No More Secrets, Mom

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To: Mothers from the Baby Boom Generation

From: Your Daughters of Childbearing Age

Dear Moms,

We know that you have a lot on your mind, what with your decimated retirement savings and wondering whether our Dads (or the men who have replaced them) have had “that talk” with their doctors that the commercials they play during Monday Night Football say are essential, but we have something to discuss with you.

It’s probably not fair to dredge up the past.  Life is all too full of regrets and, now that many of us are mothers ourselves, we understand that guilt and “I should’ves” are all part of motherhood from the moment of conception.  But, you take the bad with the good.

That’s what we really have to talk about.  The good.

HOW COME YOU NEVER TOLD US?

You raised us to believe in ourselves.  You raised us to believe we could do anything.  It wasn’t your fault we ended up with eating disorders or fraught relationships with food.  Those ballet classes were intended to make us love and trust our bodies.  And all that encouragement to study hard and the stellar job you did at getting us to raise our hands just as much as – if not more than – the boys?  That was an excellent parental accomplishment.  You helped pay for college and you cheered us on when we pursued those advanced degrees.  Heck, you were the ones who broke the glass ceiling that made so many of our academic and professional achievements possible.

But, in the midst of all that, how could you forget to tell us?

Did you want to save all the magic for yourself?  Did our “do more, make more, compete more” society really convince you that keeping up with the guys at the office was more important than what you had done with your lives?  So many of you pulled off the 9-5 gig and raised us, but you only really groomed us to take on that not-always-glamorous work world.

Moms, you taught us so much.  We learned just about everything from watching you.  But you kept your secrets, didn’t you?  Perhaps it was the insatiable American desire to make sure that each successive generation has more than the last that made you mum (pardon the pun).

So, here we are in our twenties and thirties.  Some of us have discovered the secret on our own, but many are still fumbling round in the shadows.  Most of us have to get up awfully early to make the commute, you see.  We have started sharing the  the secret with our sisters, but a lot of us are still in the dark.

Those of us who are in the know do not want to cast blame.  We just need help from you, the veterans.

You see, you never told us that motherhood was this incredible. You never mentioned what magic was sparked when you first looked into our infant eyes.  You never described it as the greatest love story never told.

We are still traipsing around, many of us, thinking that pregnancy is something to be avoided at all costs.  We spent our women’s studies classes becoming impassioned about our rights to go Planned Parenthood, but never about our rights to have midwives attend our homebirths.  We have looked at those women with strollers and diaper bags as poor souls, cut off from the tribe of modern chick-dom, unable to pursue the dreams to do more, be more, achieve more that were instilled in us since girlhood.

You’ve loved us well, you’ve shared your beauty and strength with us, but you never really mentioned all that you must have received in return when we were curled up in your arms, dependent on you for every aspect of life.

Please, moms, no more secrets.  Tell us the stories of our births and our babyhoods.  Tell us that motherhood is an odyssey like no other.  Tell us that it is just as valuable as all the stuff we have studied for and trained for.  Tell us how we can be more like you, the mothers to us all.  All of us are not destined to follow in your footsteps, but the world will be a better place if girls and women were raised knowing what bliss might be possible.

Love,

The Mothers and Potential Future Mothers of Your Grandchildren

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Courage, For Crying Out Loud!

The word of the year is going to have to be courage.

I tried strength, but I worry there is blindness in just muscling through.

I was debating between manifesting and allowing, but that just proved how confused and addled I have allowed myself to become.  Will I be coming or going in 2010?  Forcing it or just letting life happen to me? Ugh, too much stress to solve THAT in one word.

I need a middle road that keeps me an active player in my fate and yet allows me to surrender to the larger forces of the Universe.

And so, instead of trying to craft a yearlong strategy, I will focus on how I will face life as its challenges and mystery emerge.

With courage.

Growing up, I was never aware that moms could cry.  Since Moira’s birth I have been blessed with tons of quality time with my mother and she has told me plenty of stories about being a fully human mommy to my sister and me, occasional tears and all.  I don’t want to start weeping in the pantry, but at least I have some validation that it is possible to be frail sometimes while still keeping your kids secure in the (perhaps mythic) idea of the Power and Might of the Mommy.

The tidal waves of hormones through pregnancy and the “fourth trimester” have been ample excuse to dissolve into sobs.  It’s time to change that.  Not because I want to start bottling up my emotions or because I want to stop dealing with my feelings (impossible anyway), but because I need to take on the world with all my wits about me.

This is such a confessional turn (more than usual, even) for the first day of the year, but I do not think that I am alone in this.  For all that we may be proud of how aware we are, of how good it feels to “get it” about so many things, there is still a tendency toward leading with our weaknesses.

