I went to high school (grades 7 through 11) in a high school that consisted of two buildings. Like many of that time, it had originally been one building, then the new one was built, but the second was still in use. It was an all girl’s high school until my year when two boys were admitted. One of them was gay, the other must have had immense force of character. (Well, if I’d ever had the slightest inclination towards women – I didn’t – seeing that many women that up close and personal and what they did when they thought no guys could see them would have cured me.)
Anyway, the older building (for a while the carriage house) housed the gifted forms. The gifted forms which didn’t exist (by decree passed after the revolution, it was illegal to sort students by ability levels because all animals were alike or something. However, teachers isolated kids they thought were trouble or so far ahead they were trouble, and threw us together into two forms. Between which a deadly rivalry immediately developed.) In the last year we were together, (10th grade most of them went to science, so I lost them) we were in unofficial classrooms (so small if you sat near the window – I did. Mildly claustrophobic – and wanted to go to the bathroom, you had to walk on top of other people’s desks.) past an attic filled with broken furniture and discarded stuff.
In eighth grade, though, we were in a classroom past two other classrooms – before the building was a school, it was an earl’s palace. It was confiscated in the great glorious revolution. No, not that one. The one that deposed the king – facing the window, with French windows to two small balconies. It was a lovely room and I’m sure it was someone’s bedroom or private parlor or something.
At the back, behind the teacher’s desk there were a series of doors which were locked.
You might as well unleash a monkey with a wrench on your average suitcase as thirty two gifted teen girls, (well, thirty one. There was also me) with a rebellious disposition (except me, of course, I was good) in a classroom with locked doors. We made it our business to open them and look in there. (To this day I can’t understand what ninny livered people were there before that the doors remained locked.) It took us a little while, but since Portugal doesn’t have substitute teachers and when a teacher didn’t show up we were told to stay put, alone, in the classroom (Yes, of course, half the people went down the street for a coffee and a croissant. Not me. I was chronically broke.) eventually we managed to open the doors. They were rather unexciting. There was a closet (we later used it to suggest to our overwhelmed biology teacher she could go in there to escape us. She thought we were possessed. Don’t ask. After her we got a fatherly middle aged man with army experience and he didn’t have any trouble at all.)
I think the other one was a sort of dressing room and I don’t remember what the third was.
However, in our exploits, while we were being little (or in my case big) monkeys, we shoved at this big cupboard that looked built in, and which was used for school supplies. Okay, there was a fist fight (me? I was more likely to kick. Honestly I don’t even remember if I was engaged, because what happened next wiped it all out of my head) and one or more people fell heavily against the cupboard, which swung away, creakily, on hinges and long-disused wheels, revealing… a passageway.
Did we go down it? Are you kidding? Wild horses couldn’t have stopped us. For one, they wouldn’t have fit into the passage.
We went into it, and found ourselves in this sort of box high up on the side of one of the most magnificent churches I’ve ever seen. I’m not sure what was the point of the secret passage, unless someone didn’t wish it known she prayed a lot.
The church was all in ruins, of course, and smelled strongly of mouse whee. No, actually not “of course.” Considering the school had mandatory classes of religion and moral taught by a priest and getting out of them was trouble enough that most parents never tried, I’m surprised that they didn’t use the built-in-church for mass. (I had to be excused due to getting in arguments. This involved my father getting a notarized document saying he objected and getting a lawyer involved (mostly he objected to my possibly killing the teacher. I was fairly sure Catholic or not, the little red book should not be confused with the Bible) so I spent my time studying with the four protestant girls and three Jewish girls whose parents cared enough to get them out. Since two of the Jewish girls and one protestant girl was in my form, I’ve since wondered if the reason the parents cared enough was that they had similar experiences to my family’s. My form were generally trouble makers. I’m surprised in all the years since I’ve only seen ONE of them in the news linked to a crime.)
In retrospect, I think that the people from the great glorious revolution – no, no, the anti-monarchist one – which was strongly anti-religion sealed all other accesses to the church so well that, barring a drawing of the building by an architect, no one suspected it was there.
