get me started on that effing Sarah McLachlan ASPCA commercial. Shaking little skinny dog with the caption, “Why do they kick me?” Holy crap. We have adopted four rescue dogs in seven years, and Sarah still makes me feel like a deadbeat animal hater. As soon as the weepy strains of “Arms of an Angel” drift through the TV, I am on that remote like a buzzard on roadkill. I take solace that at least Jim Gaffigan agrees with me. (Aside: I scoured for a video clip with this quote, but couldn’t find it. Runner-up video is embedded below. Equally as funny. Rent Mr. Universe — you won’t be sorry.)
I love that animal rescue commercial with Sarah McLachlan. Even the dogs in that commercial are like, ‘that’s a little heavy-handed, Sarah. We are just dogs, after all. There’s still kids starving in Africa, right?’
I may be exaggerating the Star Wars example a little, but I assure you — it’s only by a little. Sandy Hook killed me. I cried like I knew those kids. I think a lot of people did, actually. The sheer waste of the sweetness and love and potential. It was overwhelming.
So now I feel everything I used to be inured to. I’ve given some serious thought as to why this is. I think that once you become responsible for a baby, who is so fragile that his skull is still incomplete, that you realize how fragile everything is. You, me, the pushy ass who butted in line at Panera, we all started out that way. Incomplete skull, brains covered only by thin skin and some peachfuzz hair. It’s kind of terrifying to see that fragility and to know that you and your spouse are all that stands between this tiny creature and the mean world. You know, the kind of world where people kick toy poodles, as Sarah likes to remind us. Every stinking time there’s a commercial break.
Eventually I will toughen back up and wear my rhino hide again, just like most sane people. Until then, I will watch TV with the remote at the ready, just in case I need to click away in a hurry.
(That rhino hide thing is a metaphor. Don’t go telling Sarah that I have killed a rhino and am wearing it as a trenchcoat. I don’t need more grief from that woman).