--Emma Bull, "Why I Write Fantasy," Double Feature
I didn't mean to save this for Mother's Day, but I didn't get around to it yesterday, and now here it is: strangely appropriate, because when I read these words of Emma Bull's, what I hear is my mother's voice.
I don't even remember how it came up, but I remember exactly where we were: in the car, pulling up to our favorite Chinese place. I was home on break from college, and I had said something about how "normal" had never been a word that applied to our house. And my mom just stopped for a minute, and when she spoke, her voice was really upset. "We knew you'd never be like the other kids," she said. "From the time you were really little, we knew. So that was all we could give you: that it was good to be different, that you should respect and love things that are different. It was the only thing we could think of to do."
I was old enough to understand why she sounded almost anguished. For the first time in my life, I could see what it must have been to be my mom when I was a toddler, to watch this stubbornly cheerful little critter toddle around having Socratic dialogs between her finger puppets. To watch the neighbors notice that the things your kid said and did and wanted were not the same things their kids said and did and wanted. To know that it wouldn't be too long before she'd be in school, and to worry what it would mean to her when people were less delighted with her questions. Nobody who wanted average, typical children would ever have married my father -- and as much as my mom was our closest attempt at social camouflage when I was little, she didn't quite manage it herself. Too many of her own dials were turned up to 11. But when she talked about it then, I could see that she hadn't quite known what it would mean, to be the mom, to be my mom, and not to be able to protect me all the way.
I know why she hadn't quite known, because I don't know. I don't know what it will be like to be a mom, because you're not just a mom, you're the mom of someone specific, and that changes everything in ways you can't ever predict. You can learn about common childhood illnesses and how to change diapers and what the most common milestones are in children's development. But you can't study up in advance on which actual kid or kids you will get.
She did the right thing, her and my dad. They made sure that home was a safe place to be different and a safe place to ask questions. So when I came upon stories of the fantastic, the literature focused on things stranger than I've yet seen, I knew the place, and it felt like home, only bigger.
Lots of good parents talk about wanting to give their children the world. Mine gave me the worlds, because it was the only thing they could think to do.