Today, we are celebrating the birth of our first Granddaughter. It was a hard road to get her here. I won’t bore you with the specifics but it’s truly a miracle that she was born at all. I can honestly say that I will never forget the sight of her being born after a long and painful delivery process. I won’t forget watching my daughter, struggle to bring her into the world, as she held my hand and stared up into my face. I won’t forget praying that the pain would be over for her soon. I won’t forget watching her husband coach her on so lovingly, and cut his newborn daughter’s umbilical cord. I will not ever forget the sight of my granddaughter tumbling into the world and my feelings of awe….and terror. I may or may not have done some ugly crying in that moment.
I watched her begin her life… and I watched my daughter struggling to regain her equilibrium and begin her life as a Mom. I watched as my granddaughter nursed for the first time and how my daughter’s entire universe tilt-shifted towards her in that very moment. I recognized the signs because I have had that exact same moment with my daughter and son. There is incredible power in becoming a mom. Just imagine… your daughter will quiet at the sound of your voice in the curve of your arm. Just by holding her you can lower a fever. You and Ian will be her whole world for many, many years. She will need you like nobody has ever needed you. It’s overwhelming and terrifying and exhausting. And, It’s worth every damn second.
I can’t put an age to it, but I remember at some point feeling as though I’d learned it all. I was years deep in motherhood before I learned how much I had left to learn. I don’t know where you’re at but I think it would be beneficial to you if you accepted right here and now that there is a lifetime of lessons ahead. Motherhood stretches you and opens your eyes to crazy truths and questions without definitive answers. If you can realize that now…you will be way ahead of the game. I have a pretty good hunch of who you are, and of the kind of mom you are going to be. For what it’s worth, you’ve got this. I know you do.
And consider this… you come from a long line of first daughters. Your daughter, Maddie, has been added to that history, as a first daughter. There have been such powerful, graceful, intelligent women in our family lineage and I already know that Maddie is the culmination. She is a powerful force in this world. I know you will raise her in that belief. I truly do believe that as the Dalai Lama said…”western women will save the world.”
Call me whenever. Call me when she won’t stop crying or when you can’t. Call me when she first smiles on purpose. Call me when it hits: the awe of being somebody’s mom. Call me because you matter to me and she matters to me and even if I’m busy I always want to hear from you. You know that I am always going to make time to hold your hand and Maddie’s. Not because you need it. But because I want to. I know in the days and months and years ahead, you will understand that feeling now. As a matter of fact, the best advice I can give you is this…just hold her hand. Holding your hand thru the years has changed my life. I know it will change yours.
Years ago I read a book by…I think it was by Marianne Williamson, and she made the point that we should look at our lives sort of like the hero journey(she’s not the first to have this idea but the way she wrote it stuck with me). At the time, I was on a fairytale kick in my art. So I set about translating her idea into the whole fairytale theme, you know, as one does lol. In any case, that whole idea stuck with me over the years. I began to intuitively translate subconcious stuff into stories. About me. And my world. And what it meant to me. Thoughts and ideas became creatures in my artistic shorthand and emotions became characters. Now…I rarely have thoughts or feelings without sort of seeing a creature or character in my mind. This either makes me very imaginative or mentally ill. Could be either one. I’m not saying which.
So I was thinking the other day about how we sort of pull into our lives what we need to know to learn or grow or heal. As I was journaling, I started to get the idea of that part of myself being “The Summoner”. Rather than life happening to us, it’s working for us. This made me feel a lot better. ( I mean I knew that, but I haven’t been internalizing it lately.) Because no one wants random chaos and crap in their lives. And there seems to be a lot of it around these days. So then I thought…”what am I summoning into my life”…”am I even aware of that process” yada yada. The answer is no. I’m not aware. But I see the results. Oh yes I do. I know that I am summoning experiences to make me flow right outside of my comfort zone. I know that I am stretching and morphing from one day to the next. I know that I am working on many levels. Because that’s what artists do….they transform the world around them with their vision. And that right there…is the biggest summoning of all!
