So it happened on Sunday. I turned thirty-four. Honestly? I hated it. Charming did his best to cheer me up, from making tea to combat my miserable cold to reservations for an elegant dinner in Old Town to a warm fire in the fireplace. I should have been content. Instead, I cried my way through much of my birthday.
It’s getting pretty ridiculous at this point. Granted, I sense that all the little moments of darkness scattered over the past few months had this day as their apex. It peaked after church where I’d spent the service fighting the all-too-familiar ache in my stomach, at the core an irrational jealousy toward mothers with babies in their arms that seems almost biblical, driven by a God-given maternal instinct to go forth and create.
In light of the superior competing sports event on Sunday, we’d celebrated my birthday the night before. I’d been sick for days and couldn’t recall my last good night’s sleep. I had the afternoon to rest up for a Superbowl party with his church friends. Charming made me soup. We watched Netflix. I tried to nap. I couldn’t, so we talked.
And while the reality is that I was just a day older, the added year makes a difference. I’m another year outside of my strategic plan for my life, devised in Mrs. Feldman’s class at Tecumseh Elementary a decade and half ago. I was to marry at twenty-two, like my mom, and have my first child by twenty-eight, like my mom. I’d named all my children in that little essay. I could picture them with dark hair and skin like mine, but light colored eyes like my dad and my brothers.
The dreams of my future children were vivid when I myself was just a girl. There was no question or doubt in my childhood. No fear or apprehension in my teens. No uncertainty or suspicions in my twenties. I would be a good mother. I would rest my hands on my swollen belly like the worship leader did on Sunday, gently soothing my unborn bundle of joy. I would cuddle a little girl against my chest that looked a lot like me. We would have Little League games and Awana Club nights and ballet recitals.
There wasn’t an option for motherhood on career aptitude tests, so teaching was a natural second choice. It’s become my primary productive outlet. In the absence of my own family, I am confident that hundreds of teens in Hampton have become the beneficiaries. All that love, attention, thought, and time that I thought I would be investing in my own children by age thirty-four gets redirected to them. I’m grateful to be in a profession where it’s easy to be in a position to love on people, students and colleagues alike.
It was my birthday, and Charming told me I could be sad and cry all day if I wanted to, but that tomorrow was a new day, and I needed to try and get past this. Bleary eyed, I agreed. I wept. I grieved the children that are getting harder to picture playing in my front yard while I watch from the porch swing. In my thirties, building a family with children that will grow up and give me grandbabies is no longer guaranteed. There’s question and doubt, fear and apprehension, uncertainty and suspicion.
This morning, I stopped by to see my teacher friend Ariel before the first bell. We swapped current drama. She’s had a certain glow about her since meeting a new fellow a few months back. Though divorce proceedings continue dragging, she’s starting to see the light at the end. I noted a hesitant hope that suited the situation. Her new beaux is ready to start a family of their own, and while she senses things moving too quickly, the way she described her desire for another baby is all too familiar. It was like an epiphany for me, that my unsolicited emotional response to babies is not unique.
It’s not because I’m broken. It’s because I’m a woman.
I’m not sure that it’s as simple a fix as just trying to move past it tomorrow. Maybe this is one of those gender specific wonders that Charming can’t relate to. He can fathom empathy, but the desire to bear children is outside his DNA. It felt so good to hear Arial describe her own thoughts of unwelcomed jealousy at new mothers. And, admittedly, I’m broken by this, but brokenness doesn’t make the tears start in church. I’m a woman, after all.
Last week, I saw the first signs of growth in my magnolias. I checked the dates on pictures from last year and the year before and gauged the trees are transforming right on track. Tonight, the buds were unmistakable, set against the backdrop of a setting sun. I smiled, even laughed aloud in spite of myself. In six weeks’ time, they’ll boast vibrant pink blossoms, the featured landscape on my street until April brings life forth from seeds latent in the long winter.
The tiny, fuzzy buds delight me because they are a promise of what is to come. It is certain. There will be new life, great life, vibrancy, color, and it will permeate the winter frosts and emerge somehow even more beautiful than last year. The cycle is sure.
When I blew out the oil votive candle at the restaurant with Charming, I had wished for a promise like these buds. A promise of what’s to come. Something that’s certain. That in my future, there will be children. That though it’s getting harder to picture those kids playing in the front yard, that the painting will be restored, a featured landscape emerging out of my endless winter. That I will be a mom, and it will be a great life, full of the color and vibrancy lacking as I turn in alone night after night.
It’s easy to shift the focus to Charming. He’s an easy scapegoat. Everyone has advice. Some say to end it; if he hasn’t figured it out by now, he never will. Others say to just pull back, maybe be willing to entertain other options if they present themselves. A few lone wolves say give it more time, but not past the two year mark. No one seems to know how to quiet this longing for children so I can be contented with the good life that I already have.
I suppose I’ve determined the best combative strategy that I can employ for my current battle. I’m not siring any little Palma soldiers any time soon, so I need to focus on reinforcing my home base. I told myself to get a life. I’ve said yes to a handful of social engagements. Last week, I picked a church. This week, I wrote a song. It’s not a good one. I might even scrap it and start over. But it had been nine years since I last tried to plunk out a melody on the ivory keys. I’m rusty, not unlike I was when I started writing this blog nearly two years ago. This cycle is sure too.
I don’t know if I’ll get a promise of a beautiful future with baby blossoms and a front porch swing. I do know that, if I can’t get past this unquenchable desire, I’m going to drag this malingering emotional cold with me through the foreseeable future. I spent my birthday crying, and that was my choice. Do I want to spend my next year that way? Crippling fear becomes an ungodly foe.
One of my students said today that people are like glow sticks; they have to be broken to shine. I want a glimmer in my smile again. I’ve been broken, and whatever it takes to get from here to shining, I’ll all in.