We have examined our pasts, our spirits, our souls, and we feel pretty comfortable there.  Light has been cast on the wounds and the failings and the idiosyncrasies that make us weird and wonderful.  All this plumbing of our inner depths can leave us holding buckets of pain and pounds of explanations for why we react the way we do, why it’s ok that we’re broken.

All this self examination does no always bring us to the place of wholeness, to strength, to courage, to passion, to forward momentum.

That takes another kind of work, a fiery kind of work that requires more energy than it might takes simply to look within and endlessly ask “why?”

I know a lot about who I am, and I know why I behave how I do.  Now is the time to act on that knowledge, cultivate the behaviors that serve me and abandon those which do not.

Now is the time to turn outward to not only look upon the world with courage, but to move through the world embodying the Damn Fine Courageous and Outrageous Mother that I know I really am.

Poetry Doesn’t Pay, and Prayer Doesn’t Either

Irish poet Rita Ann Higgins has a poem called “Poetry Doesn’t Pay.”  I began the decade living for poetry.   I end the 2000s with one half remembered line and a focus on payment rather than poetics.

I’m still working on imagining my way out of my day job and into being an at home mom.  Oh what a passel of worries (“gremlins” as Magpie Girl calls them) have been stirred up as I imagine stepping into the void that is life without guaranteed salary and benefits!  One of the more bizarre worries that has emerged is how I’ll find spiritual nourishment in this new venture.

The role of spirituality in my life is not a bizarre concern, of course, but it’s generally considered rather superfluous to one’s career choices.  My current job certainly does not have a spiritual dimension.  Why would I expect the new home business I hope to pull together to have any direct connection to the way I talk to God?

I am coming to realize all the pressure I am putting on myself, on how I expect that earning money in a new way will change everything that motherhood has not already rearranged.  As much as I have liked the general direction of my life, Moira’s birth began the seismic quake I was waiting for.  Now I am looking for everything to shift; I am impatient for all of the random puzzle pieces of me to fall into place.

Some who know me in the “real world” might laugh to hear this, but my ideal job would be to be a priest.  There are several impediments, of course, seeing that I am female, and even if I could become an Episcopalian or something, I still cannot commit to Christianity solely enough to convince a congregation of my piety.  Since I don’t think I am quite ready to start holding revivals in my backyard and no established religions will have me (or I won’t have them…), it seems that prayer isn’t going to bring in a paycheck.  At least not directly…

I am overwhelmed by the weight of my dreams, my burdensome need for poetry and and a life that is purely mine from waking ’til sleep.  The love of my child, my husband, my home is a crippling curse and an incessant blessing and the only thing that matters at the end of the day.  This love is the stuff my prayers are made of.

May this love be strong enough.

May I be strong enough.

But nothing,
you can’t pay me in poems or prayers,
or your husband’s jokes,
or with photographs of your children
in lucky lemon sweaters hand made by your dead Great Aunt
who had amnesia and the croup

Rita Ann Higgins, “Poetry Doesn’t Pay”

Unicorns, Plotting the Future, and Living in the Moment

A local radio station is asking listeners to vote on the best songs of the decade.  They must have skipped a few years on the calendar because I know I was just a junior in college watching the millennium dawn across Galway’s Corrib River.  My best friend only just said to me, “Hey, look, the Earth doesn’t care that we think we just turned 2000.”

Have ten years really passed?  Am I really a mother and a wife who has already written the story of her twenties?  I think I must be.  This morning, when it seemed like Moira recognized herself in the mirror for the first time, her dimples were on full display as she giggled and cooed.  The way the sun fell upon us made me notice for the first time that my own dimples were carving grooves in my cheeks.  Things change when you look away from your own reflection for a while.  At least those lines mean I am an experienced smiler!

These thoughts coincide well with a conversation I had with my Dad yesterday.  For as long as I can remember, he has been counting on his fingers: “Where do you want to be in one year, three years, five years?”  This time we were talking about visionaries, those who determine where corporations and culture will be in fifteen, twenty-five, fifty years.  He was taking my dream of staying home to raise Moira completely seriously and is ready to engage with me as I work on the broad dreams and the devilish details that will get me there. Not only did he want me to focus on how to envision what life will be like through the time that MJ’s gets on the bus for kindergarten, he also was inviting me to peer into a more universal future and decide how I wanted to position myself within it.

In many ways, imaging what the world will look like and what I would like my place in it to be when I am eighty years old seems completely ridiculous since I cannot even picture what it will be like to go back to work next week.  But still, it is a valid and important perspective to be willing to adopt.  Plus, it stops you from looking back one year, five years, ten years and getting caught up in the trap of regret.  (I fight every day not to fall into self recrimination for not having figured out all this stuff before I had a daughter who deserves all the attention and passion she needs.)