Those of you who know me…know that I live with anxiety. And yeah…I can’t really even pass it off as one of those cool artist kind of things. Because it’s not cool. Oddly, I don’t usually think of myself as a person with an anxiety disorder, which is funny, since a pretty solid chunk of my day is governed by the fact that I am a person with anxiety disorder. Anxiety can turn something as simple as my morning chores into a psychological game show, where I’m constantly trying to figure out the correct answer before the timer runs out. Do I get dressed now in case I need to go to the hospital for a terminal disease/heart attack/catastrophic health event, or wait because if I move it might just set off the cascading effects of said disease/heart attack/catastrophe? Oops, you chose wrong, and now you’re having a panic attack! Not only that but you’re not even dressed properly…lol. But thank you for playing “Generalized Anxiety Disorder”!
Over the years I’ve used lots of therapies…some that worked and some that were laughable but hey…I tried them just in case. But here’s the point. The one that has been most valuable…the one that is a life saver….is my journaling practice. My right arm is my secret weapon. When I feel overwhelmed, chaotic, in over my head, when it feels like the end of the world…I sit down to practice my art in a journal. I sit down to tour my imagination, and get those subconscious thoughts out on paper. You can’t heal if you don’t deal…lol. To get all hippiewoo on you. And here’s what I know. Anxiety, for me, is coming from suppressed emotions/thoughts. I make it a practice to share those thoughts and emotions everyday. In my journal. I let my subconscious out to take a walk. To send light to those dark crazy spaces. Because anxiety is not the boss of me. It’s not even a good survival technique for me. And It’s most definitely not a good fashion look for me. True Story!
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I spent the weekend surrounded by babies….and Moms and Moms to be. Surrounded by our adult children and their wives and husbands. And that was a perfect Mother’s day! It occurred to me as I watched our LARGE and getting larger family hanging out on the front porch together…laughing and singing and playing…just how lucky we are. I watched babies wander from adult to adult, getting bites here and there from random plates, sitting in laps, being soothed by whichever Mom, Dad, grandparent, or adult was around. Countless times I watched young toddlers fall, shake it off and get a hug from the nearest adult. I watched young moms sharing their tips and experiences with one another. I watched the young men and women in our family without kids, gaining experience with their nephews and cousins. So that when they have children there will be a little less uncertainty. It was chaotic and messy and glorious. I was completely worn out by the time all the kids were gathered, the bouncy house was deflated, and the dishes put away.
I thought a lot this weekend about the people in this world and the children who aren’t so lucky. There are children out there who aren’t getting hugs and reassurance from adults. Who don’t have a role model. Adults too. I think it’s sort of obvious just from our politics that this is true. I hear friends, and peers ask…”what can I do about it”? And I hear… “nothing I do will make a difference”(wrong). I think the answer is sort of obvious. Hug someone. Hug yourself. Hug a child. Heck…hug a tree. Create a space in the world where hugs are the norm and not the unusual. Slow down and spend some time with your family and be in community. Because this is what I know…Hugs aren’t optional. They are necessary and a requirement. And they can change the world. True Story.
Dear Daughters and Stepdaughters,
Looking at life through the lens of daughter, mother, stepmother and grandmother, I have come to appreciate how much harder it is to be a mother today than it was for my mother in the 60’s or for me in the 90’s. Please don’t be fooled by all of the conveniences of modern motherhood – more mothering blogs, advice books, toys, electronic devices, quick foods, and gadgetry have not made your lives easier.
In fact, you are living in such a complex and fast paced world that it’s hard to keep up with the latest recall (Is your peanut butter OK? Has your baby car seat been condemned?). Add to that the fact that it is really challenging for you to live a life as comfortable as the one in which you were raised. And the fact that you worked very hard for your pre-children careers, which you are financially unable to abandon easily without great hardship( and which you continue to pay for.) This despite the fact that you are inundated with the idea and philosophies that you must breastfeed( else you are a bad mother) and spend the formative years exclusively with your children. Hard to understand how you can do all that and work. You definitely have a recipe for stress far greater than your grandmothers or I experienced.
