This was the first time meeting Brian's wife, Helena and their children. I was looking forward to meeting them, especially because Helena has been very thoughtful over the past few years about sending letters and photos and her letters always have this really friendly, upbeat tone. I expected we would hit it off fabulously (because, you may be surprised to learn, I am a pretty upbeat person myself).
Well, meeting the children was a delight (they are all adorable), but I can't say the same for Helena. We spent about 7 hours visiting them and I am not exaggerating when I tell you that for 7 hours straight Helena bitched and complained about every minute aspect of being a mother and about what a slouch Brian is with parenting and around the house. I thought this was an odd and inappropriate way to behave around someone she was just meeting. She was constantly rolling her eyes and sighing, nitpicking at the children, criticizing and demeaning Brian. She and I sat and talked for awhile and among other things, she complained about how she has no life anymore - her entire being revolves around endless caretaking of the kids, how exhausted she is all the time - how she would kill for just one full night's sleep, how she has no social life anymore or adult interaction, how they never go out anywhere (neither of their parents are interested in babysitting), how they have no money, how she has asked herself many times, "is this all there is?". I observed her closely as she interacted with the children to try to detect any moments of joy on her face and honestly, in the 7 hours we were there I saw about 3 fleeting smiles at the kids. The rest of the time she was miserable and complaining. The 1 year old was crawling around picking stuff off the floor and eating it (God knows what it was she was eating) and Helena snorted "yeah, I'm so OVER it. A little dirt and germs won't kill her."
I felt uncomfortable there because I felt we were putting her out. I got the feeling she would rather be napping instead of being with us. In fact, she kept complaining so much about how tired she was, I told her to go ahead and take a nap - that we wouldn't be offended, so she did. Unfortunately, she woke up from her nap just as miserable as ever.
After about the 6th hour of listening to her bitch and moan, I decided to try out my famous question on her - you know, the "knowing what you know now about parenthood, if you came back in another life would you choose it again?" she answered an emphatic YES. I was so stunned, I was speechless. I definitely expected a "no way" from this one. Looking back, I wish I hadn't been speechless and would have asked her to elaborate.
Here's what is interesting to me: if parenthood is so wonderful, why are scenarios like this so common and why is it so rare to encounter mothers who look truly joyful with their children and appear to enjoy motherhood? Also, wouldn't it be reasonable to expect that the amount of talk concerning the joys of motherhood would far outweigh the bitching and complaining? This woman did not say ONE SINGLE POSITIVE THING about her children or about being a mother the entire 7 hours we were there. If being a mother is so rewarding and so great, shouldn't a mother look happy and joyful, at least SOME of the time? If all the sacrifice and burden of motherhood pales in comparison to the joy and rewards of parenthood, shouldn't we be able to see even a GLIMMER of that joy and reward when we watch mothers interact with their children? Believe me, I am watching for it because as you know, this is an endless source of fascination to me. I am constantly looking to prove myself wrong, but the mothers I meet do not allow me to do that. They simply confirm every observation I post in this blog...that the institution of motherhood is not the wellspring of joy and bliss it is promoted to be - it is a deceitful pool of quicksand.