Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Fear and Gratitude

Everyone says that having children changes you; even Johnson & Johnson has a commercial on TV right now saying as much... I believe it's phrased "Having a baby changes everything." This cliche is repeated because it resonates. Since I've had my children I have changed... but actually I think the most important changes began when I married Ethan. That was the beginning of my "attached" life.

As a teenager and young adult, I never really felt the invincibility or impulsiveness associated with this phase. I was aware of my mortality and I was intentional. I was never reckless with my body or my health, and I appreciated my life and opportunities, but I was never afraid of losing it either. In fact, I had heard that many fear death, but I didn't really understand why one would fear what is inevitable. Maybe I took life for granted. I felt a lot of freedom and enjoyed those years, the feeling of being "unattached", and all of the possibility that implied. Retrospectively, this period is marked by fearlessness and independence. But when I compare myself now to then, I really appreciate where I am now: I prefer being attached.

When E and I married, fear and gratitude became a part of my life. I began feeling much more fear. All of a sudden, I have someone I could lose and whose loss I'm not sure I could actually recover from. At the same time I've felt afraid, I've also felt lucky. I have someone I don't want to loose, and I am so grateful for who-Ethan-is, the unique set of characteristics that he possesses. I know no one else on earth could suit me the way Ethan does. While appreciating my husband, I have felt at once the deepest fear I've ever known, and also the deepest gratitude.

At first, I worried about just losing him, especially and specifically losing him without ever having our children. I knew that I wanted to be a mother, and that I wanted Ethan to be the father of my babies. His gentleness, insight, careful consideration, talents in the kitchen, patience, sense of humor... I wanted my children to inherit these traits and have his wonderful influence in their daily lives. The thought of that dream being robbed of me would have me gripped in fear sometimes, and then I'd shake myself out of that daze and remind myself that I could actually just look forward to this instead of worry about it not happening. I'd come back to reality feeling so grateful that I had such a loving husband and future-father.

Since marrying Ethan, I've begun praying again. It may be ironic to say that, considering Ethan is not particularly religious, but the joy our marriage has inspired definitely makes my cup run over and I often feel compelled to thank God in these moments. My most common prayer is one of simple thanks. I silently thank God when I have a moment and I am thinking of how lucky we are to have each other, how our happiness continually grows and I always feel like I am happier than I've ever been, how confidently I can face an unknown future because I have a wise husband who I can trust and who values me.

Now that we have Harper and Jack, my fears have not subsided; they have changed. I still worry about losing Ethan, and I wonder how could I manage the two kids without him? But my greater concern is now how my kids would manage if either one of us were not here. In the course of three years, I've got two amazing people who really rely on me and Ethan. I fear death in a way that was completely alien to me at age 20. In fact if 20 year old Ruthie were to see me now, she wouldn't recognize this new part of herself at all.

Being attached to my wonderful family has brought with it a fear of losing any one of them, and also a fear of how they'd cope if I weren't here, but I am learning to not allow myself to tarry in those thoughts. As soon as I have the "What if..." imaginations, I have learned to say "Thank you" to God for giving me such joy and feel instead the warmth of loving my family rather than the thought of losing them. I've learned that fear and gratitude are incompatible. When I choose gratitude, the fear runs away. I've never had to so much to lose, but then again, I've never had so much.


grandma said...

just reading your thoughts reminds me yet again of what i have gained by knowing and loving you. not just how you make my son so happy and not just how you have given me such amazing grandchildren to love. its just you. so thank you again and again for riches i couldn't have planned but could always have wanted/needed.

Mary said...

i couldn't agree/relate more! i keep telling my new mommy friends that being a mother is such a dichotomy world. your heart can feel such a range of emotions. i, too, have to focus on the gratitude with my loved ones. unfortunately, fear can take hold too quickly if you let it! oh, and why don't you just go ahead and start writing a column for one of the local newspapers while you're at it.

Deb said...

I can very much being married, I feel the exact same way about Aaron. I can only imagine how much it all intensifies with children! Thanks for sharing. It's always a bit comforting to know about others who share the same feelings and experiences!