Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Answered In the Affirmative

My grandmother has been gone a long time ago, now. She died when I was in the field in Nepal. I remember her every day. She was a remarkable woman in her own right. She was the daughter of an anarchist and raised, for some of the time, at an anarchist commune. Home schooled and self taught she was, the story goes, the first married undergraduate at Radcliffe College--that is, the first married woman they didn't kick out for fear she'd tell the other girls about sex. She pursued a Ph.D. in psychology, although she didn't pass in her thesis. She accompanied my grandfather to Indonesia, Nepal, and Pakistan, learned Urdu, and typed up his economics works for him. She was a woman of immense erudition, calm, and twinkling generosity. In Indonesia in the sixties she was once invited to be one of the "four auspicious happily married women" who bathe the groom before his wedding. "How do you know I'm happily married?" she asked them, ever skeptical and curious. "Do you have children?" Yes. "Is your husband alive?" Yes. "Then you are happily married," they told her.

I was thinking of that little story today because 13 years ago tomorrow Mr. Aimai and I entered into that happy estate, so beloved of romance writers, but so little chronicled and still less understood. More... To us marriage also meant parenthood. And I think I can say, without fear of contradiction (because blogging is a solitary vice) both have been an unmixed blessing. As the most pessimistic optimist, or the most worried care-for-nothing, or whatever I am, I am yet convinced that both marriage and children were necessary to my personal happiness quotient. Over at Pandagon they are having one of those perennial discussions about whether children "do" or "don't" conduce to happiness, this time with *added science* and *on the internet* both of which, as we know, are intensifiers which make everyone both instantly an expert and instantly crazy. Yet both marriage and children are things that, like oysters or the smell of mimosa on a hot day, we can't know without experiencing. And not only that, we can't know it without experiencing it at a particular time, and place, and intentionality and with a particular person or set of people. Its absurd to talk about whether "children" do or don't give you happiness. Particular children, at particular times of your life, can make you happy or they can make you crazy. And ditto husbands. Or wives. And they are notoriously difficult to get shed of, if they aren't working out. But they are equally almost impossible to get, if you don't risk everything for them. They used to call it "hand-fasting" for a reason. One must clasp hands to take that leap of faith and risk everything to leave your birth family and start your own family. For those of us who take that leap, a salute. And for my partner in the jump over the chasm between childfree and child-bound a great, huge, thank you.

Thirteen years into the great experiment--seventeen since I met you, 13 since we stood under the Huppah, eleven since we became parents. There's magic in those uneven, kabbalistic numbers, in the sheets I've washed, and the babies we diapered, the noses we've wiped, and the dances we've sat through. Magic undreamed of 13 years ago, but realized every day since.