My son turned 17 months yesterday. He celebrated by spinning around with stomping feet again and again until he was so dizzy that he careened into walls, the dog, the floor, laughing the entire time. The developmental leaps of 18 months seem close, a bittersweet moment for me.
At 17 months of motherhood, I don't call many people on the phone anymore. The overlapping zone in my personal Introvert's Venn diagram of available time + energy to talk is miniscule. There are some weeks where I can't even take one of my mom's daily phone calls.
I know there are friends out there who might be pissed off at me, angry that I've been sucked into the black hole of motherhood, or whatever they might imagine is happening in my world. I can't blame them; I hardly know what's going on myself, and I am in the center of my life. I remember watching similar distances stretch between me and friends who became mothers before me. I hope that I withheld judgment from them at the time.
If motherhood has taught me anything, it is that judgment of other mothers and of myself is infinitely useless and dangerous. I don't know shit about anyone else, and I would be an idiot to pretend that I do.
I send out messages in bottles via text, e-mail, photos on social media, hoping that these thin threads will keep me tethered to my existing community enough that it will not shun me when I eventually have the 30 minutes to pick up the phone and call someone to catch up on six months of life.
My time is parceled into paid work (owning a business), unpaid child care (which means nothing less than pouring love and non-stop close attention on a small human being whose self-preseveration and safety skills are still very minimal), arranging child care so we can do more paid work, eating, cleaning up, handling the dog, planning the next day with Chris, and, sometimes, sleep. The baby falls asleep at 9 these days, which leaves maybe two hours for diaper laundry, straightening the house, connecting with each other, and time to accomplish anything personal that requires concentration. Which, you can imagine (or know from personal experience) is a scarce resource at that hour.
Inside these days lives richness -- the pleasure of finalizing a long-term business project, the awe and pride of watching my son fasten the velcro on his shoe by himself, the spark of a new thought found in a quickly-read article or post from a fellow parent on a parenting forum.
They are full days. Linear time is warped and meaningless beyond the fact that it feels like there is never enough.
And yes, my son's birth and those 17 months have shifted almost everything about my inner life. In some places, I barely recognize myself anymore.
Yet, whatever it is that is "I" is still here.
That "I" is stretching to heal myself so I can parent more mindfully, more lovingly, more courageously. That "I" is pecking notes and memories and thoughts on my phone so I can explore them later. That "I" is taking photos with any camera I can get my hands on, even if it will be months until I can develop them.
This poem from Wendell Berry came to me from The Writer's Almanac the other day, and stopped me in my tracks:
It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come to our real work,
and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.
The mind that is not baffled is not employed.
The impeded stream is the one that sings.
I live in this space now, beyond the path, beyond the map, far beyond who I know myself to be.
I am waiting to hear the chorus my stream will sing.
~ ~ ~
All of this flows out of me today because I read a snippet of an article by Caitlin Moran the other day, a paragraph of which has been stuck in my craw, making me angry, irritable, defensive. This is from a chapter titled "Why You Shouldn’t Have Children" from her book "How to Be a Woman." (She is a mother of two, for the record.)
Because it’s not simply that a baby puts a whole person-ful of problems into the world. It takes a useful person out of the world as well. Minimum. Often two. When you have young children, you are useless to the forces of revolution and righteousness for years.
Two fires rage in me about this assertion. The first -- how dare you assert that parents of young children are somehow absent from the world? They are deeply immersed in the most basic elements of the world: guiding a new human being to master the elementary tasks of living on this planet. The second fire, one crackling with shame -- have I been taken out of the world? Is this true?
I cried while doing the dishes after dinner and bedtime last night, feeling these hot flames snap in my heart. So many of my friends would probably say that, yes, I have been lost to the world. Farewell, Jennifer. See you when you return.
But then I thought of the photos of mothers throughout time carrying babies at protests or nursing them as they sat at negotiation tables.
I thought of Adrienne Rich, whose radical thoughts on motherhood have guided many women through early years of mothering.
I thought of all the incredible bloggers whose young children have made them more invested in working toward the revolution.
I thought of the young parents I know, who struggle every day to answer the enormous questions that our country hasn't even been able to solve yet -- how do we work? When? Who cares for the children? When? How do we afford all of this? How do we satisfy our individual needs in the middle of this intense crucible? And, once we have resolved these questions for ourselves, how do we support others as they do the same? (Not everyone makes it to this step, but so many people do.)
Not all those who wander are lost.
We are those who wander through the wilderness of the unresolved issues of our society. Gender, race, class, economics, peace, community, care.
We are not lost.