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
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Sunday
Sep142014

I finally found a copy of the parenting handbook

I think someone forgot to give me the parenting handbook, you know, the one you get at the hospital along with the striped hat and the striped swaddle blankets and the free diapers and the booger sucker. 

The one that tells you how to successfully accomplish the role of mother.

The one with chapters like, "What to do when your kid turns two and throws himself on the grocery store floor in a screaming fit."  

Or, "How to raise children who never talk back," or "How to handle sending your kid off to kindergarten without falling apart."

Or, "How to never get frustrated, say something in anger, feel like a failure, or wake up with cold I shouldn't have done that sweats in the middle of the night."

 

Left without my handbook, I also missed the chapter on "Why it pays to wait at least a year after having the first kid to get pregnant with the second," and I got pregnant with my 2nd when my 1st was five months old. And then I had two more in the next two years.  For those of you like me who aren't so good at math, that's four kids in five years. 

After that, the handbook wouldn't have done me much good anyhow.

I had little use for the "How to make sure your kids don't eat off the floor" chapters. If one kid was eating off the floor, fabulous.  That meant they were occupied (and maybe even getting some good nutrition) so I could nurse another kid, and with my remaining two hands (adapt and survive: nursing kid just hung from my boob like a baby orangutan and kept on sucking) I swung around the room making dinner and keeping cups from spilling. 

Higher order parenting concerns like, "How to get your kid interested in art at a young age," or "Which lunchbox teaches sustainability and best practice food consumption," were trumped by "How to not drop the F-bomb when pieces of hardened oatmeal turn into deathly splinters and pierce you under the fingernails while you scrape the table clean from breakfast."  

 

I didn't have time or energy to focus on much reflective analysis of my role as mother.  I just had to DO it. Day in and day out. Having babies so close together highly limits your capacity for self-reflection and change. My goals were to stay awake at the dinner table and remember to put nursing pads in my bras.

I think this is FINE actually, to be about the task of mothering rather than the philosophy of mothering, at least for a season. It's probably another adapt and survive mechanism. If I thought about it too much, I would never have had kids to begin with, and then if I thought about it while I was in the throes of three babies under three, I probably wouldn't have gotten out of bed much.

But often, in the midst of the doing, even without the self-reflection, I'd still feel like I was doing it wrong. That there was an authority out there who knew the answers, and the all-mighty Mothering Authority was purposely withholding. This authority was the same one who neglected to gift me the handbook. Thanks a lot.

Therefore, every other mom knew what parenting was supposed to look and feel like, and I was the only one left outside the cool club.

 

It didn't help that I got pregnant only eight months into being married. I was still figuring out my identity as a married woman, as a Wilbourn, still figuring out how to trust my instincts, be comfy in my own skin...and all the sudden I've got to figure out motherhood?

I felt way too inexperienced for the job; way too scared frankly, but instead of stepping into that uncomfortable place and asking myself questions about what kinds of things I loved in myself and other women, things I might want to reproduce in my own kids, I pushed down the fear, put on my "I've got this" face, and instead did what I thought I SHOULD do, based upon a combination of pleasing the all-mighty Mothering Authority, drawing ideas from the good and bad about how I grew up, comparing myself to other moms, and imagining what the parenting handbook must say about things.

I tried to conform myself to an ideal of motherhood that didn't take into consideration who I was, or who my kids were, or what kind of family we were becoming, and consequently, I felt so lost in it all, but so scared to admit how lost I felt. Like if I did, I would be disqualified, and someone would take my kids from me. 

 

I do remember times when I would get my head above water, like in between pregnancies, or when I would wean a baby, and a little breathing space would open up, and I would take a stab at asking harder questions about what kind of mom I wanted to be, and what kind of life I wanted to live, and then try to make choices for my family based upon a reflective set of family values, but then LIFE would sabotage my efforts with unexpected events like, say, a family crisis, or another pregnancy, and it was back to survival mode. I don't know if this is everyone's experience, but it almost felt like a cruel joke.