I feel sad that many of your grandmothers’ generation, and many of my fellow baby boomers, are sometimes so harsh in their criticism of your generation of mothers. Your grandmother can honestly declare, “In my day, children weren’t spoiled by so many toys,” or “Children didn’t watch so much television,” or “We didn’t need DVDs, smart phones, or iPads to occupy our kids,” or “Children didn’t misbehave in restaurants.” Largely this is due to the fact that many of these things did not exist in her day(with the exception of restaurants and tv). My peers and I would have to admit that we picked up tons of toys every night and let you watch television so we could cook dinner. We definitely would have used the DVD’s and smart phones if we’d had them and I suspect so would they.
So, my daughters, I apologize for the disapproval you and your peers feel from women who raised their children in calmer and simpler times. Here’s what I want you to know:
You are all already vastly more prepared and educated than we were as mothers. I’ve watched each of you educate yourselves on prenatal care, postnatal care,breastfeeding, study child rearing techniques, agonize over food choices and childcare, weigh pros and cons of staying at home or keeping your careers. I’m pretty sure a lot of the people in my generation, and my mom’s parented on a wing and a prayer. I know I did.
You will make mistakes. It’s human nature and moms are not exempt from that. I’ve made many many. So have your grandmothers and every other mom out there. Moms are not perfect Learn from them and learn from their mistakes and move on.
Know that I see and appreciate what you are doing. You are all great moms already. I could not be prouder of each of you! Why? Because you love your children, and I see all of you cherishing those babies and keeping them safe and healthy. I see the countless hours you spend planning, playing, working to ensure that your children will be happy healthy members of this world, despite being tired, overworked, and stressed yourselves.
Jessica I watched you struggle with your illness and med schedule to make sure that your babies were healthy and safe. I’ve watched the countless hours you spend with our grandsons teaching, and playing despite having little sleep. You rock, and your patience as a Mom is amazing!
Ginger I saw your little feet swollen up like pumpkins because you worked right up until the end in order to provide for your son economically. I’ve seen how his face lights up for you when he hears your voice and what a happy little fella he is…letting the world know that he is safe and secure . You are a wonderful Mom!
Savanna I’ve watched you struggle with pain and illness in order to bring our granddaughter into the world safely ..any day now. The sheer amount of planning and thought put into how you want to raise your daughter has been awe inspiring. Truly I’m in awe of the Mom you’re becoming!
If you occasionally feel criticized for your parenting and hear the familiar, “In my day…” – please understand that people who say this have mostly rewritten the past to suit themselves. They’ve forgotten what it was really like. I know I have and they have to. Also know that their times were far less challenging than yours.
And please forgive me for teaching you that, you have to do it all by yourself and for yourself. I somehow took that on and most likely passed some of that to all of you in one way or another. Find a village to help you to raise your children wherever you can, and be part of someone else’s village too. Because it takes a village. You guys are my village and I’m proud to be a part of your village ever yday. My world is a better place because you are in it!
Love you all!
Do you take your own inventory periodically? Ok, well I do. This is where I think about the things I’ve accomplished (or not) in my life. Here’s what stands out for me today in thinking about Mother’s day coming up. Could be something different tomorrow. Depends on the mood. But this is it for today..
I most definitely have helped some children find their way. Evan and I have six children between us. I love them. But.. it was a big adjustment. You know that part in the Grinch where his heart was six sizes too small? Each child that comes into your life causes your heart to grow. Mine is six sizes larger than it was previously. It had already grown significantly with the birth of my two children. So it knew how to stretch. Then it stretched some more. Hey your heart is a muscle, it can stretch and stretch is my theory. Being a step mom is not the easy path. Not gonna lie. But it is ultimately so rewarding. Have I been perfect? That would be a big “heck no”!. But the point is in the trying I think, and the doing, day after day. The building up of your patience muscle (yeah, it has to match your heart muscle) is an exercise that you get to practice regularly. It’s not often that a day goes by without someone needing me. To listen, to witness, to advise, to mother…to pay…lol. My family was really small and really sort of loners in some respects. In this family I’ve created and grown into… I’m not often alone with my thoughts, especially during the summer. You get to find an awful lot out about yourself and your abilities when surrounded constantly by younger people. I wouldn’t change that for anything. They’ve taught me so much about myself and mostly how NOT to be selfish ( And how far behind I am in the world of technology lol). . Ultimately it’s not about what we want….it’s about what we can do and give to someone else that makes our lives meaningful. And they’ve taught me to question my beliefs that I somehow know what’s right for them. Yep, they’ve taught me to challenge that belief a lot!
