This post was written in 2014 on my former blog. It is one of several pieces that I have moved to Holy Sparkle so that my writing can be found in one place.
Last week, I cried talking to my husband about my life. I fully believe in crying- in the salted relief that comes from it- and I always enjoy it. I especially enjoyed this cry because I hadn’t had one in a long time. Before I became a mother, I can remember crying fairly frequently, which I did not see as a problem because I laughed all the time. After Celeste was born, I rarely cried. She cried a lot and still does. Although it wasn’t a decision made consciously, I became an anchor for her emotions, or perhaps a container for them.
Like their mama, my two daughters are vociferous. On days that their cries seem incessant, I become like an ancient woman cast in marble: tall and blank like a statue, wearing a diplax that is solid and cool. It is not a garment made of warm and yielding material, spun from an animal and rank with spice and aliveness. On long days filled with their tears, I draw into myself and bring that porous-ness, that aliveness inside to where it is safe and dry. I do this for a variety of reasons, mostly to conserve my resources but also because what is truly alive is always an animal and animals bite. I can go inward instead.
It isn’t that I never growl or snap at my children. I do. I think its good to do this every now and again: in my own childhood it inspired a lot of awe in me to see how fierce my mother was capable of being. There are certain things that will always make me bear my teeth, chiefly unkindness and disrespect. And like every other mother, there are certainly times when I freak out about really trivial shit. I go from zero to sixty real quick when my kids put their grubby slime-paws on my precious yoga mat. Hands off the Manduka, child, or you will soon know the meaning of fear.
But I am getting the hang of being a mother and that means that I am learning to simply disengage from my children when necessary. This wont be a tactic I use forever: they are babies now and if I fully engaged with them on every single tantrum I would burn out entirely. They scream about wearing clothes or not wearing them, food that’s too hot, food that’s too cold, about itchy tags, about me walking across the room, earth worms dying, about butter being spread incorrectly. In these moments, I accept what is, hold them close if that is their wish or I silently let them go if they want to have their bodies all to themselves. I leave them to it.
I fully expect my children to learn to navigate their own feelings as they grow. I see this already in my three-year old, who relies almost exclusively on her own inner authority, who always cools off after the tantrum to explain her feelings to me, however disproportionate they are to the situation at hand. I have also set the expectation that my children will know me to be a three-dimensional, red-blooded person with a full range of emotions and needs apart from their existence. I am Chelsea, their mother. But firstly, I am Chelsea.
Our learning runs parallel, mine melting into theirs, theirs into mine: I have learned that what they need to know for today is not the same as what they need to know for tomorrow. For now, they don’t really need to know that there are moments when their mama secretly wants to escape them, to sleep in a giant bed alone for 48 hours straight. At this age, there are a great many things that are better kept from them.
On the night of my big cry, my daughters were asleep in their beds after a full day of being fed, wiped, bathed, buttoned, unbuttoned, lifted, carried, kissed, patted, tucked. I cried on the couch after telling my husband that my days are stale. It was saying that awful word out loud that made me cry. I am trapped by my children, trapped in my love for them. Loving them looks very much the same from day-to-day. Mothering is a giant and glorious job composed of millions of insignificant, tedious, sticky jobs. Tim says, Go away more and take your writing with you.
The morning after my cry, I feel a little lighter and a little stronger. The strength that I feel comes from a place that is deep and familiar, yet unnamed. That place is like a cave of rubies, or maybe apples, mostly red and robust, some shriveled or bruised; it is a rich place of varied experiences, the place where my own knowing is kept. It is a place that belongs only to me. I look at my two girls with their bed head and I know that they are the reddest of all the rubies there and for a moment, I deceive myself that they are the jewels in my crown. In truth, they have never belonged to me and they never will. They belong to themselves; I hope I can teach them that, as my mother taught me.
Celeste asks why the cream cheese on her bagel is pink. It is pink because it is made with salmon and because salmon cream cheese is what I wanted at the grocery store. I lie to her, knowing that if I mention the fish she will shriek and reject the food. It’s pink because it is made with pink salt from a salt mine in Pakistan, I tell her. My three-year-old approves of this answer because it sounds mysterious and she loves to pretend to be in on all of the secrets. “Yes, I love pink salt,” she says in her aloof tone. I like saying things like this to her, mentioning the world outside of our walls as a quiet promise to myself that it is still there for me. I give the leftover scraps of Celeste’s meal to the baby, who devours them unquestioning. Later the girl says: “Mom, Rosa Maeve is all bagely and she is touching me and everything.” So I snatch my smaller daughter up from beneath her shoulder blades and plop her into the warm and soapy sink water. She surrenders completely to my full palm wiping handfuls of discolored water down her face. I do this effortlessly, with none of the sugar-voiced hesitancy and gentleness of a first time mother. That is a person my second child will never know. My baby looks up at me and she smiles big.