My son likes dinosaurs. I like dinosaurs.
My son likes learning words. I like learning words.
Because of this, I’ve learned a lot of dinosaur words. Archeopteryx is one of them. I can’t say I knew what an archeopteryx was before my son was around. I can’t say I didn’t know either, because I know a lot of things that I don’t strictly remember I know until the occasion calls for it.
I definitely did know what a stygimoloch was, because at some point in my adult life I had consciously decided to look up dinosaurs, so I could decide what my favourite dinosaur would be, so that, if anybody happened to ask me, I would have an informed response.
But stygimoloch wasn’t the word I put in my elephant box. Archeopteryx was. I wonder why.
I can’t stand it when I see children ripped away from their parents, or parents forced to leave their children behind for their safety. At that point in the story I just weep unconsolably now. It never used to be like that – it used to just feel like part of the adventure. Before I was a parent, I didn’t really get what the big deal was, honestly.
And maybe this was a simple maturation process, or a reward of the rite of passage that is parenthood, but I can’t help suspect there is something else at play. Because I have always maintained a rather unhealthy distance from the concept of family. I have looked upon others’ close familial relationships with bemused curiosity and an uncomfortable tinge of envy. I never had a parent that felt like a safe space; like plain and simple sanctuary; like unconditional love. I’d never known that, so I had no concept of what it would be like to lose it. And I hadn’t considered that that’s what those moments in the story represented – the tragic loss of true love.
I’m a good mother. I’m validating and responsive and highly attuned to my son. I am joyful to be blessed with this role, and I know he feels it. I am enthusiastic, I’m quick to admit error, I respect him as the whole person he is and protect him as the precious growing being that he is. I have done my best to earn the honour of being a safe space for him – a sanctuary of unconditional love.
And so I am terrified of messing it all up by doing what humans inevitably do. I’m scared of dying and leaving him behind.
I was watching Aquaman when it hit me that it’s so much more painful to have and to lose that kind of thing, than to never have known it at all. I don’t know why it took Aquaman for that realisation to descend, but there we are. I feel a responsibility, having gained my son’s trust, having nurtured his open heart, having made him vulnerable to me. Because that makes me a potential source of great pain to him, and a lot of the ways I could hurt him are outside of my control.
But the thing is, I didn’t really start living until I felt what it was like to love and lose. To give myself over completely, to trust in someone else, and to have that sanctuary stripped away. So maybe I was right all along. Maybe it is just part of the adventure.