Motherhood & the Meaning of Life

This weekend I sat in a circle of women. Wise women who gathered to support my amazing friend, a spiritual guide and companion, who is seeking to expand her practice. The circle included spiritual leaders and seekers, grandmothers and mothers and aunts.

When it was my turn to speak, I found myself saying that I’d come because I believe in the power of women. I believe in the power of women in circles, in groups, in pairs, alone. I believe in women’s wisdom and women’s spiritual work. And, for my own part, I am so frustrated with my own inability to be useful: to find a place where my talents, my passion, my willingness to show-up-and-tell-truth can make a difference.

While my host nodded with me, other women in the circle took the time to say something else.

Art from http://blogs.forbes.com/sabrinaparsons/

Art from http://blogs.forbes.com/sabrinaparsons/

One, an active clergywoman, said: nothing is more important than the time you spend, right now, with your child. No work you might do is more important. You should focus on being a mom.

Another woman said: I heard you say you were frustrated and you know that being a mom is the most important job you’ll ever have.

I was so angry.

Angry and betrayed and incredulous.

SERIOUSLY?

Motherhood is not a career. It is not a job. Yes, it is work. Hard work. Important work. And I am honored and delighted and beyond grateful that I get to be a mom. But. Motherhood is NOT a career. Not for me.

If you met a stranger who had kids – a man – at a party, and he shared with you about being between careers and being frustrated with finding work, would you say: “well, you know, fatherhood is the most important CAREER you’ll ever have.”

Didn’t we have that women’s rights movement – that FEMINISM thing – like forty years ago? Haven’t we covered this gender shtick already?

And what about my daughter? Is it healthy for her to be my meaning, my purpose, my essential contribution to the long arc of human existence on this planet?

No, no, no. I don’t believe it is healthy for a parent to use children as their raison d’être.

I know that what my friend told me later (as I fumed) is true: the reaction of these women was about them, and not about me. Born in a different generation, motherhood as a career may work for them, or perhaps seems like the only choice. But I am still angry. I know what it feels like, as a daughter, to be a mother’s reason-for-being, and I resent it. I never liked being my mother’s everything, and I don’t want to lay that burden on my daughter.

And, call me selfish, but I WANT TO BE USEFUL TO THE WORLD. I have talents and gifts and passion and ambition and I yearn to make a difference. Not just in one life – my daughter’s – but to my community, to the world.

Someday, sooner than seems reasonable, the time of diaper changes and school drop-offs will have passed, and my daughter will be an adult, on her own. What will my adult daughter have learned from me, her Mutti, about what it means to be a woman, to be human?

I want my daughter to see her mother helping others, speaking out, challenging institutions of oppression, working for justice, nurturing community for future generations.

I want to be fully myself.

I want my daughter to be fully herself.

I want us to be what I know we already are: powerful, powerful women.

***

Is parenthood a career for you? Why or why not? What is your reason for being?

Picking Wishes at Thirty-Nine

Birthday cake at Pambiche

Birthday cake at Pambiche

I closed my eyes to make a wish. The usual wish, the raggedy one I’ve been toting around like a blankie for nearly ten years, showed up right away. And while we are hoping for a sibling for our daughter, I gently nudged that wish aside. Because as much as wishing for a child would be wonderful (and perhaps, in the cost-benefit analysis IS the way one ought to spend one’s birthday wishes), I have a bigger one.

In the dark October air of the sidewalk cafe tables, my dear friend, my wife and my daughter sat around me. In that split second, eyes closed, I couldn’t see them but I could SEE them. Know what I mean? They were suddenly so present. I am the luckiest LUCKIEST woman in the whole world.

So I took a breath, opened my eyes, and blew. The birthday candle flickered and went out as I blinked back tears. I already have so much more than any one woman could wish for.

This morning while I was “mothering” (aka writing this blog post in my head while helping my 15-month-old daughter remove and replace half-chewed crayons from an empty 2-liter bottle of club soda) I heard myself say: we’ll always remember this, right? My daughter looked at me, perhaps for clarification, but probably because I was impeding her progress with the last sticky broken crayon. I angled the bottle, she pushed her crayon in, clapped in triumph and I grabbed her close for the quick squeeze she rarely permits without squirming.

I’ll always always be your mommy, I told her. We’ll never forget when you were little and we had this time together.

So maybe I’m a weepy mess because I just turned 39, or because the process of possibly finding a sibling is just so.dang.hard., or because the autumn sun is lighting up the red-orange dogwood leaves outside my living room window. Who knows? I blubbered and my daughter, ever the empathetic toddler, squirmed away and went in search of a book to read.

Photo by Denise Kappa

Photo by Denise Kappa

Before I became a mom, I used to talk about the gut punch of longing: the way that suddenly talking to my sister on the phone, I’d hear her child cry, and I’d go breathless, stunned by the sudden grip of yearning for motherhood that literally left me momentarily unable to breathe.

On a tour for her book, Lori Holden talked recently about the theoretical child you imagine while waiting to adopt, and how easy it is to focus on YOUR motherhood and not on the mythical child that is, well, mythical. Then the real child comes into your life, and everything shifts and changes. It becomes ALL about the child and very little about you, which is perhaps how it should be all along.

Longing to be a mom was super powerful but pales when set next to the full-body-ache I hold that our real daughter have a healthy, well-loved and full life. Some days, like this morning, I peer into the future and that long and windy road punches me in the gut because I have personally inventoried a few of the ways that life can disappoint, betray and shatter us.

I started this post because I wanted to try to describe the way that wishes change, and how mine is now only for my daughter’s health and blessedness. But now I think I’m really writing to remind myself: whatever I might fear or dream, I will never lose my daughter.

She’s already mine, here in my belly, where the love of her – the real, amazing, unpredictable her – holds my breath captive and my heart full. So maybe rather than wish for anything else, I just wish for this: to be present to this moment, this now, with all that I am.

***

What do you wish for? When is YOUR birthday? What was turning 39 like for you?

Our Moment

kisses

an old picture, us in 2012

Our daughter is teething. Those top two teeth, extra wide and unevenly spaced, will endear her to us in a thousand ways. But right now they are the source of feverish fuss and wailing.

So I hold her close, rest her head against my chest, skin on skin. We rock. I murmur. I kiss her head, slightly damp. I breathe her in.

I think: millions of moms before me have done this. Thousands have written about it, probably hundreds have blogged.

But this is my daughter and this is our moment.

Milky Way by National Geographic

Milky Way by National Geographic

I shiver because the awe of that is bigger than my body, this room in which we sit, bigger even than the moon above our house, our blue planet, spinning, bigger than the dark.

All the moms and daughters who have gone before enter me in a rush, and I hold the moment steady, low in my belly.

I rock and I murmur and I breathe. Long slow breaths, because I’m holding the universe’s universe. I’m holding on.

 

###

This is a Perfect Moment Monday post inspired by Lori Lavender Luz. Perfect Moment Monday is about noticing a perfect moment rather than creating one. Perfect moments can be momentous or ordinary or somewhere in between. On the last Monday of each month we engage in mindfulness about something that is right with our world. Everyone is welcome to join. Read more perfect moments on the blog hop.