I remember this happening right before the fire. We'd settled on the sacredness of Saturday mornings as a non-negotiable family value; I have precious memories of sitting in a rocking chair just watching my kids play with toys on the floor in front of the wood stove while Michael made pancakes, the house filled with the laughter and peace of family togetherness, and my heart aching with gratitude. And just as we settled into this rhythm, the fire happened, and all my Saturdays from November until April when we moved back into the farmhouse were just about survival and recovery again. 

 Finally, there came a day when life settled down, and my kids were more self-sufficient (like they could all tell me why they were crying), and I wasn't just trying to survive anymore. And I could see that the tasks of mothering had begun to turn into a family culture. 

It was not a culture I liked very much.

 

I would fall into bed after a long day and complain to Michael, "This is not what I thought our life was going to look like. I feel like life is happening TO me and I'm just along for the ride, like I'm on those moving walkways at airports.  I don't want to be so busy training my kids, and taking care of my kids, that I can't enjoy my kids.  But I don't know how to stop it."

My therapist friend calls this itchy, can't quite put your finger on it feeling of discontentment, cognitive dissonance- it's when what you value and how you are living do not align.

You see, I'd gotten right back into the habit of asking "Am I parenting the way I SHOULD be parenting," and I'd forgotten (or maybe I was just too tired and too scared) to ask what Brene Brown says is the much more important question: "Am I the adult I want my child to grow up to be?"

I think out of deep love for our children, and the desire to do right by them, we mothers so often spend our energy desperately looking for the right answers, rather than asking the right questions.

 

I love Brene Brown's chapter in Daring Greatly on Wholehearted Parenting.

Forget BabyWise or The Baby Whisperer, I'd slip her book into every hospital swaddle blanket. Because Brene refused to write a formula for successful parenting, and instead she said, "who we are and how we engage with the world are much stronger predictors of how our children will do than what we know about parenting" (243)

I found this to be equal parts incredibly freeing and totally convicting.

 

Because it meant there was no handbook, woohoo!

And also, Oh shit. There was no handbook.

 

This put the onus on me to ask hard questions about what I value and what I'm doing, and if the two line up; it meant bringing my heart to the forefront, and as mothers, it is so easy to put ourselves on the back burner.

To say, "This season is about my children. When they are grown, and out of the house, I can worry about myself again."

But then from what well are we drawing to nurture our children? If we reproduce in our kids who WE are, and if we never engage with defining what we value and embracing our own becoming process, then we can only offer our children the woman in stasis-the woman who existed when we got pregnant, who didn't keep evolving, who didn't feed the well, because we thought it was selfish to take care of ourselves.

The choice to ignore the WHO AM I questions turns parenting into an external production.

We try to execute it from the outside in, overlaying parenting ideals onto ourselves and our kids, rather than parenting from the inside out in a very human, quite messy, constantly evolving journey of our becoming and our children's becoming all intertwined.

This doesn't mean I don't tear my hair out sometimes longing for the handbook. I just want the answer. I want the foolproof strategy. I want to feel like I'm doing this right.

If I had the almighty parenting handbook, I could just flip to pg. 233 on How to Handle a Tantrum, and execute the bullet points.  I wouldn't HAVE to pay attention; I could accomplish parenting like one more task and handle my children like one more project.

And oh, what a loss that would be.

 

Yes, it's terrifying to realize that the only way to teach my kids how to be loving and brave and kind and vulnerable is to learn how to do it myself, while they watch me fail, and get back up, and try again. 

It's the most infuriatingly vulnerable and humiliating and sacred gift we can offer our children to let them learn how to become by bearing witness to our becoming.

It's scary to ask, am I present? Am I real? Am I curious and kind and do I feel deeply and risk greatly and pursue vulnerability?  Am I brave? Am I honest?

All the things I long for my children to be.

But I'm learning, finally, that the handbook is written on your heart; that you learn how to be a mother by learning how to be yourself.

 

Friday
Sep052014

Practice resurrection

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Wendell Berry

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.

So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.

Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion – put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?

Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

 

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front” from The Country of Marriage, copyright © 1973 by Wendell Berry, reprinted by permission of Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc.

(taken from http://www.context.org/iclib/ic30/berry/)

 

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