Saturday, September 17, 2005

Keep on marchin'

Disclaimer: If you want to see the movie March of the Penguins, do not read this post. I’m almost certainly going to spoil it for you, so if you want to see this movie, seriously, stop reading NOW!

Okay, so my husband and I went out on our September date (we seem to be able to get out for dates once a month these days) last night. We had some lovely faux-Mexican food (Well, I had wings. What’s the point of eating Mexican food if you’re off dairy? Enchiladas, quesedillas and the like are nothing more than vehicles for ingesting sour cream, right?). Then we went to see March of the Penguins—a much-lauded French-directed film about cute birds and, we thought, a nice follow-up to Winged Migration, which we really liked. Now, please don’t take this next statement as my being super-nationalist or anything, but I hate the freaking French when it comes to movies. For some reason, the French seem to think that movies are to represent reality and to do so must include explicit—and, if I may say so, gratuitous—scenes of suffering. Let me say for the record that I so do not need reality when I go to the movies. When you tell me I’m gonna get to see a cute movie about penguins, I’d better see cute penguins acting goofy and that’s IT! If one has to meet its untimely end, it better be the grouchy penguin no one liked who was always making life difficult by eroding the penguin babies’ self-esteem. I want to see zero penguins getting eaten by leopard seals and albatrosses (albatrossi?). I do not want to watch pristine penguin eggs cracking and adorable fuzzy chicks freezing to death, and I’d better see absolutely NO penguin mother wailing the loss of her dead chick. This movie was unbearable. It was like watching Hurricane Katrina footage of penguins. At one point, I was crying so hard I thought I would have to leave the theater lest the other patrons ask for their hormonal-nursing-mother-in-the-audience discount. It got to the point that whenever Morgan Freeman (the narrator) would say something about how hard the winter is in Antarctica and what the penguins must do to survive, either my husband or I would whisper, “And now you will see what happens to those penguins who don’t listen.”

I think thing that made me so uncomfortable about the movie is how keenly it encapsulated the experience of parenthood for me. From the moment in May 2004 when I saw that pink line on a stick I’d just peed on, anxiety has been, as Eloise might say, my ‘mostly companion.’ (My friend Lauren explains this much more eloquently in her July 4 post on her daughter’s website here: I worried all through pregnancy—was the baby okay, would I be a good mom, would he be happy or end up on Dr. Phil talking about how we didn’t seem to like him. I felt like I barely enjoyed his newbornhood, so worried as I was with pooping, weight gain, sleeping, etc. I felt like the few times I did relax and enjoy myself and this sweet fella, some new worry took the opportunity to get its foot in the door. It almost got to the point where I didn’t want to love him too much because he might be snatched away from me. I know this sounds ridiculous—it is ridiculous—and yet I sometimes couldn’t stop: I’d hear about someone else’s baby being taken away from them by SIDs or their mate being stolen by an accident or whatever and I’d find it hard to even breathe, wondering why it happened to them and not me.

That’s the undercurrent swirling just under the surface of March of the Penguins: even as one is sucked in by the waddling, the funny trumpeting, the furry chicks roly-polying around, it takes about two seconds before WHAMMO! And one of these beautiful creatures dies. It seems so arbitrary; it seems pointless to even try to help your baby make it to the water where it can swim and feed and frolic, because it’ll just be lunch for some horrid predator.

So as I tossed and turned last night, I wondered about this. Why take this parenthood journey if all it is is an exercise in constant stress and mind-f*cking? Is that what it’s supposed to be about? I don’t have any answers, but I’m starting to see some light on the horizon. It’s starting to dawn on me that parenthood is certainly fraught with its share of anxiety, but that’s not what it’s supposed to teach us—it’s supposed to teach us to face those fears, tell them to piss off and love way too hard and way too much in spite of ourselves. Parenthood makes you love wildly, beyond logic and reason. You know it’s crazy, to be so caught up and in love and invested in another person, and you do it anyway. You can’t help it. You somehow have to accept that this feeling you now have transcends mortality and that you will find some way to carry on if, God forbid, this person’s physical form no longer plays with your hair or sticks its fingers up your nose. And you do this, not just for yourself, but for the mamas whose chicks never made it to the water, because to try to push your gift away doesn’t honor those mothers in the least. You refuse to mock their loss by trying to love any less, and you hope that the tent of your heart is wide enough for even the saddest to find solace.

Like I said, I don’t have any real answers. It still makes my heart hurt to think about the penguin movie. But I am grateful now to be dragged back into the reality I sought to escape such a short time ago, because reality doesn’t wait for you to feel better or soothe yourself out of your neuroses—it demands that you be present and ready to roll: there are diapers to be changed, new foods to try, and stories to read. So I dive back into this reality, and I tell myself I’ll enjoy it more, relish it more thoroughly, even—and especially—in the too-early morning when I reach into that crib and lift my vulnerable little heart out of it and step back to beam at the wonder of it.