As always, this special post for moms is presented with special thanks and love for my friend, Lauren Robinson, who is a marvelous Doula in Knoxville, TN. You can check out her website right here: https://www.laurenrobinsonbirth.com
When I was in high school there was a delightful French teacher on the faculty. I decided I'd like to take French class - mostly because I thought she was nifty . . . and French just seemed romantic! She was not a young lady. But she was vivacious. She taught us plenty of simple phrases in the first days . . . one of which was, "une jeune fille" - "a young girl." I remember learning that phrase because it sounded beautiful. My love of the sound of language and the feeling of words had long since been established. That little collection of phonemes stuck with me, but sometimes I lose her - the young girl who learned how to be who she was.
Now that I am a mother I know what it is to forget for months at a time that I was ever young. Or that I ever felt young. Spontaneity, while it still exists, is different. It takes serious effort to get any sort of creative work done. It takes monumental self forgiveness to move past the moments when impatience and disappointment reign supreme.
It's easy for a mom to go days without a shower. We forget ourselves regularly in our haste to settle everybody else. And even though it seems selfless when we describe it, it doesn't feel selfless while it's happening - we don't feel like saints as love compels us to care for our families. It's just . . . what we do. It's normal. It's expected. There's no glory in it even though it is precious.
I've been doing self portraits lately with my little camera. Sometimes I see her - the young girl - hiding behind my eyes. She's not right there on the surface. But she's close. I started doing self portraits because I realized that there would be no record of me as part of us - I'm the one behind the camera and I'm often the only adult in the house.
My husband travels a huge amount for work. We're one of those families that comes together for moments here and there but might be apart for weeks. I'm by no means a single parent, but I am a parent who does a great deal of multi tasking and improvising so that I can fill the gaps when it's just me taking care of our home life. I've done several things to ensure self care as I've shouldered this unique responsibility. One of my more frivolous examples would be these self portraits - a way for me to look back after the long day and say: that stuff really happened and I was a part of it.
Of course, often I'm horrified.
I catch a glimpse of myself and delete the image without thinking twice. "Ugh! What on earth?!? That's hideous!"
We're shockingly unkind to ourselves.
I have begun to practice some restraint as I look back through the images I've captured. Sometimes I look extra hard at the "bad" ones because it's often there that I see her first - the young girl.
I like the young girl, in part, because she's a mess! She's undone. She's got nothing to hide and nobody to impress. She still knows she's meant to be here: alive and walking around in this very body. This body doesn't look like it used to . . . at all . . . and never ever will again. The young girl 100% does not care! You can see it in her eyes.
When you were expecting your first child (or second or third) did you try to imagine what it would feel like to be somebody's mother?
Was it an accurate assumption?
For me it was not.
Parts of motherhood have been better than I thought and parts have been worse. I believe that my heart, split wide open by this mothering experience, is much more apt to see and appreciate beauty these days . . . but, conversely, it seems to have sprung a few leaks in the process, and some of its former strength (in the form of self knowledge) appears to be missing.
There's nothing wrong with any of that! My goodness. Becoming a mother is enough to turn the universe upside down. We should expect to be a little bit beat up along the way - this is all part of life. We're resilient and the changes we go through to become mothers are extremely natural. This doesn't mean that they don't hurt or cause confusion . . . it just means that we're built to move through them. And where we find ourselves floundering alone, sometimes other mothers and dear friends can help us.
I find a great deal of strength, hope, and solidarity in the practice of truth-telling with other moms.
It's not self depreciating.
It's not comparison.
It's just truth.
Some things are marvelous! Some things are not! Why not share the truth about both?
Why not share, with the right set of trusted people, the stories that make us human? . . . the feelings that are so connected to who we are.
I know moms who work in the home and moms who work outside the home. I know moms who have help with some of their work and moms who do it all themselves. I don't know any moms anywhere who don't do any work. ALL MOMS WORK. Being a mom is work.
We need support, inspiration, and energy to go after this magnum opus, friends. It's an artistic endeavor - patching together the edges of our days . . . hemming everybody in. It takes so much. We should allow ourselves to be given something from someplace in order to see it all done.
Many of us find that our sense of purpose from whatever faith we have is enough to get the ball rolling most days. But, no matter our faith, we also need to remember that sense of self that gets after us when we're not taking care of the person taking care of everybody else. You need that young girl. She's there to preserve you.
Once, years ago, my mom told me a story. She'd gone on a retreat with a bunch of older women. These women were probably mostly in their 60's and 70's at the time. They'd gotten into a discussion one evening that inspired some extreme emotional responses - laughter, tears, you name it. My mother said that as their faces changed with their laughter and their tears, she could see little glimpses of the 19 year old girls who'd once been knee deep in the world of motherhood, forging a way in workplaces so often dominated by men who didn't want them to speak up, etc. Spunky women. Brave women. Young girls. They were right there, under the surface, hearts still beating . . . still the very picture of life's most romantic bit of creativity.
You are une jeune fille.
You're the young girl, no matter what year you were born. No matter how many children you have.
I see her. Take a look - you'll see her, too. Take a minute to tell her that she's beautiful. And receive that love from yourself. Then, when you see another weary mother someplace in your life . . . point it out to her, too - "You are so beautiful, friend. I can see it in your eyes - the same fantastic, romantic, spunky girl that's been there from the start." She will appreciate it. Trust me.