I once watched an old woman produce from her handbag a photograph of her newest grandchild. She proudly handed it to a friend who looked at it and then announced, "Delicious!" The grandmother nodded. I did not fear that I had stumbled upon a pair of geriatric cannibals. I knew exactly what they meant. Freud was not the first to comment upon the devouring nature of mother love. Nor was he the first to observe that it's a two way street. Consider this poem by Gwen Harding that a friend unhelpfully sent me when I was the mother of tiny children. I found it terrifying, and still do.
In The Park
She sits in the park. Her clothes are out of date.
Two children whine and bicker, tug her skirt.
A third draws aimless patterns in the dirt.
Someone she loved once passes by ? too late
to feign indifference to that casual nod.
"How nice, " et cetera. "Time holds great surprises."
From his neat head unquestionably rises
a small balloon... "but for the grace of God..."
They stand a while in flickering light, rehearsing
the children's names and birthdays. "It's so sweet
to hear their chatter, watch them grow and thrive,"
she says to his departing smile. Then, nursing
the youngest child, sits staring at her feet.
To the wind she says, "They have eaten me alive."
Children consume us, and perhaps we are diminished by that. Scary thought. But maybe the converse is true. What are we saving ourselves up for? Is there a prize at the end if we keep all our clothes looking nice? Do we get a few extra years if we hold back on something?
What have we been given this life for, if not to use it?
I would like to say that I am the originator of these noble thoughts, but I'm not. I got them from Erma Bombeck, whose collected works give me confidence and inspiration. She always said we should live our lives so fully that at the end we have literally nothing left, no bit of unexplored talent or no unsaid bits of encouragement or love. The conclusion of her final column told readers how she wished to be remembered:
"My deeds will be measured not by my youthful appearance, but by the concern lines on my forehead, the laugh lines around my mouth, and the chins from seeing what can be done for those smaller than me or who have fallen."
So ? I'm pretty far off the mark on all of that, except for the laugh lines, but that's something I try to think about when I'm feeling all used up, or that I've been eaten alive.