As the seasons turn toward spring, I am preparing for a new season in my life. After five years of writing the monthly “Birthing the Mother Writer” column, I am taking a five-month break. During this time, I will be teaching a new Mindful Mothering class for military moms, finalizing my divorce, and moving into a new home.
When I started this column, my stepdaughter was still in college and my daughter was a still slightly chubby nine-year-old. Now the stepdaughter is in law school and my daughter is taller than I am and registering for high school courses this year.
Because we often measure our lives in this way, comparing past to present and future, we can be tempted to think of time as a line—an unraveling, sometimes-out-of-control, ball of yarn that runs away from us. We can get anxious. We can kick into high gear planning and list-making and trying to control.
Life doesn’t work like this. It certainly is never as smooth as we would have it be in our plans.
Neither is mothering smooth nor plan-dependent.
This is the message I would like to leave you with: I have learned as a mother and a writer that the best times—the growth, the wonder, the surprise, the pain, the miracle—come from being open to what surprises us, knocks us off our feet, upends everything we thought we knew.
A year ago, in the middle of a busy life of marriage and mothering, I fell in love with a woman. Trust me when I say that as someone who had been making a career out of writing about marriage and mothering, this was not in my plan. There was no inkling, no nagging suspicion, no intuition that this was in the cards for me.
And yet, when it happened, I felt the internal tumblers within my spirit fall into place. I found a calm and a strength in myself that I had no idea I could possess. There was something in me that was always slightly ungrounded. I was the friend who laughed a little too loudly at girls’ nights out, the friend who always had a new iron in the fire, the friend who felt a bit spinny.
And suddenly I became quiet. Assured. Confident.
I still don’t have all the words for this. (And this is why I’m taking some time off. It’s eerie, actually, because I had planned to take this hiatus since January of last year. Perhaps some deeper part of me knew I would need this time to be able to write about, and through, my new voice.)
I have learned that once you choose the road of the mother writer, once you are committed to your own voice and your own truth, then life will throw you balls from outer space.
And you will catch them.
The death of one parent and injury of another in a car accident.
The husband who leaves.
The child who is diagnosed.
The storm that rips the house apart.
When this happens, I want you to remember this, from Sue Monk Kidd: “Time isn’t a straight line along which we travel, but a deep dot in which we dwell.”
I remember nursing my baby daughter in the middle of the night and thinking about the Virgin Mary. It was just after Christmas, and it occurred to me for the first time that she knew her baby would die.
As a new mother, this thought overwhelmed me because at some level, as mothers, we all know that our babies will die, and we give birth anyway. Our children leave behind their pasts at every turn, and we are there to nurture them through the constant changes.
The only way to survive this knowledge is to stop the unraveling of time. Let go of the trying to control. Know that plans are meant to be broken.
And instead, dwell in the dot.
The baby at your breast in the dark, tears falling, as you realize that all birth gives way to death.
The stepdaughter a thousand miles away, your memories of her at five singing Melissa Etheridge songs, burning bright and clear in your heart despite the time and distance.
The husband’s face as you tell him you are leaving.
The teen daughter’s spilling words as she tells you about her day, and you take each word in, swallow it like sweet chocolate, to savor later when she needs to pull away.
These are the deep places where we dwell as mothers and writers. Our job, as both, is to be present, to be honest, to have open hearts and minds, and to express the truth as best we can.
There is no plan for this.
But there is renewal. The renewal of the earth each spring, the green that comes despite the harsh cold of winter—this lives in us, too. This comes to us, too.
And we welcome it—right here, right now, wherever we are, knowing that this is what we have been called to do as mothers and writers. We open our arms to the seasons, the unexpected turns, the bruises and the blossoms. And we embrace them and love them with our hearts that are nurturing and warm.
This is where I’d usually invite readers to respond to a writing prompt based on this column. After five years working with me on Birthing the Mother Writer, my editor is keen to write her own response! Look for it, and our conversation, next month.