It was a warm December 3rd like today, only it was a Friday, instead of a Monday, and the weather was a delightful surprise instead of a wildly fluctuating (and disturbing) norm. She remembers large swaths of grass in the backyard, and the color green beneath the melting snow.
She had already tried to reach her husband, and two of her sisters, but no one was there. Texting and Facebook didn’t exist yet; and email wouldn’t lend the immediacy that this long-awaited news deserved.
She resigned herself to her aloneness and opened the birthday gift sent by a childhood friend. They had been together that August when an old favorite came on the radio and they swooned in appreciation. She rushed the cd to the stereo and forwarded it to Landslide.
I took my love and I took it down…
After the first delicious play, she wanted more. She hit the repeat button and flung open the French doors and stepped outside…
Oh, mirror in the sky What is love? Can the child within my heart rise above?
The test sat on the counter beside the bathroom sink where her husband would find it, but for now she danced. She opened her arms and twirled like a girl…
So, take my love, take it down Oh climb a mountain and turn around
She hadn’t known then how much more this song could mean; that her birthday would usher in one of the most challenging years of her life…
Well, I’ve been afraid of changing ‘Cause I’ve built my life around you
That following August she would give birth to a healthy boy, but that blessing would be eclipsed by her mother’s diagnosis…
Can I sail thru the changing ocean tides? Can I handle the seasons of my life?
She would travel three-hundred miles to sit beside her as she took her last breaths and the new baby cried…
And I saw my reflection in the snow covered hills ‘Till the landslide brought me down
This song would be sung at the funeral, a capella, and would forever span birth and death in her heart and mind…
But time makes you bolder Children get older I’m getting older too
While circling the grocery store parking lot a third time, I see a bumper sticker that sums up my life:
“Did you ever stop to think, and forget to start again?”
Though my husband threatened a lobotomy for years, it wasn’t until the birth of our first child that I knew what it was not to think.
Days and nights passed postpartumly without any occupation for my mind. And although it continued to operate on auto pilot, there were moments when it was shut down altogether.
This wasn’t an easy transformation for me. I desperately clung to my previous life of thoughts. But what are plans and lists and goals to hours filled with diaper changing and dishes?
I remember the end of one particularly long and uneventful day. I put the baby to bed, cleaned up the kitchen, picked up the floor, climbed to the top of the stairs–and cried.
“I don’t remember the last time I had a paycheck,” I wept to my husband when he arrived home 12 hours after he left us that morning.
Early motherhood so deprived me of an outside identity, that I became a sleep junkie–wading through the thick hours of each day toward my next “fix”–the baby’s nap. There, in the countless moments on the edge of consciousness, I rediscovered my dream self.
After first drowning me, motherhood rescued me from my “doing” obsessed life. Though I couldn’t claim it at the time, I began to relearn what it was to define myself from the inside out. I learned to float. Out of this was born my desire to write–to reconnect my new found self with the world outside.
I learned to work in bits and pieces. No longer could I, obsessed, spend an entire day driven toward a singular goal. The needs of the baby and my needs as a nursing mother shoved me into balance. Perfection volleyed for its usual attention, but I had to let her die too.
This new found freedom gave me permission to try all things new–and old–exploring the visual arts for the first time since college. When my baby was four, we went down to the local art studio to sign him up for classes, only to discover that he wasn’t old enough.
“Why don’t you sign up for a class then, Mommy?” he suggested.
Terror seized my heart at the thought of it and I had to stop myself from saying, I can’t! I’m too afraid. I’m not good enough. I’m too old. I can’t afford it. I don’t have time.
It was the promise of his face–and faith–before me, that led me to respond to a deeper voice.
The artist’s canvass provided a new venue for my expression of self, this time compounded with the pregnancy of my second child.
I spent my evenings in the studio isolated from classmates, painting wildly on long strips of paper with my hands.
My first piece was entitled–First Trimester Hell; the next–Opening; and then–Migraine; and finally–Integration.
Sharing my body with this second child was like being out at sea near the eye of a storm. I felt completely out of control but all the while the baby inside was quiet and calm.
He came into the world in the same way, and with blue eyes like the ocean and blond wispy hair like the sand.
My mother died five weeks later, and together we traveled 300 miles to be at her side.
I nursed him at my breast as she passed, singing a lullaby. It was the same song my midwife sang on the day of his arrival.
Through this weaving of lives, I came to know that birth and death were petals of the same blossom.
This gave rise to another expression of self–the creation of a women’s singing circle. Together we sang of our connections, our dreams and our tears. My son grew up among these voices.
It was during this time that my work as a healer began to take shape. More and more, I sought to create, and in doing so, to serve. It had been such a long way home to my creative self. She was buried in so much that didn’t matter, consumed with reaching a finish line that didn’t exist.
Before the motherhood lobotomy, the fire in me that was artist was smothered by my need for perfection, for destination, for speed.
But I found a softer place from which to orient my life. A fluidity. A grace. And I’ve come to know it and to trust in it–not through effort or accomplishment–but through experience and surrender, over and over again.
In the spiral dance of motherhood, I have learned what it is to proceed without understanding, what it is to initiate action from the heart, and what it is to allow a challenge to be teacher rather than obstacle.
What once felt like an “ending of self” created an opening from which to truly know myself. The path has unrolled before me– as it was when I was a child. I see my life as an unending canvass and I, its beloved artist, called upon to fill it with color and light, again and again.
Am I writer? Yes. (It took many years to be able to claim those words.)
As I approach my fortieth birthday, I find an inexplicable desire to try ballet.
This is truly the voice of my soul–for my mind doth rage its protest:
Beginning ballet at forty years old! Do you have the body? The clothes? The aptitude?? You can hardly touch your toes! Didn’t your mom pull you out of ballet in kindergarten because you were so awful?!
Navigating my life at this moment, without my mind in the driver’s seat, is terrifying.
(Author’s note: I did take a ballet class that following season–at the local college–a mortifying and fortifying experience! Longing for more dance in my life, I stumbled into YogaDance while spending a weekend at Kripalu in Lenox, MA in 2006–and to my continual surprise, I returned the following spring to complete the teacher training. I’ve been dancing ever since!)