Before ever thinking of having a child, even while pregnant with Cora, I was never more resistent to an idea than I was to that often heard cliche: "Having a baby will totally change you!" On the one hand, I would think, "Duh!" and on the other I would think, "Oh, come on, I'll still be me!"
Me, but me with a part of me loose in the world, sometimes out of sight, sometimes just far enough out of reach that I can't prevent the bumped head. Many times a day that line from Louise Gluck's Demeter poem (in her book Averno) runs through my head, the question the mother asks the daughter: "What are you doing outside of my body?"
This semester I have had new opportunities to observe what has changed. My class and I read The Handmaid's Tale. Still an amazing book, even reading it for what has to be the tenth time at least. But, for the first time it gave me bad dreams, all of which could be directly traced back to the narrator's memory of her daughter being carried away from her, growing smaller and smaller as she is carried farther away. There were many parts of the book I had to read with my eyes very wide open, very quickly, while holding my breath. Like the narrator, I feared falling too far into that pit of emotion. Now we are reading Beloved. I know! What was I thinking! Sheesh! And, again, still I am so in love with the story, the language, and yet do not want to fall too far in. Not now. Not in the middle of class prep!
But, really, the last straw came this evening, reading on line, in the New York Times, Dorothy Allison's essay on (are you ready?) GRAVY. It's called "Panacea" and it's in the Food & Wine section, and it is a lovely essay (I'll use it in class when we get to memoir). Go read it! But, I'm reading it online and getting all...maudlin. Teary. Who knew gravy could be so evocative? (Everyone but me.)
Tonight, what I see as having changed, is that I used to be able to kind of separate my reading, or rather my response as a reader. If I read for pleasure and was in the right kind of space (i.e. alone), I would indeed give in to the emotional pull and depth of what I read. But, if I was reading for class, reading just to pass time, reading with an eye towards future text possibilities, I could hold all that in abeyance. But now, that's harder.
And I have to admit - as a reader, a writer, a teacher and yes a mother - that is not really a bad thing. Not at all.