About Me

 

 The greatest thing we can do is to show up for our lives and not be ashamed.

 -Anne Lamott

 

I'm a creature of the word, learning to tell my honest story.

I offer it here because telling stories is the road back home.

Motherhood is not a biological designation
Search This Blog
Books that shifted paradigms
Walking Barefoot on Facebook
Login
« The F words of trauma | Main | It's how you respond that matters »
Wednesday
Jan222014

A letter to my baby about why I will never put a "My child is an honor student" bumper sticker on my car.

Dear Phoenix,

I just woke up from falling asleep with you for your naptime.  You are lying spreadeagle on your crib mattress, blankets crumpled up against the wall, vulnerable to the world- like an open-faced sandwich unwrapped from white deli paper.  I want to gobble you up.

I can see your whole chubby-cheeked face, your round drum of a stomach, taut under a grey waffle weave shirt. Your little leggums are sticking out from your elastic-ankled sweatpants.  You still make sucking movements with your mouth when you sleep; it's one of the last signs of babydom left for me to cherish.

Before you fell asleep, you asked me to sing "Lullabye;" the same song my Daddy sang to me every night before bed.  Then you gave me your favorite book to read: We're Going On A Bear Hunt.  

You asked me to say, Squelch, squerch. Squelch, squerch. And, Swishy, swashy. Swishy, swashy.  You giggled and rolled the words around in your mouth for yourself.  Splish splash sounds like Plee Plash in your two year old vocabulary.

I read the book in a sing-songy rhyme: We can't go over it. We can't go under it. We've got to go through it.

This book reminds me so much of our little family: going on adventures, sticking together even if we're wading through mud, or splashing through water, or tiptoeing through dark caves. Whatever it is, we do it together, and we go through it.

  

You can't skirt the journey, Phoenix. You, of all little babies-safe inside me while your nursery burned down-grasp this lesson, I am certain of it.  You, who decided to be born at home and defy the hour long drive to the birthing center where the "planned" birth was to take place. You, who chose your Daddy's strong hands instead of a midwife; you, who heard the voices of your brothers minutes after you were born. You, who tore me open, and tore me open.

I know you've got a lot to teach me about the joy and grace of going through it.

 

I'm reading a memoir right now called The Still Point of the Turning World.  It's written by a mommy named Emily whose son, Ronan, was diagnosed with Tay-Sachs. Tay-Sachs is a degenerative disease; most babies do not live past three years old, and whatever benchmarks of growth they attain begin to decline around the time they are six months old. They lose head and neck control. They go blind. They experience seizures, and the inability to eat.  It's absolutely heartwrenching.

Emily's wrestling with what it means to be a mother in our American culture where motherhood is so future-focused, so performative in its emphasis on how one choice leads to another to another- all choices as stepping stones to a certain kind of life, namely a "successful" one- has opened up a whole new window for me into my own definition of what it means to be a mommy.

Emily says, "But no matter what I did for Ronan- organic or non-organic food; cloth or disposable diapers; attachment parenting or sleep training; breast milk or formula- all decisions that mattered so much to me in the first few months of his life, he was going to die. End of story. Or was it? As I pondered these questions in the early hours of the morning and late hours of the night, I began to understand that the story of my son's life would end but what he had to teach me was as epic and mythic as a creation story.  To prepare throughout a child's whoe life for the loss of that boy or that girl, and then to live with it, takes a new ferocity, a new way of thinking, a new animal" (16).

Without a "future" to prepare for, to look forward to, how do you parent? What does it mean to mother when today might be the last day your son is alive?


And there it is.  

No matter what our children seem to be: healthy, not so healthy, living with a physical disability, living without one (at least so far as science has detected), "normal" (whatever that means), or "different" (whatever that means), we mothers can only mother for today.  

None of us knows what tomorrow holds for our children, born or unborn.

Assuming we have a future to prepare for can keep us from being present to this moment, happening right now, in front of our faces.

 

I drink you in. You, my youngest baby, so unprotected from the world, not even a blanket to cover you up. 

What do you have to teach me?  

From the moment you were born, for every day of the two years I've had the miracle of being your mommy, you have taught me-forced me, in those early months- to be still.  To watch you emerging, like a phoenix out of ashes.  To be a witness.

I bear witness to your life. This is my mommy job.  And my mommy delight.

I do not bear witness with one eye focused on the horizon line, waiting for the what's next.

I look at you with both eyes, as wide open as I can be.

Because I could lose you; because I will lose you.  

 

"I realized you could not have one without the other, that this great capacity to love and be happy can be experienced only with this great risk of having happiness taken from you-to tremble, always, on the edge of loss" (23).

 

This does not mean every moment is rife with "trembling on the brink of loss" intensity; even now, you are watching Sesame Street with your sister so I can write.  I suppose if I thought this was your final day, I would not be putting on Sesame Street.

Even Emily says, it's exhausting to live each day as if it was your last.

Sometimes, you just need to chill out in front of a television show. Sometimes, you need a break from the people you love the most. Sometimes, you forget everything else you "should" be doing, and you lie down and take a nap with your baby, because you want to watch his little mouth suck in and out while he still dreams of nursing.

 

In your book, "We're Going On A Bear Hunt," it seems to me that the little family unit of mother, father, three kids, and a black and white dog, aren't going on a hunt because they want to find a bear so they can take photographs; or kill a bear so they can have food; or make a bear rug as proof for their future stories about "that time we went on a bear hunt and killed a bear."  

They are going on a bear hunt because they want to. Because it could be fun.

Because they are a family, and families do things together.

 

They are learning how to go through things; not to get to the other side, but maybe for the feel of the squelchy mud between their toes.

Maybe for the way water divides the body in half when you wade waist deep; half of you submerged and slimy shocked with cold; half of you heaving with warmth and trembling above the water line. 

"Our country runs on the pursuit of achievement and ambition, and on the effects of individual striving.  It's a capitalistic and therefore limited and problematic approach to vocation and purpose.  For most of my life I was an ambition addict...( me too, Phoenix.  Me too.) and I found fuel for this addiction everywhere I looked. On bumper stickers ("My child is an honor student at------- School"); in the assumed joys of becoming an Avon saleswoman ("It's amazing what you can achieve with a bit of passion and hard work; call 1-800-AVON!"); in the barrage of ads for diet products that always appear on January 1 ("5 weeks to a NEW YOU! Includes the cost of food!"). 

Do more, be skinnier, get richer, be famous (and then be even more famous), get a bigger house and a bigger car and a better girlfriend and a better life.

When did having a good life mean living one that other people envied?

Everyone needs to be pursuing something, right? Otherwise, who are we?  How about, quite simply, people? How about human?

Part of Ronan's myth was this acknowledgement that we need the freedom to be people, that's all" (71-2).

 

I stare at you, my little open-faced deli sandwich.  When you wake up, I'm going to eat your beebo.  Just you wait.

I look at you, not because you are going somewhere.

But because you are.


Love,

mommy

Reader Comments

There are no comments for this journal entry. To create a new comment, use the form below.

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Post:
 
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>