Maybe I had to go to Ireland in order to fully sense something missing as I toted the heavy camera every day and didn't keep a travel journal any day. I took photos, yes, and they're pretty because you can't take a bad photo there. But photography to me these days feels a little like peanut butter on a rice cake: there are few things tastier than peanut butter, but give it that vehicle and, well, what's the point?
As for writing, if I'm not doing that for a period longer than a few days, then I'm avoiding going in there. I do like my own company, which is good because I'm by myself a lot. But there are a lot of unfriendly voices in there. My mom taught me from an early age that I was never good enough. I know she loved me; I know she did the best she could with what she had, and if you look at it in a particular light, she gave her family her whole life. But dammit, she was hard. Even now, when she says about a hundred words over the span of a whole day, seven of them are likely to be "What have you done to your hair?"
I never wanted to be my mom. To the degree that I never wanted to have kids throughout my whole first marriage. It took me until I was thirty-seven and met Sean and realized that you could want to grow a child out of love. But I got it wrong right from the start: that was some crazy love, what Sean and I had early on, and if you add a real baby to a combustible mix, it just might blow you up.
My mom was funny--she was always and only at her most loving when I was sick. Maybe childhood would have been less confusing if I'd never seen that side of her; in adulthood, maybe I wouldn't have needed to bake her cookies and FedEx them in a tin, or call her frequently though the conversations could and often did go wrong. It makes ironic sense that when Reed was six months old and I was at my lowest point, my mom recognized that over the phone and said to me, with the tenderness that I always craved, "I think you need some help."
I was crazy for the babies in Ireland, and they were everywhere.
We all say it goes fast, too fast, but it took me years to grasp that I was a mother. Maybe because I didn't know I wanted to be a parent until I was one, or because I was busy having a breakdown when Reed was tiny; maybe it's a function of menopause or Reed's thirteenth birthday looming--but everywhere I look, I see and hear him little: arranging an Imaginext scene and softly saying to himself, "There we go," needing a boost on the playground rocky horse ("Hep, peas"), or becoming a Ninja Turtle or Flash or Spider-Man ("Thwip!"). When he yawns now, I see the shape of his baby yawn in there still.
I did my best, just like my mother did, and because I knew he'd be my only child, I also did my best to soak him in. But as in Ireland, experiences are ephemeral, leaving behind only the tide lines. And a collection on my desk: a mini Hess truck did I hug him enough, and Thomas the Tank Engine was I playful enough, and Buzz Lightyear in his rocket ship did I say yes enough or no enough.
I am not enough, will never be. We are none of us entire.