she has fallen and now she is awake

On Duty

I met Wolfman for lunch this week, at the shopping centre next to his work. BunBun was as cute as usual and we garnered a fair few ‘oh how adorable! type comments. We sat down and began to eat – I got myself a roast vegetable panini so I could pick out some of the pumpkin to feed BunBun, since she’s starting solids. As I sat there, BunBun squirming on my lap, pumpkin smearing my jeans, I looked at the woman across from me. She too was feeding someone, far more expertly than I, far more prepared. She had a giant bib for starters.

I got smiles from everyone walking past. Their eyes slid over her in the familiar ‘see-me-not’ gaze.

I was feeding a child, she was feeding an elder. Eventually Wolfman tired of watching me stuff things up and took over, feeding our daughter with far less mess. He got even more smiles, occasional laughs. My eyes met the woman across from us, she smiled at us too. I smiled back, and smiled at the woman she was with. They’d finished up and were packing away lunch. I felt obscurely sad. I was being silently congratulated (and Wolfman even moreso) for doing my duty as a parent. For teaching our daughter the joy of food – textures and tastes and the how of it all. People smiled at us. Our families volunteered to help. People were overjoyed at pictures.

Yet this woman, performing the same actions, the same duty, was socially isolated. Was offered nothing, not even a smile. Her duty was no less than mine, probably more. I would mourn the loss of my mother’s ability to eat, to feed herself. I do not mourn BunBun’s inability. She has the potential to learn. I mourn nothing but the fleeting days of babyhood when I feed our daughter. Yet I receive so much more support. I am not ignored by the community. I am offered breaks and relief. This woman, presumably mourning far more than I, under far more pressure, doing a much more difficult job (physically and probably emotionally), gets nothing.

My duty is considered a gift, hers a burden. Yet I receive the support?


4 responses to “On Duty

  1. Liz December 17, 2009 at 18:03

    This is an absolutely beautiful post and I just had to comment to say so, and to say thank you for taking the time to write it.

    My six-month daughter and I are hoping to make it to an intergenerational playgroup tomorrow (which we go to regularly, naps permitting) and hopefully bring some smiles to the faces of seniors.

    (I found your blog through the LJ June 09 community and related posts on your lovely daughter)

  2. Jane December 18, 2009 at 11:19

    Came to your blog via metafilter (a site I don’t much like anymore) and have spent close to an hour reading your old entries. Your writing is so evocative and moving that I wanted to comment and let you know that.

    (If it matters, the comment that caught my eye was in a thread about contempt and cynicism; you said you were a reformed cynicist, and I came here to find out how you accomplished that change.)

    • geekanachronism December 18, 2009 at 19:52

      Hi! Thank you so much for the compliments on my writing, it does mean a fair bit.

      I’ve been a lurker for a good long while at Mefi and there were occasions I took it out of my reader, it was just that bad. But, like any big community, there are waves. I probably should post about the cynicism thing, but in short it came down to a quote from Lois McMaster Bujold – If he had grown more sour with age, it was  understandable, but the blackness of his humor had gradually come to weary her more than amuse her. Cynicism did not seem  nearly so impressively daring to her now as it had when she was twenty. Perhaps this decision had lightened his heart, too.. I decided that nothing was more daring, or more rewarding, than hope and vulnerable realness. Cynicism was just another way of protecting myself from everything at the expense of growth.

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