Saturday, May 26, 2012

Choosing not to Choose

I recently made a cringe-worthy awful mistake in a comment on someone's blog.  I didn't mean to upset anyone, but it left me feeling kind of sick.

Heather Spohr in her blog on Babble wrote a post about why she thinks it's fine to say she loves her children more than her husband.  Apparently this was the hot button issue of the week since we are done being shocked by the 'Are You Mom Enough' Time magazine cover (which I hope has now gone the way of Tiger Mom and Octo-Mom and any other mom-centric craziness of the moment that people want to get worked up about).

Anyway, her argument was essentially that her love for her husband was conditional (based on whether he cheated on her or molested her children) but her love for her children was not.  Personally I don't agree that love of children is unconditional, because if I had a psychopath for a child who killed others without remorse I would be sad and wounded about it forever, and probably not wildly and unreservedly in love with my kid anymore.  And what if one of your children grew up to molest your grandchildren?  This standard of whether or not to revoke love applies to spouses but not kids?  (Extreme, I know, but my head goes to extreme examples to test rules.)

I was most struck by the absurdity of wanting to quantify love to begin with.  Love for a spouse is so completely different from the love for a child that it's strange to even begin to compare the two.  It seems like asking me if I'd rather have my hands or my eyes.

So, thinking of my own children, or of me and my brothers growing up, I commented that if love was quantifiable, would you feel comfortable saying you love one child more than another?  Would you love the first more because you have more invested, or the youngest who happens to be more reciprocal with his or her love?

Well, not being a regular reader of Heather Spohr's, and somehow having missed a crucial bit on my first read through of her post, I didn't realize that her oldest child died three years ago, which she brought up in her reply.  My stomach dropped.  I hadn't meant to be insensitive.  I was using 'you' in a general 'you' kind of sense, not her specifically.  Just...ugh.  I hope she accepts my apology because it's sincere.

But it got me thinking about why on earth are we even asking such questions to begin with?  What purpose does it serve to speculate which loss would be greater or which person you love best?  Why put ourselves through the anguish of a Sophie's Choice moment when no such choice is necessary?  In a real crisis none of us knows what we would actually do anyway, so... Why?

I'm not saying that it's not an interesting exercise to examine the relationships in our lives periodically and see where things stand, but I honestly don't want to know where I stack up against my brothers or my husband or our kids or my parents.  I can only think of one instance in my own life where such a question arose and it was painful.

I was spending the evening with my grandmother in her home in Ohio.  It was a few years after college, that much I remember, but there was a timeless quality about visiting with my grandma that makes pinpointing dates fuzzy for me.  I was alone with her in the family room, she was in her favorite chair, and I was on the floor near her feet.  We were talking the way we always did about nothing and everything, and we wound our way to the topic of grandpa.

We'd talked plenty of times about how much she missed grandpa, but this was different.  This time she talked about the many things that were hard about being alone, but claimed the hardest was not being the most special person in the world to someone anymore.  She wept as she said, "I'm not number one to anybody now.  I was number one to Tony, and when I lost him, I was no longer number one."

She cried for a long time, and I hugged her, and I couldn't think of anything to say.  Because the horrible truth was she was right.  If you looked at love in that manner there was nothing but a hole in her life that would never be repaired.  I loved my grandmother dearly, but it would be wrong for me as a married woman with children to put her above all others in my life.  She wouldn't want that, even if it was something I could give.

My mind raced around to all the relationships in our family, to see if I could single someone out to whom my grandmother could be number one again, but it was as if everyone had already been chosen for teams and my wonderful grandmother was left on the sidelines, unpicked.

But she was not unloved.  Not by a long shot.  My grandmother touched many lives and made a difference in this world.  I loved my grandmother.  I hated the idea that my love, or the love of the many people in her life, could be ranked, and that any of the love we had to offer could be seen as simply insufficient because it didn't compare to the love of my grandfather.  I understood what she was saying, and she was entitled to her pain, and no, no other relationship was ever going to match the one she had with her husband.  But there is more than one kind of love.  I was her first grandchild.  I know the love we shared was special to both of us.  It was a completely different sort of relationship from the one she had with her husband.  They shouldn't be compared, and I don't think they're meant to be.

It's a destructive process that allows us to take something as precious as love and quantify it for comparison.  It leaves us diminished, not enlightened.

When I had Aden, I learned how deep love could be.  When I had Mona, I realized love could be huge.  When I had Quinn after suffering a couple of miscarriages, I knew not to take love for granted.  Love is not a commodity.  It is a gift.  We should not be reckless with something so important.

I love my kids.  I love my husband.  I love my parents and my friends and my cousins and my brothers and my niece and my uncles and my aunts and so many others including my silly dog who barks too much.  I'm not interested in ranking any of them.  I can't live on one kind of love and be a whole person.  There is a lot of love to go around without wasting time announcing who gets how much.  Let's move on to a new game.  This one serves no purpose and I'm not playing.



