Vulnerability

 I was reading about the St Petersburg metro bombings, and the woman that died shielding her daughter from the blast, and it made me so sad. It’s what absolutely every parent would do, and I don’t have any doubt in my mind at all that I would gladly die to save my children. Most people like to think they would also die to defend something more abstract, like democracy, or “freedom”, but those are not really the ties that bind.  I think my children are the only thing I would die for; if I knew that my death was the only thing that could save them, I’d give them both my kidneys. They have all the potential that in a Darwinian sense, parents do not. You have no further function after they are able to care for themselves, which on a basic level they can do once they are about five. So if anyone has to die,  the best outcome is for you to die.

People look at how having children will fulfil them; they are happy about creating a family unit, and watching their children grow. It takes a little while to realise that children render also us all very vulnerable, in a way that is not true of our relationships with siblings or parents or spouses.  Those are relationships in which we are either on an equal footing, or where their demise is assumed; we all know our parents are likely to die before us, and it is a predictable part of our lives that we try to accept as the natural order of things. Of course I sometimes think about the likelihood of my husband dying slightly before me, which would be hard, but he is likely to have lived a full life, watched his children grow up, fulfilled his potential, left his mark on the world in some way. Parents will always feel that their childrens’ lives are in their hands, and because of the happiness and fulfilment they bring to our lives, we are also forever at the mercy of our childrens’ health and happiness. It is too awful for a young person to die, to miss out on discovering the world and themselves, perhaps changing it. Without them, we do not go back to our childless lives, we go to an unimaginable sense of loss, and even the possibility of anything happening to our children makes us vulnerable.

People are often quite intrigued by identical twins. They ask us “what’s it like”, and what they invariably want to know is what the closeness they can see feels like. I have always found that rather a silly question, that tempts me to reply “what’s it like having blue eyes?”. It’s impossible to make any sort of judgement on something that is your only reality from birth. But maybe I do gradually know what it’s like, because I can see that the vulnerability of becoming a parent is in fact very similar to the enmeshed identity of having another version of yourself, without whom you would not be yourself at all. Even the individuality we both feel we have is based on differentiating ourselves, consciously and unconsciously, from each other. I feel adrift even when we spend time apart. Our definition of “normal” is what the other person thinks, and we even have amusing moments of totally illogically assuaging any hypochondria by checking with the only other person who has the same risk factors; “that bit of itchy skin with the funny mole, do you get that too?” “Yeah, sometimes”. “Oh, must be ok then”.

I also feel responsible for her happiness, because our opinion of each other is so important. She often says quite cheerfully that if I died she’d kill herself, which I hope is not true as it would also deprive our parents and children. My son sometimes says to her “Are you Mummy today?”, and I suppose she is.

Riptide motel 1988

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