Saturday, May 12, 2012

Jennifer - Motherhood Series 2012

Jenn and I have become friends through our children. Our first graders specifically. They have become fast friends and very important to each other. Kids have a way of bringing parents together on the playground or recitals and such, but that doesn't always mean you want to be best pals.
In our case I think it has worked fantastically. It has been more like finding a long lost friend!

There's not much I can say about Jenn that she doesn't say much better herself, other than she is truly a beautiful person in every aspect.

Thank you Jenn, for sharing so much light and love!

1. Tell us about yourself!
I am 37…or 38 (I have seriously done the calculation six different times and I still can’t be certain…) but more stunning than THAT is the fact that it only consciously occurred to me in this very moment that my age starts with a “3”!!??  How does that happen to someone?

In (what feels like) another lifetime - I was a teacher. I taught in the gifted and talented (GATE) program and then at the Center for Gifted at the university for many years.
It feels strange to say that in the past tense, I suppose because teaching was never simply a neat and tidy professional role that I stepped in and out of, but rather, an all-encompassing state of being.
I always found teaching and learning to be inextricably woven, so I was far more comfortable seeing myself as a giant learner. Especially in light of the gifted children I taught. I began my very first teaching moment with the deep, haunting, exhilarating realization that my students already knew far more than I EVER would. This orientation, while daunting at first, freed me to be present and glittery and whimsical and soak up everything these kids knew but no one had bothered to listen to (because they were too young to possibly know it.)
I don’t know if I ever did a great job “covering curriculum” (ironically, in my graduate work, I went on to specialize in curriculum development for gifted learners.)
But, I fought linearity and predetermined “course content” to the end and grounded my practice deeply in sparkly, creative ways of knowing and being.
And love.
I loved the kids I taught as if they were my own.
I sort of thought they WERE my own.
Hundreds of children, all somehow woven into my heart.
I am now a mom of four children, ages 7, 5, 2 and 6 months. After each babe was over a year, I returned to the bigger world to teach a course or two or do some curriculum consulting, but I often felt like that tipped the precarious and delicate balance of our family.
I am now firmly and intentionally anchored in the home (the kitchen, to be exact) and I still find myself surrounded by beings that already know more than I do.
I used to think being in a classroom was the hardest, most consuming, exhausting, enlivening experience one could have – but when held up to the daily intensities of parenting, those teaching days feel like an all-inclusive vacation.
So, a teacher and a mom…what else?
I love metaphor and myth and swirly water-colored images
I love warm air and the gentle clinking of crystal wind chimes.
I love fireflies and pink-sherbet sunsets and the moon.
I really, REALLY love the moon.
I am often lost (or perhaps found) in my imaginative reveries and my inner world is more real than my outer.
Whether by accident or on purpose, I have stumbled upon my passion and purpose - the sacredness of pregnancy and birth, being with children consciously and creatively, and cultivating a home where we all love one another without strings.

2. What were your expectations of motherhood before you had kids? (ie. Did you think you'd have a whole houseful of kids? Did you see yourself as a mother at all? Did you wonder if it would ever happen?

I always knew I wanted children of my own (although I may have gotten a bit sidetracked when I threw myself into teaching and academia in my 20’s and thought the hundred kids I taught somehow belonged to me!) I always strongly felt (and longed for) four children…I had to work harder to get some here than others…and I still feel a few more to come.
My expectations have often gotten me into trouble. I spent WAY too much time reading Sweet Valley High novels at WAY too young an age, so my psyche was indelibly imprinted with a sort of heart-swelling anticipation that at ANY MOMENT my life was going to become an American prom, or at the very least, a summertime, sunset beach party.
I entered into motherhood with the same sweet valley hopes and dreams. I was competent, educated, well-informed, and completely in control. I had a closet full of super cute clothes (for me and for baby!) and a circle full of super-pretty-ab-fab-best-mommy-friends with super cute babies of their own…all content to coo and goo in plaid bucket car seats through mommy lunches and mommy dinners and mommy pedicures.
That was TOTALLY what I ordered!!! 
I picked a sweetly scalloped white painted crib; I ironed receiving blankets, painted poetry on the nursery wall; I hung glittering fairy wings in my daughter-to-be’s closet
It was going to be PERFECT (did I mention that I LOOOOOOVE when things are PERFECT???)
And then came baby…and thus marked the end of sweet valley.
(Really, at some earlier point in my life, I should have re-rooted my life in an alternative literary genre…my first warning sign that Sweet Valley High was a bit of a reach came when I discovered that we don’t even HAVE proms in Canada !!)

