“Motherhood is a spiritual path that is not always kind or gentle, it breaks you wide open. Labor and birth is the best metaphor I know of for what lies ahead. Motherhood is a process of growing up, and trying to be a grownup that you like being.” —Leah Deragon, Founding Director of Birth Roots Perinatal Resource Center
Burst out of a dream to find your five-year-old son standing beside your bed, grinning. It is 5:30 a.m. Forget your dream, let it swim away. Perhaps it will return tonight. Perhaps not. Read your son’s eyes. Try to predict whether it will be a good day or a bad one. Go downstairs together, hand in hand.
Sit on the floor near the kitchen, sipping your sweet coffee. Clutch your iPhone. These are your tools, coffee and phone, and you will reach for them throughout the day, compulsively, enjoying their sweet opiate release. Look at the table. Wonder why you are sitting on the floor, legs criss-cross-applesauce, like a hippie, when there is a perfectly good table right there. Remember that this started when you plopped down next to your little girl one morning to drink your coffee and breakfast bar. And you sat there the next day because she expected you to now. Consider the table and chairs. Decide to stay on the floor.
When your son asks, “Mama? Can I play Angry Birds?” surrender your phone. Feel guilty about it. Miss your phone. Worry that your son is becoming addicted to video games. Sip your floor coffee.
When she cries, go get your two-year-old daughter from her crib. Watch her peel off of her crib mattress when she sees you, like she’s stretching towards the sun. Smile at the way sleep has tangled her hair up in what your son has dubbed a “karate nightmare.”
Pull her to you, wondering when you last gave her a bath.
Warm up your coffee in the microwave while you feed your kids. “Mama! Can I have milk? Can I have strawberries?” “Mama, I wan oatmeal!” Make these things. Notice that your son still has your phone. Realize you have ruined him, he is already lost to you. His soon to be violence filled, addicted life is your fault.
Stare out the window while your microwave your coffee again. In the backyard, groups of fiddleheads huddle together. They are coiled and fetal, shrouded by a papery web, bent towards each other. Think how this reminds you of your life right now, of your family’s life. Cozy and coiled, insular and tightly wound.
“Mama! An ant!” your son hollers. “An ant!” your daughter shrieks, mimicking her brother. Grab your ant removal kit—a piece of paper and a cup—and fling the ant out the front door. Realize it will probably come back. Start to grab your coffee from the microwave. “Mama! Another ant!” Remove this one too. Curse silently at the ants. Eye the carpet of crumbs beneath the table you don’t sit at. Of course there are ants.
Pretend the kids are not both hollering at you. Breathe. The yelling is much louder than your breath. Wonder what you are doing wrong that everybody is so miserable. Yell, “Why is everybody yelling?” Stop yourself from asking, what is wrong with you people?
Throw some popcorn, smoothies and crackers into a thin, plastic grocery bag. Take the kids to the beach. Watch them become calm and still. Watch you become calm and still. Listen to the water, listen to the not-yelling. Show them a China-blue mussel shell. Feed them their salty snacks. Wish you’d brought pails and shovels for them; be amazed at how you manage to always forget something. When your son takes his shoes and socks off, take yours off, too. Feel the soft sand. Realize that all of you are far overdue for a toenail clipping. Add this to your list of grooming fails.
Find a small, bone-hued spiral shell. Pick it up, study it. Wonder what type of life it once held. Place it on the board you three are sitting on. Later, watch your son discover it. Watch him run his fingertips along the smooth ridges. Smile.
Look at the other people on the beach. When a woman walks by and you say, “Hi,” and she keeps walking, smirk when your son asks, loudly, “Why didn’t she say hi?” Answer just as loudly, “I don’t know.” When your son says, “Maybe she doesn’t like you,” contemplate turning this into a teaching moment, a time to talk about kindness. Decline the idea.
Walk down the beach a bit. Point out the cascades of snails. Wonder why humans don’t leave our bones to become beaches, soft sandy carpets. Feel small atop all of these old lives. Wish you never had to die. Wish your children never had to die. Shake the thought off, leave it in a hollow shell.
Watch your son scramble up a small hill of rocks. Feel proud. Feel afraid. Wonder, as you do a thousand times a day, what you should do. Wonder if all the other moms know what to do while you are baffled. Watch your daughter follow your son. Stop her. Wonder if it’s right, but no, she is too little. She is too little, right? Stop her. When she screams, try to stay calm.