18 comments:

  1. This actually is a topic that comes up in our house a lot amoung the kids. "You love Molly more than you love me!" "You can never love us as much as the boys." I try to explain to them that I love them all but just like I love Grandma and Daddy/Uncle Kieran differently, I love them both the same amount. I love the girls, but as much as I try to convince myself it is definitely different than with the boys. I firmly believe that there is no reason qualify love. I would hate to ever feel like I was in the positive to decide who I love more, my husband or my kids. The boys or the girls? Ultimately, what would the answer give you?

    Awesome post.

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  2. I agree that ranking such an unquantifiable commodity as love can be dangerous or unnecessary.
    Asking questions that take extreme positions can be a valuable way to question our world views, however. I appreciate that you conjure up such extremes because it has made me rethink my stance on a variety of issues throughout my life.

    Thank you for sharing the story about Großmutti. I had not heard about this heartbreaking revelation.

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  3. Ugh, sorry about the Heather thing. She's also had a couple of rough weeks with her miscarriage. It'll be okay!

    I agree that comparing love is a rough road. My husband loves me in a different way than he loves our kids. And he should. My heart is big enough for all kinds of love.

    Including love of bad TV. ;-)

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  4. I loved your post! You have a good perspective about the many kinds of love.

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  5. I'm so sorry that you are feeling bad about that comment. Surely she will understand that you did not mean anything by it. No one can expect that every commenter will read their whole blog from the beginning! I love what you've written here. And the story about your grandmother is heartwrenching.

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  6. How much you love family is not important. If you love one less, why would you hurt their feelings by saying so? That's unkind. Of course you love your husband differently than you would your kids but to evaluate it is immature.

    I hope she learns to stop trying to label and control so that she can keep loving people around her and teach her kids to have open hearts.

    Kory don't feel bad, you should stick up for this.

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    1. Thanks, Sarah. But it's hard not to feel bad when you say/write the wrong thing. I don't want to be unkind or rude. I also feel that by accidentally hitting the wrong emotional button I wasn't able to make my larger point, which is what this post tried to address.

      Immature is a good word for it. There's a reason it's usually children who demand to know who is loved the most.

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  7. I hate it so much when I put my foot in it, so to speak. I'm always left with this terrible nausea and feeling of unease in the pit of my stomach. I don't know Heather and I don't know her blog, but as someone who has lost a child, I can say I would be quick to forgive if you apologized and explained--although I don't think I would have been offended by your comment. :shrug:

    This is a brilliant post and I agree with everything you have written. Why quantify love? Why even play the game. You are absolutely 100% correct--you have no idea who you will react to a given situation until you are in the midst of it.

    Does it seem to you that there seems to be this need within the media and online community to perpetually have some sort of mommy-angst thing going on? (Sorry, not very articulate, but I'm sure you understand my meaning.) Why else bring up such a topic? What purpose does it serve?

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    1. Thanks, Rach. A little understanding from you means a great deal and makes me feel better.

      I don't know why there is so much interest in stirring up 'mommy war' nonsense other than money. And money is not a good enough excuse, especially as it relates to getting people who already have money more of it. I think we feel powerless to address important issues, so we become more vocal about our personal decisions to compensate maybe. Regardless, every time I see people get worked up over non-controversies I think that surely within a one mile radius of that person there is probably a human being who needs real help, and energy would be better spent doing real good.

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  8. I wholeheartedly agree. It's a pointless topic, akin to comparing apples and oranges.

    Nice to meet you! That is so cool that you build violins!

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    1. Nice to meet you too! And speaking of cool, I hope your AC gets fixed soon.

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  9. It was Ayelet Waldman who started this whole thing, if I remember correctly, with an article in the NY Times stating that she loved her husband more than her children. Everyone went nuts, predictably. Then there were people who pointed out, Oh, sure, but YOUR husband won the Pulitzer and is dreamy-handsome...if I were married to Michael Chabon I'd love him more than my no-neck monsters, too! Which I thought was funny. And then there was the brilliant, brilliant parody by sadly defunct blog The Minor Fall, The Major Lift--which I can't find, or I'd link to it.

    It is indeed silly to make these sorts of comparisons--but you take it all apart, and put it all together again, with eloquence and candor. As always.

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    1. Yes, I remember that. Funny how making the argument from the other side doesn't solve anything!

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  10. Such a thoughtful post on this subject. I agree and I might say this wrong, but love - deep abiding love - is different from affection. I definitely have more affection for one kid over another occasionally, but it changes so quickly and is based on mood, I would never mention it. My love is much deeper. On the misunderstanding in the comments - I'm sorry. That feeling sucks and for what it's worth, there's NO WAY you could know the background stories of every single blogger, especially on a big site like Babble.

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    1. That's a lovely way to put it, about affection. The word itself almost has a fluttering fleeting sound about it, doesn't it?

      And thanks for the reassurance about the comment. I know how upsetting it can be when someone says something insensitive in your comment thread, and I just never wanted to be a person who did that to someone else. But it wasn't intentional so I'm trying not to beat myself up about it.

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  11. THIS! This is why I love YOU Kory. You're an amazing writer!

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    1. Thank you, Dawn. Means a lot coming from you.

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