As much as I am on fire to pour all available energy into this new non-9 to 5 adventure (more details in time, promise!) because it is fresh and exciting and because it is all meant to be in Moira’s best interests, I am keenly aware of the balancing act it will require.  She sleeps in her swing while I fill a legal pad with ideas.  She coos in her Sleepy Wrap as I type this.  Nothing has my full attention right now, but is it possible to be focused on one thing right now?  Even if I were not trying to construct a DIY livelihood right now I would succumb to multitasking’s siren song. I’d read a novel while I nursed and I’d still be on Facebook while we watched a DVD.

But honestly, how many Zen masters have been 21st century mamas looking to contribute to the household coffers?  Call me when you meet one.  I know that there is huge opposition between the modern imperative to do four things at once and the pursuit of  focused mindfulness.  I have tried to dream myself into the latter camp, but it seems I will have to take the lessons that meditation have taught me and bring them over the world of women who successfully juggle it all.

I have to believe that I can be the mythical supermommy who can be present for her kids, bring in much needed income, and maintain her own sense of self worth.  They are as rare as unicorns, and just as beautiful.

Thing is, I do believe in unicorns, and with all of my energy and consciousness I will raise a daughter who believes in them too.

Spilled Milk and Stormy Weather: Control and Reaction

One week from tonight will be my first “school night” in about two months.  Going back to work will be difficult for a multitude of reasons, but one of them will definitely be the constant exposure to other people’s energy – both positive and negative.  My time at home with Moira has been richer than I ever would have imagined, full of family and friends in the house and on the computer screen.  I will admit, this selected circle, all full of love for me and my growing family has been like fishing in a stocked pond.  These friendships enable me to grow and evolve, certainly, and there are challenges even in these close relationships, but it’s nothing like facing the challenging personalities that one encounters at work.  With all of these week’s distance from my work life I do have enough perspective to understand that I have grown tremendously when I have learned how to accept and deal with difficult people.

Soon, I am going to be assaulted by other people’s “stuff.”  Wait, let me correct that – I will be assaulted by whatever “stuff” I permit to get to me.

One thing I am going to have to learn to just let pass through me?  Hearing other people take the weather personally.  Yep, we live in the northeast where it is cold and dark in January, but no matter how unlucky you are or how much the gods seem to want to toy with you THE WEATHER IS NEVER ABOUT YOU.

But, I am not trying to preempt office whining with blog whining, promise.  I just mention it as an example that I thought of when I was considering the twisty conundrums of control and reaction.

I think many of us are really confused about what we can and cannot control in our lives.  We so often mix up what we should and should not react to.

Last week I talked about how much changing my diet has changed my daughter’s mood and physical well-being.  Cutting out a few foods (a few dietary staples, frankly) has made her into an even more amazing, happy baby.  Something that is so often whispered about like the worst possible fate, the dreaded colic, was pretty much eliminated overnight by cooking something else for dinner.  I have complete control over what I eat and I was able to exercise that control to conquer something that could have victimized us for as long as I was breastfeeding (and perhaps beyond, since we now know her first solid food will decidedly NOT be potatoes!).

The weather and one baby’s crying fits – I realize these are only two handpicked examples, but I wonder if they could help me assemble a theory that could be tested on other things…

We take the weather personally and can be convinced that the clouds have conspired to congregate just because we have a day at the beach planned.  And yet, it is not made immediately clear to all nursing moms that eating foods that have never bothered them might actually be the cause of their babies’ hardened bellies and plaintive cries.

Is it possible that we choose to react to exactly the things we CANNOT control?  We are safe if we bitch about the weather since we know the only action we can take is to wear a raincoat.  But when it comes to something we can control, like eliminating such ubiquitous foodstuffs as corn and wheat and potatoes, why is it that we step back and hide behind the blanket death sentence of “colic”?  (Again, I understand that I am basing all of this on one baby’s belly, but bear with me on this one… I think there may be something to this idea if you insert your own examples).

It’s damn hard to be the primary agent of change in your own life and it certainly isn’t easy to effectively evaluate each situation to determine if it falls within your control and if it necessitates a reaction.  I am going to start small – I won’t react to people who let the sleet ruin their day and I will continue to control what foods land on my plate.

You?

A Mass of Humanity

The church was as lovely as I have ever seen it.  A wall of poinsettias was set before the altar.  Evergreens glowing with white lights were draped in red ribbons were tucked in every alcove.  The music was perfect – a soloist accompanied by the harp and the piano – and the priest, a retired bishop, was all that you want a Catholic clergyman to be – thoughtful, appropriately self-deprecating, smiling, kind.  It was Christmas morning.

