It is 6 AM but I’ve been up for a while. The brothers are sleeping well but they wake early. If I’m lucky they will nurse back to sleep and I will stride out of here like a femme fatale in black leather who just knocked out not one henchman but two…
One day these kids will be grown. I will attend long, silent meditation retreats where I will do nothing but sit and breath. I will not have to referee squabbles over plastic fire trucks or wipe puddles of pee off the floor or get anyone any snacks. No one will bother me at all.
Still I am wanting. Waiting. The same human condition that got me here.
Deep breaths. Practice with what is. My son is in my arms. Our foreheads touch. We breath the same breath. His eyelashes are wonderful. I am the center of this family.￼
Before I became a parent, I was a person. I had brightly-colored clothing and friends and thoughts and things I liked to do. Now, I have none of that. Now, I am a mother.
The sun comes up a little after nine – just as the kids are starting to jump off the furniture. I glance out the window. A warmish wind blows over the glacial ice depressing my lawn and driveway. At least it’s not raining.
The morning is full of busyness and chores. In a relaxed moment I catch my reflection in a mirror. The face that blinks back is so tired it surprises me. I wear the slumped shoulders and sagging belly of an old woman. Dark circles hold up my eyes. I come to terms with the unavoidable: My children are turning me old.
Motherhood is a rich experience but on this day I get nothing. No friends, no exercise, no mental stimulation. I feel lousy in my body and I wonder: How long must I keep doing this?
It’s alright. Feel the feelings. Stay in the moment. You are safe. You are loved.￼
I love my kids, and I miss my freedom. I’m grateful for the emotional maturity of motherhood, and I lament the deterioration of my body. I know the fragility of life, and I can’t stay in gratitude for all I have. I never regret my childrens’ existence but sometimes I regret my own. My children are magical, and with the pursuit of this one dream all of the light went out from all of the other dreams. Two things can be true at once. I am strong enough to hold both.
I roll my shoulders back and relax my jaw. I don’t want to feel negative about raising little children. Preschool will come. Motherhood will not always be martyrdom. Life situations are transitory unlike this December moment, which is endless.
If my sense of self is in the toilet, and I don’t know how to do anything better, what is left?
According to Buddhist wisdom, life has three aspects to balance: knowing, doing, and being. Knowing and doing are self-explanatory. Being is harder to understand.
In my early 20s I saw a woman in a restaurant who had being figured out. She was in her sixties with sparkling eyes, leathered skin, and not particularly thin, out to a meal with her friends. I projected upon her the persona of a woman unselfconscious, and she was free. ￼She seemed happy to be.
I imagine a day when my fingers are too arthritic or my eyesight is too weak to do much of anything. At that juncture, I will busy myself with being. Just to be alive will be enough. I will sit with every muscle in my body, unraveling each feeling until nothing is left inside but clean, empty space. My weathered skin will become more luminous with each passing year; so much so that I will appear to grow younger as I grow older. When death finally comes, I will be ready. The being will have made me ready.
But I’m not ready yet. There is so much more to know and do. I go back to cleaning with a shop broom and grain scoop.
At my funeral, when people gather to talk about me as a woman, wife, and mother, I would like them to reflect on my warmth, graciousness, generosity, and patience. I would like them to recount stories from my life of adventure, creativity, community, and fun. That is something to think about.
Because lately I have felt miserly about my mothering. Each 15-hour day with my kids reminds me of what was once my hardest workday. I’m on my feet, slinging food and dishes. Sometimes I eat but sometimes not. The house is loud, dirty, and relentless. I dole out affection in measured quantities. If there’s a break in the action, I do laundry.
I imagine all of the mothers in the world, and throughout history, who toil in this way, and in physically and emotionally more demanding ways, for their families. The collective hum is deafening.
It is starting to rain. Time to go outside. Chances are the weather will change again before we get out there.
A full kit of snow gear for one child includes snow pants, coat, hat, gloves, and boots, with a total of 21-pieces for my crew. All of this lives in our entry, plus B-string snow gear, rain gear, and four chairs and two stools stored there during non-meal times to prevent climbing. Wading through this jungle every time we go out to play is enough to make me re-think our once totally sufficient 8×8′ entry space.
Where are your socks? Where are your boots? I get snow pants on the second baby to find that the first has taken his off. I locate the final hat and everyone is out the door. I pull on my boots and pop into the kitchen to re-fill my coffee mug. By the time I get outside, all three kids are sliding through the puddle formed over the ice in the driveway. They are all soaked.
I have this impression of myself as having wandered into motherhood. In the pursuit of happiness, kids were the only option I ever considered; all paths converged there. For sure I was lured in under false pretenses.
