THE BLACK HOLE YEARS

I don’t claim to be a scientist (I definitely failed physics in high school), but my basic understanding of black holes is that they are a phenomena in space so dense (and therefore with such strong gravity) that not even light can escape them. It struck me this week, as I took a mental step back from all the travel and extended family mayhem, that black holes are the perfect analogy for the years spent raising children.

Those of us in the trenches are also experiencing an intense phenomena. For some of us, it is the most intense experience of our lives thus far. I know this is true for me. Sometimes I look back at my pre-child life with the surreal feeling that either it didn’t happen, or I’m currently living in a dream, because both time periods are too incompatible to exist in the same lifetime. The amount of physical and emotional work I do just to maintain a basic level of survival would be inconceivable to my frequently hung-over, free-time basking, 20-something self. 

Just like a black hole becomes so large it traps light, these years seem to swallow up all other experiences, thoughts and interests beyond the grueling daily struggle to raise offspring. I used to make fun of my own parents for being out of touch with the news, television and movies. Now looking back on the last three years of my life and I’ve seen a handful of movies (many of which I don’t remember a single second), effectively watched no TV (we don’t even have cable anymore), hardly read the news, and am averaging about one book per year. It’s like all the popular culture and information that unknowingly played such a large part of my life has been swallowed up by the enormity of the laundry pile, or the sheer force of the stench coming from the diaper genie (its in a solid state at this point).

Sometimes I read about a movie that was apparently some huge blockbuster, or hear about some life-changing book, and I didn’t know they existed. Major news events that occur during a bout of flu or a particularly sleepless week don’t even make it into my peripheral vision. It makes me feel isolated and out of touch, but no matter how hard I try to keep one toe in the outside world, motherhood pulls me back into the dark. 

Of course there are moments of pure joy and love, but even those emotions sometimes feel too intense, too bright. They remain trapped in time as they immediately become impossible to articulate or share, even with myself. The memory may still seem sharp, but it never compares to the instantaneous starburst in my heart during that brief, shining moment when my brain allowed me to fully comprehend the lives I have created.

In motherhood, I’ve learned you can never recreate what matters. Even seconds after the memories take place, motherhood has claimed them for her own. Pictures and videos and baby book entries just serve to remind me of what I’ve lost. And eventually I realized what I stand to lose; my children's entire childhood, and the most significant years of my own life. 

Some days I find myself trying to hold onto the magical, intangible things; a look shared between my son and I when we both find something amusing, the smell of my baby’s head, the feeling of tiny fingers in my hand. But almost immediately the memories start to slip away as all the non-magical things crowd their way back into my head. 

I’m not complaining. All the non-magical things about motherhood are what keep my children alive and healthy and happy. This is the job. The meals, doctor visits, limit setting, vacuuming, poop, bedtime stories… those transcendent moments that make it all worth while exist on the backs of endless hours of exhausting, mundane tasks. 

My urge to have more children tells me that even the traumatizing and unpleasant memories have already been quietly swallowed up by my maternal black hole. Seconds after giving birth both times I remember thinking “please God never again,” but I can’t seem to remember why. Was it the pain? Was it the fear? Even those memories aren’t mine anymore. In fact, they never were.