On top of our six children, I teach art to high risk children. I have for about five years. Oh the lessons that I’ve learned from this. See…I thought I was teaching them. Turns out I was the one who had so much to learn. Mostly I had to learn more patience, and about showing up consistently, and about works being so much more important than words. I had to learn the hard way that not every child is open to expressing themselves. In fact, most children who are in the middle of a struggle are not. And isn’t that true of all of us? I had to learn to work on a subtle, below the surface kind of wavelength. Gently gently pushing them to go a little deeper. Mostly hoping that there was a connection in the absence of all evidence to the contrary. Yep…lots of lessons here for me.
I’m on a kick, recently, to listen to the negative stuff in my mind and find out what the positive message is in that. So in taking my inventory…although I may not make tons of money, drive the newest car, be the skinniest person(mainly because my heart is so dang big..lol) be as positive in some situations as I should be, have the best trained dogs, the cleanest house, make the best art, or even make all the right decisions every day, I know that it’s ok to be who I need to be. I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing. Finding my way, helping young people find theirs, or at least supporting them in their journey to find their way…just one positive turn around in the negative chatter. Yay!
I’m often asked where I get my ideas. I have no idea. But here’s what I do know. I’ve spent years trying to make sure that I get myself out of the way so that when ideas are presented to me….I’m aware of them. You see what I did there.? It’s not that I get ideas….it’s just that I recognize them and am aware of them when they show up. Subtle but very big difference. It takes a lot of practice, A LOT, to be able to get yourself out of the way . I spent many years trying to make pretty art. Pretty art is good. But meaningful art is better. For me, anyway. These days I’m all about trying to get myself out of the way and be a conduit for my subconcious. It’s not always pretty. Lol…as a matter of fact, it rarely is. But, I’m getting closer to being the person I want to be, the artist I want to be. My art practice has deepened and become meaningful. To me at least. These days, I’m not afraid to create ugly art. I’m not afraid that someone will think “she’s not an artist, my kids can draw better than that”(true statement made to me, no lie) I’m not afraid to create wonky sculptures from trash, mixed media from odds and ends and upcycled crap. The point is that I’m not afraid. And that good buddy, is a wonderous thing in your art practice.
Ok, don’t judge me. I think of my creative “flow” as a bright quirky goldfish. She zips here and there and is generally all over the place.
Yesterday, I was in the “flow” big time. Journaling away. Then the kids started calling. Our daughter (names withheld to protect me..lol) that is getting her Masters was overwhelmed and anxious. She needed to be reminded that she could do it, and has done it and will continue to do it! One of our other daughters texted me to check on party times for Sunday. Our youngest daughter called to see if I would help her set up her classroom at the nonprofit where she works. My son texted me to make sure I had picked up bread and snacks. All within about an hour. My flow just flew.
Once I got home from helping with the classroom….I sat down and tried to recapture where I was in my journal. The above is all I could come up with in the thirty minutes before bed. I can’t even remember my original idea.
I’m not complaining…I’m just stating the facts. Sometimes/Most times when you have children, especially if you have as many as we do, your time is not your own. And that’s ok. I know without a doubt that I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing when I’m dealing with these children. Even though some of them are technically adults…they are still my kids. Always will be. Evidently, I came into this world with a lot of Mom energy.
It’s a funny thing…there are lots of people out there who don’t really see raising kids as a life path, career, or even as work. That’s ok. But, for me, I don’t see any other way. I kind of imagine it as being a steward of potentiality. One of the kids we touch, teach, help along their way….may save this old world. And I will be behind them clapping, cheering and wiping away a tear (with a paint rag most likely).