|Rachel and her Jane (2010)|
I had an encounter yesterday that didn’t evaporate during the night, and that is still sitting in my gut. A woman I know fairly well—my age, with grown children, who thinks of herself as a feminist, a forward-thinking and compassionate woman, and a nurturer—made some remarks that astonished me, and left me reeling a bit. I have a few things to say about it.
First, some background: I’m not a mother. I didn’t give birth to or adopt children. Rosemary, as dear as she is to me, is a cat and not a substitute child.
However, I am a kind of parent. I am a Jane. There are children in my life, all grown now, who have counted on me, come to me, needed me in mundane and extraordinary circumstances. I changed diapers, read bedtime stories, had adventures, dried tears, watched “Milo and Otis” too many times, rocked babies, cooked meals, righted wrongs, gave advice, helped with homework, enforced rules, endured more school plays than any parent I know, gave first aid, made mistakes, played Go Fish, and cheered from the bleachers at little league games. I didn’t want to be a mother to all those children, because what I was and am is as satisfying and just as necessary. I am Jane, their Jane, the one and only.
Those children—the ones going off to college or raising children of their own or venturing out into the great big world—know the difference between their parents and their Jane. The parents—their actual mothers and fathers—have for the most part fostered my relationships with their children. There are benefits to them, too. And being a Jane, like being a mother, is a real job.
So back to the conversation: I was explaining to the woman I know fairly well that I’m going to spend part of Labor Day weekend taking Rachel to college in Maine. I’m one of her parents, I said, and I have the same responsibility to her as you do to your children. Her voice grew so chilly that I’m surprised the phone receiver didn’t ice over. It’s not at all the same as it is for me and my children. Not at all. It’s not as important.
Where did that come from? I know that she is proud of the children that she and her husband raised, and that she loves them deeply, and that they have grown up well because of that. Somehow I threatened her, and so she tried to obliterate the truth of what I was saying. I began to get angry, really angry. But in a split second I decided to hold tight to what I know—that there is more than one kind of parent—so I waited. She flailed. I don’t know the history of your relationship with Judy’s children, she said.
No, Woman I Know Fairly Well, you don’t, and it’s too bad.
Obviously, her children never had a Jane of their own, poor things. There must have been no room for one, no room for someone else to love them, befriend them, or take care of them. They missed out on the fortune of having an extra parent, the awesomeness of having a Jane.
What does this have to do with knitting? I don’t know, but I’m going to knit while I ponder.