Thursday, December 1, 2011

Love's Austere and Lonely Offices

Yesterday I taught Robert Hayden's "Those Winter Sundays" for the umpteenth time. I loved this poem before I had children. But now that I have two very sweet, gorgeous boys to take care of, I almost cry when I read the last two lines:

"What did I know, what did I know
of love's austere and lonely offices?"

My sophomores get it: love comes in many forms, and not all of them are hugs and kisses. And I got it, too, when I first started teaching the poem. But there's something about the relentlessness of this first year with the twins that makes Hayden's point so much clearer now—there is never a day (or night, and some nights it seems like there's never even an hour) off from the offices of parenthood. My fingers are nowhere near "cracked" from the "blueblack cold," but it's still not easy.

What did I know of 1, 2, and 4a.m. wakeups all in the same night, not always with the same child, with a 5:30 start to the day that follows? Of losing touch with everything that keeps me sane—yoga, friends, garden, writing—because if I have a spare minute, I need to grade papers or cook or shop for the babies? Of the loneliness of sitting in the car on the way to work so I can pay the nanny to be home with my babies so I can keep myself entrenched in my career? Of knowing that my lunch hour will be cut in half by needing to pump, so being at work is rarely the social occasion I desperately need it to be?

No, the austerities in my life are nothing compared with those in Hayden's poem. And I am now filled with so much more gratitude for every moment of my parents' lives, for every midnight waking and meal that magically appeared from the kitchen, for an education and a home and all the million privileges I'm trying to provide my children with, too.

What did I know of love? This stuff is hard.

On the other hand, because I feel myself tearing up as I think of the relentlessness: What did I know of the sweetness that is an open-mouthed smooth on the lips from an 11-month-old with a runny nose? Of the intensity of being covered in babies from the time I walk in the door, one wanting just to be held, the other dashing back and forth with the world's biggest, goofiest smile on his face? Of the amazement and wonder I still feel that my body has helped these two little beings grow big and strong, yet can also help them drift off to sleep at night? Of the kindness and generosity that friends and coworkers show? Of the bittersweet feeling I get every night that I'm up nursing a baby that one day soon this too will end?

What did I know of love? This stuff is great.

But I'm looking forward to getting a full night's sleep.