BY MADONNA HAMEL
For myriad reasons, many of which may not even be known to me on the day I die, I did not have children. But I have nephews and a niece who could only be described, using her generation’s lingo, as “kick-ass”. (She designs, among other things, running shoes. Her latest line for the big N sporting company is called “Extraordinary Aliens” because that’s what a Canadian working in America is called. I own a pair. Walking through an airport wearing my meaganwilson.com runners brings glances from a whole new range of humanity. I feel positively hip.)
Back to children. I am thankful for my nieces and nephews and for the children -and grandchildren- of my friends. Through these kids I maintain a link to wonder, curiosity, innocence and to incomparable word and image pairings that make poets weep and worship at tiny, brilliant feet. My friend Helen and I often discuss the unconditional love and affection for our siblings’ progeny, and how we are sad when kids get to the age when they stop hugging and snuggling with us on the couch while watching a movie or digesting after a Christmas meal. We secretly hope the babies will start having babies so we can buy silly books and toys again.
When I lived in Quebec City I got to babysit Angus, the infant son of my colleague Peter, a news reporter and Kathleen, my yoga teacher. Gus won’t remember, but one night, to help him fall asleep, I waltzed him around the room for an hour and half, shuffling to Hank Williams and Ray Price. I hope the voices of those singing cowboys register something today when he stumbles on a radio station that still plays old country tunes. I hope he remembers, because I will never forget the sense of protection and affection I felt for that child, so tiny and vulnerable, so completely yielded and molded into the heft of my shoulder and under my arm.
That night my long distance beau called me from the road after a show in a bar somewhere in the American Midwest.
“I gotta call you back later, Gus is sleeping on my shoulder and I don’t want to wake him”.
My beau understood, but was surprised by my ‘maternal feelings’.
So many people assume that women without children do not have a ‘maternal’ urge. Which, it only goes to follow, makes us incomplete as women. And yet, I don’t know a single woman who hasn’t felt taunted, ridiculed or threatened by her biological clock, ticking like a wagging finger, or a metronome, reminding her the swan song of her youth is fast approaching.
Part of a life lived in many towns and professions is being surrounded by men whose bodies allow for decades more dalliances before they make up their minds to settle down. And even when married with children, “so many married men act like they’re still single”, to paraphrase Kitty Wells. Watching them in action made me wonder where I fit in the relational realm, not being a ‘player’ but neither a ‘family woman’. But, though ‘not having children’ is my biggest regret, I have no doubts my life and life’s work was meant to unfold this way.
Family and children are the focal point of village life in Saskatchewan. I saw this in Portugal too, when I spent time with my sister and her Portuguese husband in his village of Casegas. We drank wine in the evening in front of the Carpentero, watching children and dogs run and play on the dusty road, back and forth across an old stone bridge built in a caesar’s day, when ancestors of the same children and dogs ran and played. And parents and grandparents laughed at their antics with the same song in their voices.
Here, in Val Marie, over and over again, at endless chinese buffet nights at the hotel, I’ve watched burly, brusque men reduced to puddles around their grandchildren. I’ve watched dads and moms cut food in teeny proportions, interrupt their conversations to see what junior has found on the floor. I’ve felt that familiar lump in my throat as I witness the greatest love alive in the eyes of a parent gazing upon their offspring – they are a mere mortal catching a glimpse of God.
That ‘beholding the beloved’ gaze is the one I’ve been trying to describe all my life, as a writer. I feel it most here, especially walking on this land, especially at dawn or dusk. I try to describe it and I am a fool for trying, but it is my task and I must bend toward it, because it is the one attempt I make that feels genuine, authentic and true.
I talk about a mutual urge to express and connect with The Beloved with my nephew Daniel. Yesterday was his birthday, born on the Equinox, a liminal day, a between day. My kind of day. He is an artist with one foot in mystic territory; he is the closest I will ever be to having a son.
I tried telling him this in a poem this morning, when I woke up feeling in love with the world:
Love is not an event, I am told, but a process.
Really? I think. Because often, upon waking, or walking on prairie ground, love just happens.
A momentous groundswell rising to meet the morning.
We’ve never been better than when we are in love.
We love the air, the clouds and everything they hold.
We linger in a state of being where there are no guard rails and the horses of love are so big they must be left to run where they know while love opens all our pores to air out your soul.
Was it love or the lover who gave me permission, who taught me, then reminded me to witness every detail of the moon and petal, the rivulet and the river, the street lamp and the off ramp.
(Over and over I have mourned the loss of a lover, forgetting, I fell in love with the world and the world did not leave me.)