On the way back to the car, watch them hold hands with each other. Feel your chest expand. Wonder how you ended up with the best children in the entire universe. Whisper, thank you.
Drag yourselves home for lunch. Wonder when you’ll learn to cook and do other things that you always thought you’d do when you were grown up. Give the kids carrots, yogurt, toast and strawberries. Pretend you’re a raw food enthusiast. Call it good enough.
Check your email while they play quietly, the way they always seem to after lunch. Catch up with your favorite moms on Facebook. Feel held, feel connected, knowing you are part of an invisible web of other moms, all stumbling through the day.
When the kids ask, “Can we go outside?” say, “Yes.” Let your son drive your daughter around the cul-de-sac in their toy jeep. Stand tense and vigilant, ready to dash in if a car comes. Be amazed that these little people who have needed you so much for so long are circling around the street by themselves. These little people were once splitting cells, curled sprouting bones in your belly. Somehow now they can walk and talk, and their orbit around you is widening. Imagine the cul-de-sac blooming bigger and bigger, circling and spiraling, out and out and out. Get a small, lovely glimpse of the people they might become—your son, a confident trail-blazer. Your daughter, relaxed and joyful. Be delighted. Be heartbroken. Watch the wind lift their hair. Know that they will leave.
Feel bored. Check your phone. Feel guilty because you check your phone too much. Worry that you are addicted to it. Think, no wonder my son has a problem with Angry Birds.
Count how many hours until your husband gets home from work. Add two hours between then and bedtime. Wonder what you will have for dinner.
Run around the yard with your kids. Watch your son squash an ant. Worry for his soul and the soul of the ant. Think, if you didn’t let him play Angry Birds all the time, he wouldn’t be killing ants. Think, then again, that’s one less ant that I’ll have to catch later.
Look at the fiddleheads again. Some of them have uncoiled. They backbend, their green spines stretching away from each other. Hope that this is how your family grows—separate, but closely rooted. Think how you are becoming who you are alongside your children. Know that this is one of the great secrets of adulthood—that you often have no idea what you’re doing, you’re totally winging it, a fraud, a creator, a coiled plant wishing to bloom.
Head in for snacks. Listen to your child belt out tunes from Frozen while sitting on the toilet. Wipe bums. Change diapers. Wipe faces. If you’re very ambitious, wipe the counter.
Release another ant. Check your phone. Break up a fight. This is the chop wood, carry water of parenting. Be bored. Be tired. Be lonely. Be frustrated.
Out of nowhere, pick up your son and spin him around. Look at his face up close, let the rest of the world blur away. See the arc of green right outside his pupils. Remember when you and your husband were first dating, and you’d see each other for the first time after a few days, and think, “oh, there he is.” The physical colliding with the essence of the person, the invisible swirling love. Outside of words. Outside of skin. Feel this way with your son. There he is. Here he is.
When your husband comes home, eat leftovers. Think, this was a good day. Tell your husband how going to the beach shifted everything. Feel strong. Decide to either run or do yoga after the kids are in bed.
Let the kids watch Frozen while you check your phone. Read about your other mom friends’ days. Their kids or their boss or their partner is being terrible. Their baby finally took a bottle. Their husband got the job. They are overwhelmed or energized. Feel grateful for a good day, a quiet day, where you were somewhat present. Where there were no time outs. Know that tomorrow or the next day you will cycle through these things your friends are going through. There will be an ear infection or a bad fight with a friend. Send out a small prayer for your friends.
Lean back on the couch. Realize you’re exhausted. Admit that you will not go for a run or yoga tonight. Maybe tomorrow. Kiss the kids on their heads. They smell like hay, like leaves, like dirt and strawberries. Know that this is the smell of love. Realize you forget to bathe your daughter. Forgive yourself.
Put your daughter in her crib. Make lullabies out of “Sweet Child of Mine” and “Patience.” Feel awesome. Because you have a smidge of self-restraint, stop just shy of “November Rain.” Trade off with your husband. Read to your son. Put your nose against his neck as his eyelids flutter and flutter.
Go to bed. Remember to ask the universe to watch over them. To keep them safe and healthy and happy. Think of fiddleheads, coiled and cramped, and other fiddleheads, strong and stretched. Think of spirals and shells and small, twined fingers. This is the work, sacred and mundane. Watch trashy TV on Netflix. Don’t stay up too late. Remember to ask for you to be safe and healthy and happy, too. Dream of spirals and ferns. Go to sleep. You will be up early to do it again.