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43 weeks | Gripping the tide | no. 0037
I never learned to swim. This is one of those things that when I say it, people often respond, in their most incredulous voice, “WHAT! You can’t swim?!?!” And then I have to repeat myself, and just to save time, I usually add that I am also woefully deficient at bike riding, roller-skating, and skateboarding (although no one is surprised by the latter). Basically, if you look at these things on the whole, I am challenged by water and things that run on wheels. I am much more comfortable with navigating the air and having my own feet on the ground. Driving, as we know, is also an awkward space for me. But I manage as best I can on those rare occasions that I am actually steering a car.
When I pause to consider what it is about these things that has me as an adult still greatly hesitant to mastering basic life skills, one thought comes back to me, control. I don’t understand how I can still be in control if the space surrounding me becomes a body of water, or how the unleveled certainty of wheels in motion could ever guarantee that I don’t fall down.
Control what? Who? Why?
It’s a theme for me. And if you’re a regular reader of Wednesday’s Bloom, you see this come up in many areas of my mothering. Breastfeeding is a major part of that control space for me. It offers the perfect relationship of interdependent factors. To be breastfeeding all the time, the munchkin must be with me all the time. This is how I always wanted our first year to be. The “older” he gets– still an INFANT, I always am reminding folks– the less supported I am feeling about wanting to be with my baby all the time. There is expressed frustration that comes in the form of, “well if you could just leave him….” I am often pushing back with, well WHY do I need to leave him? I designed my days to be with him. This is the work. I don’t need to be rescued from my work!
It happens a lot, this inner screaming I do when I am being questioned on my desire to want to be with my child. When I investigate why I am holding on so tightly to our first year, it makes me think of the futility of trying to contain the tide in my bare hands. What is there to lose? His life, like the force of a single wave, is so much bigger than me. I am having a very hard time coming to terms with this. I am always imagining that others move effortlessly, even excitedly, through their children’s transitions. I on the other hand want to have a time-out for every single thing, every little moment. I do not want to move forward until I absolutely have to for the munchkin’s own good.
This causes tensions and arguments all around, a fertile ground for insecurity in what is already often a very lonely and prickly space as someone who is mothering slowly. We live in a world where mothers are normalized to hurry up, no matter the cost. Have your baby, but don’t labor too long. Take a few weeks to maybe stop bleeding, but either way, jump right back in full swing. Send the baby away somewhere where you hope their needs are being mostly met until you can come pick them up. Give them whatever they missed in those hours you were gone. Tell yourself this is how it has to be when you say your goodnight prayers.
So I ran in the opposite direction. I never even attempted to find the middle ground. I knew deep down that no one could promise me any of these moments with my child if I didn’t make them happen myself. I didn’t want to wake up to my 1 year old one day and not have any substantial memories about what his first days on this planet were like. So I cast a wide net and sought to capture it all. This too was still impossible it turns out, but I feel good knowing that I have been able to pay such close attention to my baby. I think the consequences of mothers feeling like they can’t be with their children and survive in the world take on more tangible realities in the mothering body than what we are usually comfortable acknowledging. The assumption is that its impact is just another invisible thing you are supposed to learn to just swallow along with the other injustices humanity accommodates. But the strains are always physical too. They show up as migraines and backaches, as fibroids and cancers, as shortness of breath and high blood pressure.
There are days when I wrestle with labeling myself “extreme” because it’s all relative, right? I mean if I lived in a place where mothering work was valued, where parents of infants and small children were supported fully by their communities, work spaces, and governments, where natural parenting practices weren’t undermined daily by corporations intent on spending billions of dollars in advertising to convince mothers and fathers that the most important things their children need exist on a shelf in a store, where imagery of moms breastfeeding ANYWHERE was more prevalent than billboards of women wearing string bikinis to sell cigarettes, where there wasn’t a century’s-old, systemic marketing ploy to trick women into believing that their breastmilk was somehow lacking, where the expectation upon having a child was that you would in fact make space to experience that child’s life– well in that sense I would be normal. Let’s face it, you could never be normal.
I mean, if anything, I would stick out less. And being seen as an oddball is not even a real deterrent from mothering in this way. But I do have days where I am drained from having to spend so much energy constructing my own support system. It would be lovely if the society I had born my child into had caught up to the gradually shifting, revolutionary, progressive, compassionate, motherbaby-friendly awareness some families are growing into, but it’s not so. At least not yet, that is. That’s why I write!
So okay, on the one hand I feel pressured by the world I live in to rush, rush, rush. That is partly why I am gripping the tide. And then on the other hand, it’s me and this peculiar path I took into mothering that evolved through a very long and turbulent journey of loss. The months, days, and minutes, as of now, that I spent mothering alone, on the other side visibility, still outnumber these beautifully, magical, vibrant days with my munchkin. I am holding onto each wave because I don’t want to miss anything now that my child is here where we can all see him. I am still working through a dense network of insistent, cautionary memories that have taught me all joy is subject to change. Or maybe this is a strength. At some point I stopped trying to undo the ugly parts of my story. I’ve been painstakingly intentional to be whole in my mothering. It feels so inauthentic to pretend that I’m just flowing peacefully with everything as the munchkin matures. To me there is some critical work happening when I can first admit the struggle within. I don’t even have language for all of it, but I think I am finding ways to make space for my process, for all our processes, in a world that has fooled itself into thinking that mothering doesn’t actually take up any space.
Another way to control what I can’t control is to brace for the fall, and in this case the fall is saying goodbye to each stage of infancy as we grow into the next. This contributes in part to delaying the changes, especially ones related to breastfeeding, until I feel ready. I have no choice but to look in the mirror and face what makes me feel this way. And I invite anyone else who is moved to scrutinize my process and question my issues to join me in the mirror and tell me what they see in themselves. This is such an imperfect work, but it is my work.
Watching the munchkin for just a few minutes and it’s clear that he falls hardest when he’s fighting it. He can teach me too. With a wide grin and standing at his full height, he uses the laundry basket as his make-shift “walker,” moving with zest and purpose to his first destination, the toy box. His foot catches the leg of the chair, or the rim of the hula hoop, or the ball he couldn’t see as he charged ahead. He tumbles some sort of way and the floor catches his now expert fall. He rolls over to all fours, pulls back up on the basket, attempts to let go. Claps his hands until he realizes he’s supporting himself and might lose his balance. He quickly regains his hold on the rim of his basket-walker. Then he resumes his trek to the window sill where he will try with all his might to yank the blinds down. This he will do multiple times in a span of 60 seconds. The tide will stop for no one.
Every moment the munchkin is finding some urgent exploration to embark on. Keeping up with his momentum is forcing me to loosen my grip on the idea that I was ever controlling anything. Mothering is opening me up to the possibility that the transition does not always have to leave a scar. As such, I am praying a new prayer of abundance these days. One for having the faith that as soon as this wave passes, another one will come and bring me something else that is essential and wonderful.
A mother will learn to let go if you let her. I just don’t want to be pushed, is all. But I’ll understand, after while, if it’s that sea that is doing the pushing.
The munchkin, my first born, was born on a Wednesday. Wednesday’s Bloom: Textual Portraits of a New Mommy is an ongoing multi-media documentary project about my process as a mother. Today’s story is a part of Volume 1, 73 consecutive weeks of posts, spanning about the first year and a half of the munchkin’s life. Each episode explores my weekly discoveries, challenges, questions, and hopes as a mother. I also facilitate the New Mommy Writers’ Workshop for all mothers and women active in their mothering work who are excited about cultivating their own writing practices.