The devotion I displayed toward my dolls should have tipped me off to the kind of mother I was going to be. From the moment I looked at my son, I was like the first parents in the Persian myth Joseph Campbell reports, "loved their children so much that they ate them up." The first time I held my baby and looked at his amazing face. I loved him with an all-consuming, fierce, and wild kind of love. I was a lion and he was my cub.

Most of us start out like this with our children. When they are helpless infants, wild parenting is an appropriate style of care. But as they grow, and become their own people, it becomes an imperative to "reduce parental love," as Campbell says, "by something like ninety-nine and nine-tenth percent," so as not to consume the poor kids with excessive coddling. I admit that I am still working on reducing my parental love to a reasonable percentage, although this may be a moot point, since my children are now men. In fact my oldest is now spoon-feeding lavish percentages of love to his own little one.

We chose our firstborn's name from the Bible: Rahmiel, the angel of mercy. Even though he cried from colic for months, rarely slept, and showed us little mercy night or day, I could see who this little one was. Some infants enter the world looking like the archetypal baby: fat, sweet, and sleepy. Some babies resemble old people, tiny versions of who they will grow up to be. My first baby looked neither new nor old. He was other-worldly, like a pure ray of intelligence, like an innocent visitor from a more benevolent planet. I saw this in Rahmiel's face.

It was a good thing I saw it, and it was a good thing that I had no previous experience with babies when my first was born—I assumed they all cried all of the time, and so I walked him around, day and night, until we were both dizzy and wrapped tightly around each other's heart. When the crying stopped, Rahm became a sweet yet bossy toddler, and we his loyal servants. He was a careful, smart, and sensible fellow, not the kind of child who wants a lot of toys or watches endless television. He always knew his limits. When his grandmother gave him carte blanche at FAO Schwartz, the most opulent toy store in the world, he chose a ball. But when he wanted something, and couldn't have it, his tantrums were legendary.

Learning how to parent

Excerpted from Broken Open: How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow © 2004 by Elizabeth Lesser. Reprinted by arrangement with the Random House Publishing Group.


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