I have a photograph of my great-grandparents’ with their dozen children from 1920. They stand stiffly in front of a farmhouse, dressed in their Sunday best. My grandma, one of the youngest children, wears a giant white bow in her hair. I wonder what their personalities and relationships with one another were like. The photo reveals nothing.
I have always related to this picture through the lens of the children; but this time I notice their mother – my great-grandmother. Unsmiling and pear-shaped, she is sturdy, reliable, hard-working, and totally worn-out. She never got a break. How her back must have ached.
I wonder what alternate life she dreamed of. Was motherhood presented to her as a panacea? Probably not. Without choice there is no need to over-sell women on reproduction. She had no choice.
I had every choice. My life is measurably better than my great-grandmother’s (at least I’m not scrubbing on a washboard) but in some ways I carry the torch of her burdens. You might as well tie an apron around my waist and send me out to slaughter chickens.
This is no way to live.
Forgive me my Miser. The Miser’s thoughts revolve around everything I lack. Nothing real is good enough so she wallows in scarcity, hoping something external will come in to satisfy her.
Looking back, it’s hard to know whether motherhood was something I wanted or something people told me I wanted. In a just world, a woman desiring to become pregnant would travel into a dark and foreboding forest to prove her dedication. There, a strange ghoul would ask some important questions:
You wish to become a mother?
In a voice ringing with humility and devotion, the woman would answer:
If you should become a mother, do you promise to give up everything you have and everything you are, as needed? Your wealth, your time, your aspirations, your body, and your fragile material possessions?
And do you promise not only to love this child, but to turn yourself inside out for them? To liquify and transform yourself completely until you become the best possible parent for this unique being?
Will you protect this child, no matter their disposition, from ridicule? Will you agree that the child’s favorable actions should be considered a reflection of their inner nature while the child’s transgressions should be considered your own failures?
And do you agree that no matter how difficult your life becomes, even if you feel miserable, you will never breathe a word of these feelings to another living soul? Do you promise not to reveal your experience as anything but joyful and praise-worthy lest you be considered unfit or dampen another’s perception of family life?
In exchange for this oath, she would be free to pursue the most precious experience anyone could ask for – that of having a daughter or son.
I change out the minimal required wet gear and head towards the beach, the children and I performing our comedy of mittens. Eirik does a slow blink and stops at the edge of the yard. We’ve exceeded the time allowed. He needs a nap.
I carry Eirik, and his bike, down the trail while also pushing the stroller. Once we get to the road, the brothers are back on their striders but we can not, fortheloveofgod, gain forward momentum.
Avery, the only one of my children who still rides in the stroller, is hanging upside down from the front. “Mom?” She asks. “Could we go in the car?”
We turn around.
The car used to be my favorite place because everyone was strapped and trapped; but then the brothers became experts at getting out of their buckles, and now the car is my least favorite place.
I buckle Toren in and he frees himself before I make it around to the driver’s seat. Eirik will be free by time we get to the end of the driveway. No amount of tightening seems to matter; they twist and loosen the straps until they give way. Tightening the buckles only makes them stronger.
I stop and strap them in again. This beach adventure will be brief but we are out, damn-it-all. Ours is a one-horse town but the roads are icy and a car full of loose babies really isn’t safe. I stop and strap them in again. Toren is out before I get to my seat.
Where is beauty right now? I look around. The sky is pierced by a thousand sunbeams.
My children take me out of the present moment but they also bring me back. ￼I know I have it all. So why do I feel like a cat trying to claw its way out of a sack?
Where does the feeling of abundance come from?￼ It’s easy to imagine mystery as Shangri-La. My fantasy brain insists that had I not become a wife and mother I would love my job and ski every day and look thirty-five forever. I would have wonderful friends and plenty of alone time. I would always say the right thing, and never be lonely. Life would, in a word, be perfect.
I am bitter about giving my life for other people but the Miser’s prison is only in her mind. As she feels like a victim, she is one. How to spare myself this way of thinking?
If the Miser could get out of comparison thinking and relax into her own self ￼worth, the people she loves could love her back. Her cup would fill and overflow. The Miser would become the Fool.
The Fool travels a narrow path along the edge of a cliff carrying nothing but her faith. She does not look down, she does not look back. She knows there is enough space for one more foot-fall and is unafraid. She trusts that even when life feels hard, she is going the right way, and that is enough. One step forward is all any of us ever gets. This sort of foolishness makes for a good way to live.
In choosing one dream, we do forsake all other dreams. So the question is really about this one dream. Is it the right dream? Is it complete? If I could wander back into the woods and trade this life in for a different one, would I do it?
Not for the world.