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I floss daily, brush after every meal, and trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries.

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Thursday, June 15, 2006

In Which I Cop to Being Sentimental

Not long ago, NPR ran a story about a new medical theory that suggests that babies’ cells remain in the mother after birth and help her body repair itself when she’s ill. Actually, there are a number of theories about what these cells-o'-offspring do in the mother’s body, but the fact that they hang around seems to be established.

I was thinking about this idea today as I found myself in tears while playing my guitar. Ever since I had O., I cannot play the song “Unwed Fathers” by John Prine without breaking down in the third verse. Every single time, it happens, and I’ve played this song a hundred times in the three years since I gave birth to my boy. I also played it many times prior to his birth, often while I was pregnant with him (when I was playing shows in an old-time country trio I was in, my guitar getting sidewayser and sidewayser as my belly emerged), and though I always found the song moving and very sad, I never actually shed tears.

The song (a great, quietly intelligent song with a huge heart) tells the tale of an impoverished teenage mother leaving home to have her baby, and the verse that brings on the waterworks goes:

In a somewhere-else-bound Smokey Mountain Greyhound,
she bows her head down, hummin’ lullabies.
“Your daddy never meant to hurt you, ever.
He just don’t live here, but you’ve got his eyes.”

I am getting misty as I type this, damn my eyes! There’s just something so poignant about the image of this young woman full of love for her newborn baby and magnanimity toward the out-of-the-picture teenage father who “can’t be bothered” and “runs like water through a mountain stream.” And also probably a deep melancholy that she is not able to give the baby a dad. She’s already explaining it to the tiny child.

Now that I am a mother, the image hits me in a deeper, more visceral way than it ever did. Not that I think it’s necessarily a tragedy for a kid not to have a dad in the picture. In some cases, no dad at all is better than the dad you’re dealt. And I am all for two good moms raising a kid, or a single mom or single dad with the help of family members and/or close friends. But I can’t imagine how hard it must be for a young girl raising a baby on her own, and I know it’s always a heartbreak for a child to deal with the void left by losing a parent, however and whenever the parent is lost. I guess the song also hits me hard because I am so lucky to have a child with my Old Man, who is a wonderful parent and a very loving dad. The thought of O. not having his dad in his life due to whatever circumstance is heart rending to me.

But the tears that come unbidden each time I play this song don’t come from thoughts like those above. They just come, and they always surprise me. I know it’s not little O. cells floating around in me sending me the message to cry. But it kind of feels that way, it’s that reflexive. I only play the song every so often, so when I do I always assume that this time I’ll be able to get through it. I haven’t yet, though. I've always been a sap deep inside, but clearly motherhood has made me sappier still. Not that I think that’s a bad thing.


Anonymous D-Man said...

I've always considered evocative songs like that the coolest thing.

3:39 AM  
Blogger Mrs. T said...

I have a CD by Art Garfunkel, called "Songs from aParent to a CHild". When I listened to it prior to giving birth, I thought it was sweet. I listened to it while in labor and thought it was nice. But, ever since I gave birth (my daughter is now 8-!), I just lose it. It just opens up the floodgates. There's one song, "I'll Lasso the Moon For You" that is just so sweet, and expresses all that a parent wants to do for a child.
The whole being a parent thing is pretty amazing. Leftover cells or not.

5:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I, too, have become a complete sap since having my son 19 months ago. I was on the bus yesterday reading "A Small Good Thing" by Raymond Carver and almost burst into tears.

11:12 AM  
Blogger E. said...

Oh my god, that story. I was totally affected by that story the first time I read it in college, but I'm not even sure I could take it now. It's a beautiful story, but tough.

12:22 PM  
Blogger Dawn said...

I also have that reaction when I hear Nanci Griffith sing "Turn Around"...
I never cried at weddings before I got married either. Now, I'm a mess.

5:08 PM  
Blogger Feral Mom said...

Is that cells thing for real? Damn. I can't decide if it's cool or creepy. I want to hear you play some John Prine! I only cry for Richard Buckner's "The Hill" but I always cry hard, with hiccups.

8:11 PM  

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