Anyway, the church had been decorated in the baroque style (yes, RES, they were going for Baroque) which means that it had enough gold everything that even in a corroded and tarnished condition it looked like Donald Trump’s wet dream. It also means that the various saint statues were in positions of martyrdom and had expressions that could be either of extreme pain or orgasm, and it was best not to look too closely. Saint Sebastian, pierced by however many arrows might have seen heaven close, but the smile was still disquieting.
Anyway, to the right of the altar, directly facing the box we were in was the best statue of Senhora das dores that I’ve ever seen “Lady of the Pains” is the straight translation, but I think in the States she might be known as Madre Dolores, thereby giving rise to a number of women named Dolores. Her chest is pierced by seven swords, and she looks up to heaven with an ecstatic/painful expression.
This long (good golly, two pages?) preamble is because when I thought of writing of motherhood today that was the image that came to mind.
In one of Patricia Wentworth’s books, I found the definition of motherhood as “A pain over their teething, a pain over their schooling and a pain over their lurvering.” When I read it, I had only experienced the teething pains, and right now I’m into the schooling, though the younger has made incursions into the lurvering, even if nothing serious yet – but I see no reason to doubt that definition.
By some strange alchemy, their pain, even when they’re as stoic as my older son or as close mouthed as the second, reverberates through me much more strongly than pains I experience myself. And the emotional pains are the worst. For the physical ones, I can take them to the doctor, or I can apply bandages. But for the emotional, even when I can give good advice it usually isn’t the type they can take right then.
And that is a pain, because you bring them into the world, but then… but then they’re their own. And while I never wanted to control them, I wish I could give them, wholesale the knowledge that I have, that would make their way easy. But that’s not how humans work. (I always thought that was a good touch on the part of Anne Rice – yes, I read the vampire series until Queen of the Damned when I judged she’d gone off the deep end. Even before a feeling had been growing that after reading one of her books I should take a shower on the inside. That book was the final straw – to make the “child vampire” and the “parent vampire” deaf to each other’s thoughts, because that’s a great part of parenting. Of course, I’ve known them all their lives. Of course I should be able to read them. Weirdly, it doesn’t work that way)
Not that motherhood is all reflected pain and frustration. There’s also terror. The first instance of terror was when I found myself massively pregnant with Robert thinking how in heck this thing could come out. I decided there and then that he wouldn’t. He could very well go to college in my stomach. I still find it was uncharitable of Dan to laugh himself sick over that one.
The second moment of terror – and the third – came as I held my newborn son, and realized I was completely and utterly responsible for this creature and his existence in the world. (Yes, with Dan’s help, of course, but you know what I mean.)
The third comes and goes and is best expressed in the phrase, “I should have stuck to cats. They rarely grow up to be ax murderers.”
However, through all this, there is the ecstasy. There are the moments of grace – and most of them are moments of grace – reading their first story, tasting the first dinner they cooked, listening to Robert play piano after he taught himself, watching Marshal as Petruchio in Taming of the Shrew. Or even (just) our conversations around the dinner table, or when they’re helping me clean the house, or pretty much every moment of their existence. It is a partaking of the divine joy of creation “Look, look what I made and sent into the world, independent and autonomous, full of the same heartbreaking imperfection as all humans, and the same glorious potential.”
They’re pretty great young men. They couldn’t have done worse for a mother, but I couldn’t have done better for kids, so as we know, it’s all in perfect balance.
Happy Mother’s day everyone. You either were one, served as one to someone, or (I’m fairly sure most of you, though some of you – waggles hand –) had one. Enjoy the fact that humans’ prolonged helplessness as children gives us a chance at a relationship as baffling as it’s fulfilling. Freud was right. Most problems start with the mother. He missed that so do most blessings. And often they are one and the same.
And all we can do is do the best we can, then hold our breath, give thanks where they’re due and ignore the bad — and keep faith in the future.
May all your troubles be little ones.