February 13, 2012

Taken for Granted

I could just remember how my father used to say that the reason for living was to get ready to stay dead a long time.  And when I would have to look at them day after day, each with his or her secret and selfish thought, and blood strange to each other blood and strange to mine, and think that this seemed to be the only way I could get ready to stay dead, I would hate my father for having ever planted me.  I would look forward to the times when they faulted, so I could whip them.  When the switch fell I could feel it upon my flesh; when it welted and ridged it was my blood that ran, and I would think with each blow of the switch: Now you are aware of me!  Now I am something in your secret and selfish life, who have marked your blood with my own for ever and ever. ~ the character Addie in William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying

The first time I read As I Lay Dying ~ for a class, as it happens ~ I loved it.  I took to it immediately.  It’s by far my favorite Faulkner.  If you don’t know, the “I” in the title refers to Addie, the mother of a backwoods family, and she lies dying throughout.  The novel is told in short chapters, each chapter a single point of view, with each returning.  We only get Addie’s point of view once two-thirds of the way through (Faulkner breaks all kinds of point of view rules and get away with it fabulously!).  I read and reread this section, trying to understand it, trying to assimilate it into everything else.

The paragraph above is from Addie’s section.  I had a hard time understanding this section.  She's talking about being a young person and a teacher but also about being a mother.  What did she mean, beating the kids to get them to notice her?  It sounds infantile and selfish and not at all what a mother would do.  Mothers, of course, were these infinitely patient people who didn’t have dark thoughts.

That, of course, was before I was a mother.  Yes, motherhood involves those beautiful and transcendent feelings that everyone talks about.  The clichés are all true.  But it also involves all kinds of other feelings, much darker, much more primal.  What parenthood forces you to do is to get out of your own self and selfishness. It sounds glib to say, but before you have kids, you can be selfish in oh so many ways.  Once you have kids, your self is taken away in ways large and small. On one hand, your id and ego scream bloody murder.  “What about MEEEEEE,” they scream.  But in another way you grow tremendously and transcend your previous self.  Ideally, you do ~ I guess I should say.

I was having a conversation on the phone with my wonderful mother-in-law when the twins were toddlers.  I was grousing a bit about how they just ignored me.  They would listen to their dad, but mom was totally taken for granted.  Then my mother-in-law said the wisest thing (did I mention she’s wonderful?):

Isn’t that the goal of being a mother, being a parent?  You want to raise them so that they become self-sufficient and they are able to take you for granted.

Isn’t that just the smartest thing?  Oh so true.  As a parent, if you are putting yourself first and being unpredictable, your kids can’t take you for granted and they can’t find a firm footing from which to spread their wings.  Oh, I don’t advocate letting them step all over you.  You have to get their attention sometimes and let them know boundaries.  But in general, you want to be the bedrock under their feet; “you are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.”

So back to the paragraph I started with.  Now I understand it.  Teachers are like mothers too.  They also work to be taken for granted, to be the bedrock under their pupils’ feet.  There’s more to that paragraph than simply this, but now I understand.


Dave said...

Yeah. If you teach them really well, they have no idea you did anything. They believe they did it themselves. And they did.

Tamara said...

Yes!! How well said!!