Bread and Puppet Circus

Their bus is parked outside my house, with a big poster promoting their show, “How to Turn Distress into Success,” in its window. Unfortunately, I’m too late for that. It already played. But I do have time for “Everything is Fine Circus.”

I’m still thinking about Rebecca Walker’s Baby Love, and another quote from the article about it.

“[F]or Ms. Walker, being a stepparent or adoptive parent involves a lesser kind of love than the love for a biological child./In an interview, Ms. Walker boiled the difference down to knowing for certain that she would die for her biological child, but feeling ‘not sure I would do that for my nonbiological child.”

Indeed, it is an especially bizarre statement given that in a previous relationship, Walker’s female partner gave birth to a son whom they have raised together. Now that she has a new child, from a relationship with a man, she says about her other son, “The good thing is he has a biological mom who would die for him.” What does this say about fathers? Does their sperm do enough to create a similar connection? I doubt the two mom families I know would distinguish this way between their children.

Is parenthood some sort of bizarre cult of Romeo and Juliet?

I don’t understand how “dying for” your son, or anyone else, is a measure of your love for him. It seems like an empty, melodramatic and self-serving statement, and I hope/doubt she will ever have to live up to it.

I would die for a child of mine, but I would also die for other people’s children. So would my brother-in-law, who’s a police officer. We’ve both risked our lives for other people’s children – although obviously he’s done it more than I have. When I taught kindergarten in Jerusalem, we had to be careful about security. Once after school had ended, as we waited for parents to pick up their kids, a man parked his car on the sidewalk and ran off, right in front of the building. Given where I was, we all immediately assumed the worst. In fact, my ovaries twinged sharply in this weird way they do when I get a scare. The four kids still there all ran to the gate to get a look at the car, and I ran after them, shouting, and knew right then that I would use my body as a shield if it came down to it. I loved those children with a fierceness and I felt an anger at the threat to them like I’d never known.

The other teacher was still inside, and saw it from the window, but couldn’t get out fast enough. Thankfully, the car didn’t explode and I got the children inside, where they stood around confused as we actually threw up into the short little toilets. It turned out to be a recent Russian immigrant’s car, and as I’ve since learned, sidewalks are parking spaces in Russia (in response the fence is now a reinforced cement wall).

That’s as close as I can come to imagining having to “die for” anyone. I can’t imagine very many situations where it would be a conscious rational choice, where we had time to consider. I moved without thought to protect those kids, and I’m just a teacher, not a hero. Walker’s words seem trite to me – “Oh that son of mine, he’s to die for. And so are those shoes.” I don’t know why her description of her love has to be about trumping someone else’s. Utterly unreflective of parental love.

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5 responses to “Bread and Puppet Circus

  1. What an odd quotation from Walker. Not only does it measure love by a willingness to die, but how hurtful a statement like that would be to a nonbiological child! I would absolutely die for my biological daughter – and I would do so equally for my son, who is not mine biologically. And like you said, I’d do so for other people’s children, too. What a strange, limiting way to measure love.

  2. Well I certainly appreciate you alerting me to a book I now know I have no interest in reading. I find the quotations you shared bizarre and so completely removed from my own experience of motherhood, and even my views of children.

    I know of many adults who have literally laid down their lives, or put themselves at great physical risk, to protect a child who was not their “own.” I think that is one of the beautiful aspects of our humanity. That for the most part there is a collective understanding that there is something precious and vulnerable about children that we adults should strive to protect.

    And I agree, why is our willingness to die for our children the best reflection of parental love? Especially considering that is the one sacrifice we are least likely to ever actually be called upon to do for our child. How about expressing our love by our willingness to keep seeing the promise in a surly adolescent who rolls his eyes and says, “whatever” all too often. THAT is parental love!

  3. I am totally feeling your disgust with Walker. It reminds me of the time my stepmother told me that I have to have my own kids (rather than adopt) because nothing compares to the bond between a parent and a biological child. Being her nonbiological child, I felt as though I had been stabbed through the heart. I guess some people are just so narcissistic that they can’t love anything that isn’t literally, physically, part of them.

  4. Walker has heavy issues of her own, and this statement reflects her own neurosis. She needs therapy IMO, not a book deal.

  5. Hi Sara–I found your blog via Niobe. I’m so sorry about Natan.

    As the bio-mom in a two-mom household, I can say that the bond is different. But different is all it is. Certainly, in our family my spouse is not longing to bond with her own bio-kid–on the contrary, after being with me through my labor she’s thrilled to have kids without birthing them herself. And to equate deep emotion with willingness to die for someone else is just silly.

    Anyway, any glance at the custody cases between lesbian moms should make it clear that most non-birthing moms are not as cavalier about their children as Walker is. Thank goodness! I was appalled to think how Walker’s oldest child will feel reading this. Or maybe he’ll think “well, that explains a lot.”

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