in love’s name.

“The Gift” by Louise Glück

Lord. You may not recognize me
speaking for someone else.
I have a son. He is
so little, so ignorant.
He likes to stand
at the screen door, calling
oggie, oggie, entering
language, and sometimes
a dog will stop and come up
the walk, perhaps
accidentally. May he believe
this is not an accident?
At the screen
welcoming each beast
in love’s name, Your emissary.


I found this poem in Lit by Mary Karr, which I liked but also found troubling for a lot of reasons, most especially because of how much she was drinking when her son was tiny. And also because the book made me want a drink and I wasn’t totally sure how I felt about that.

At one point in the story, Mary Karr is told by her therapist that she needs to realize that she doesn’t have to always entertain her son. I have already learned this lesson, perhaps a bit too well, but that comment ties in to one of the things I dreaded about becoming a parent, the idea that our lives would become an endless stream of monster truck rallies and jump ‘n’ funs (jumps ‘n’ fun?). I had the impression that I would have to mediate all of life’s experiences for Atticus and it sounded boring.

Why do we as adults believe this kind of thing? Do all of your childhood memories revolve around your parents? Mine don’t. I remember my mom reading Arthur’s Halloween and watching The A-Team with my dad, but I also remember hours spent exploring the creek in our neighborhood and that ferocious bike crash I had at the bottom of our hill. My parents did not organize every activity.

As a parent myself, I have learned the fun of taking Atticus to the zoo and following him around the children’s museum, and I have learned the fun of listening from the next room as he tells himself an elaborate story about the trucks on the coffee table. (As I write this, he is playing in the bathtub, enthralled with a squirt bottle.) I don’t particularly like reading the same fire truck book for the 100th day in a row, but I enjoy most of my time with Atticus like I enjoy most of my time with Mike and the rest of my family.

This was a radical realization, but I am not sure why it blindsided me. We talk about kids as if they are a job or a herd of cats to be managed. We talk less about the fun of watching them make connections and discover new things. When Atticus picks up on a joke and turns it around on me, it’s basically like heaven right there in the room.

The poem above comes at a place in the story where Mary, a skeptic, is trying to embrace the idea of childlike faith for her son and for her own recovery. I recognize in the poem and in that section of the book a desire for open-heartedness. It is not healthy for us to control all of the things Atticus experiences, but it is good to be reminded that we are growing together.

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