The homily made me ache for Moira, who was at home with my mother (the family splits into the Midnight Mass crowd and the morning church folk – this was the first time in a long while that I had to be in bed by 9:30 p.m. on Christmas Eve).  The bishop spoke of how all families change for the better with the addition of a little baby.  He assured the half-full church that he knew we’d all be wondering what a celibate knew of such things, but he had an understanding of human nature and heavenly nature that made up for the fact that he was only and observer of earthly family dynamics.

And then came time for the Creed.  My husband and I launched in, both muttering the words by rote.  I wondered how they echoed in his agnostic heart as I wondered at how easy it was to say I accepted in one version of One God and One Lord when, in reality, I lived a very different theology, finding gods and goddesses all over.

I watched as the bishop as he dug inside his robes for a handkerchief.  Without breaking from the prayer, this unselfconscious octogenarian wiped at his nose before the entire congregation.  As I began to smile broadly at this perfect display of humanity in this midst of all that godly talk, I realized we were on the bit about Pilate and Christ’s suffering.  The words were so automatic, the idea of crucifixion did not even register.  I was half in the moment; my focus on the fleshy plane, not the pious one.

When I finally wiped the grin off my face, I looked around at the other pews.  Earlier, I had been pitying the kids who had been torn from their toys and stuffed into new clothes to stand around listening to an old man, who no matter how endearing to the grownups, could never be more fascinating than Santa’s loot.  One girl, about seven or eight, wearing a headband that kept slipping onto her forehead and a crinkly dress that left her nowhere to put her hands was fidgeting as the long prayer droned on.  Her father, whose perfectly gelled hair and flawlessly pressed jacket could not make up for a severe, pock-marked face, looked down to her with a warning glance, his mouth still moving with the story of the religion.  The look worked and she resumed staring at the carpet.

One prayer, two human stories out of hundreds that were acted out while those familiar words flowed forth.  For all that it is easy to talk about the tyrannical dictates of the hierarchy and those endless rules and regulations that stifle the spirit, there are always the stories that you come in with, the humanity that you can hold dear even when you are acting according to the script of the mass.

I still stood on the outside looking in, but it was important somehow to take in not just the religious theater, but the movement of all the extras as well.

Precious Cargo

Those pink fuzzies? The best booties ever. May Moira never grow out of her "Muppet Feet"!

A sure sign that it’s coming on Christmas that I never noticed before?  The cars you pass, even just on the way to town, are filled with more people.

Beat up sedans full of girls who must be together for the first time since getting back from college.  SUVs that gleam despite the salty roads driven by manicured women who are accompanied by a tiny woman who must be grandma, out on a rare adventure for the holidays.  For a few days at least, our little isolation booths, our tons of steel and glass that hurtle down the roads delivering us from one mission to the next, are not just vehicles for one.  We have the chance to break the routines and take routes we’d never get to travel in the middle of any other week in the year and share the journey with those who gather because it is nearly December 25th.

Who are these other people, untethered by the 9-5 work day? What are their stories on this Christmas Eve Eve and what will they be on any other day in January when the lights have all been removed and we are resigned to the typical gray of winter?

These last two months at home, especially the last few weeks when I actually venture out with Moira secure in her carseat behind me, have really made me appreciate uncharted days, a bundle of hours that are not structured by anyone else’s schedule.  It still feels oddly reckless to make a chiropractor appointment for noontime.  For all that I have been begging the gods to get me out of my day job, I still feel like somebody must be wondering why that thirty year old woman is not at work.

As much as I always though they were ridiculous, I suddenly am starting to understand why people hang those silly little “Baby On Board” signs in their car windows.  When you walk down the street or through the supermarket with a stroller, everyone knows to hold the door for you.  You come to expect a little more patience from people and you may be slightly offended when they don’t look at the angel who happens to be sleeping in your grocery cart.  A baby is a good luck charm and a guarantee of others’ good behavior.  As permeable as one feels as a new mother out in the world with an infant, you need what little protection and consideration can offer.

My story as I drive around town in these last moments before the world takes a collective Christmas breath is that my heart, my mind, the entire focus of my being is tucked into the back seat.  I am not traveling solo anymore, and though she will grow more and more independent and allow me some breathing room when the time is right so I can get my wits about me and remember what it is just to be Marisa, right now, I cannot imagine us existing without each other.

I don’t want to hang one of those yellow signs in the window so that I can have an excuse to drive like a madwoman, I just want the world to know that my PT Cruiser carries a new life and a new mama and that is something pretty special.

Because I want to find the river that takes me to an unending number of days when Moira and I can craft our own schedule and gad about town any old time, I give you Joni Mitchell…