Dani Shapiro
April 19, 2010


A line from Devotion keeps running through my mind.  I had reached the middle of my life, and knew less than I ever had before. What is it about this passage into midlife that leaves me–that leaves so many of us–feeling like we have more questions than answers?  I question virtually every decision I make–particularly when it comes to motherhood.  My own mother never doubted herself, I’m quite sure–or if she did, she kept her doubts to herself.  Never once in my life (this is no exaggeration) did I ever hear her say the words I’m sorry.  I say I’m sorry to Jacob all the time.  I’m sorry for yelling.  I’m sorry I said I would come “in a sec” when it has indeed been an hour.  I’m sorry we ran out of the thin sandwich bread/vitamins/frozen edamame.  Sorry is my middle name as a mother–as is a constant attempt, a striving, to do better.  Sometimes this doing better takes the form of being a tough-ass.  Of saying no.  No, you can’t play video games on a school night.  No, you can’t eat that chocolate bar five minutes before dinner.  At these times, I watch my eleven year old stomp off in a tween-ish fit of pique, and remind myself that part of being the grownup,  part of being the parent, sometimes involves being unpopular. I am making mistakes–daily, I make mistakes.  No doubt about that.  Worse still, I don’t always know I’ve made mistakes, and things I think I’m doing right may turn out, some day, to be the very reasons he’s on some therapist’s couch.

Last night, we went to bed mad.  I hate going to bed mad, but it wasn’t going to get any better.

Me: We let you play with your new DS on a school night until 9:20.  Now it’s time to go to sleep.

Him: You made me stop in the middle of an inning!

Me: Maybe we shouldn’t have let you play at all.

Him: Grownups get to do whatever they want to do. You can go to bed whenever you want.  You can do whatever you want, whenever you want.

Me (aggrieved): No.  No we don’t.

Him: It looks that way to me.

I know that it looks that way to him.  It looked that way to me, too, at that age.  He doesn’t need to know that his mom feels like she doesn’t know much.  That she questions herself on an hourly basis.  That she hopes and prays for the strength and the clarity to get it right, at least some of the time.  In a way,  Sylvia’s recent advice — this is what you know now —  is a companion piece to that line from Devotion: I had reached the middle of my life and knew less than I ever had  before.  Perhaps accepting the limits of what we know  also allows for the understanding that much more will be revealed.