At the end of a why-the-hell-did-nobody-tell-me-about-this-kind-of-pain labor, I was greeted by an utterly precious, dark eyed little girl…
…who never stopped staring at me (sort of like I was stupider than her…which I was, but I hadn’t yet realized that.)
I often held her up to the sun with the hopes that she would close her eyes for a minute.
In all my commiserating with newly found, like-minded mommy friends (just as cute, but minus the lunches, dinners and pedicures), no one has ever confessed to housing an infant that was literally AWAKE for 15 hours at a time. All the nursing, shushing, swaying, and white-noised-swaddling-in-darkened-rooms could not convince this child go to sleep. It was UNREAL. I think I cried for a year. And my closet of cute clothes remained a shrine – the only thing I had going for me in the world of fashion was the occasional on-line ordering of a new baby carrier.

But, somewhere in that haze of sleepless days and sleepless nights and crying and not-a-moment-to-breathe-or-shower-or-put-on-mascara (pointless, remember…I was mostly crying), something totally strange happened.
Something in me fell apart and opened up all at once.
Beyond all my hurts and aspirations and failures and accomplishments and all I thought I knew or cared about…I fell deeply in love with someone.
Not sweet valley high love…not even the profound love I had felt for my husband from the first moment I saw him.
But the kind of love that altered me at the very core of who I was.
The kind of love that healed and transformed me.
The kind of love that made me want to stick around and love myself.
I always think about Joseph Campbell’s words about the birth of the child meaning the death of the mother. This sounds morbid to the literalist. But to someone who is more at home in hermeneutical interpretations, THIS became my PERFECT.
On the day my first child was born, something old died off, and something phoenix-like and fierce took flight.
Sophy continues to be at the leading edge of our family – in the most difficult ways. Even once she slept and even once she could sit in the car seat without foaming at the mouth, and even once she sat in a stroller (oh wait, she NEVER DID THAT!!!!), she continues to challenge me and call me into deeper ways of being. She has taught me everything I know about parenting with compassion and faith and did I mention a kind of patience that still takes every ounce of energy I have. Had she been easier, I may not have discovered that I feel REALLY STRONGLY about certain ways of being with babies and children. I may have been sitting in a restaurant somewhere at 8:00 at night with perfectly painted toenails and with my newborn in a jean skirt in a bucket car seat.
I may have forgotten that children have a bigger consciousness and a bigger calling than we assume when we look at their little bodies.
I may not have learned that there are ways to work with and heal complexities and patterns of tension in children
And mostly, I may not have discovered that I have it within myself to parent these kinds of kids in this kind of way.
What a shame that would have been.
So thanks, Sophy, for all of your difficult wisdom and wise difficultness.
You have been my biggest teacher – and you led the way for the babies that came after.

3. What has been(was) your biggest surprise about Motherhood? (different than you expected? or wish someone had told you?)
The whole thing has felt like one relentlessly giant learning curve. I think my biggest challenge lies in not projecting my own hurts or joys or ways of dealing with things onto my children as they move through and along their intricate paths. I have a tendency towards a paradoxical sort of egocentric empathy, where I feel what they are feeling – but through my own lenses. So, I have be extremely conscious and care-filled not to get pulled into my own anxieties when I feel their anxiousness – or my own hurts when they are hurt – or my own failures, triumphs, wounds, hopes and ways of seeing. I am stunned by the ways their struggles impact me and call me to see and heal my own material (like it or not.) 
I am also stunned by their resilience and the ways in which they pick themselves up and dust themselves off and move forward with courage and grace, when I am still huddled in a ball somewhere.
I try hard, so very hard, to respect their individual journeys with every shred of conviction I have.
To see them each as whole against a vast sky.
To not give in to the compulsion to save them from themselves, but instead to allow them, one precious step at a time, begin to save themselves.

4. Biggest joy?

I find birth joyful. Which sounds strange to many. I had my three most recent babies at home in the bath tub, and I don’t even have the words for the joy of those experiences.
They were timeless, enchanted, open, expansive moments of bringing someone from another realm into the physical world – and then seeing them just stare up at you with this profound sense of recognition.
I think birth IS my definition of joy.
I feel so fortunate and blessed that I was able to do it this way. My body makes me so mad sometimes – and I feel, at times, like it fails me. But it rocks in birthing, and I am so grateful for that.
I also found it stunning, joyful, humbling and holy that I was able to connect in (tangible and intangible and vastly different) ways with each of my babies before they came.
I don’t know what else to say about that.
Like birth, it sort of leaves me speechless.
Definitely, conception and birth have been my most poignantly spiritual, centered, divine, inspired, joyful experiences.
I never would have imagined that.

5. Best wish for your children?
I had this vivid, lucid dream not too long ago, that I was walking through this enchanted forest, filled with tiny pine saplings…they looked like black cut outs against a moonlit sky. The king and the queen of the forest told me I could choose a glowing orb that hung from the tiny branches – one for each of my children – the gift that would be their life.
I started to panic…how could I be trusted to choose, while asleep and dreaming, JUST the right gift.
I walked tentatively towards the closest tree, holding Sophy in my heart and mind, and there an orb, hung like a Christmas ball, began to glow. I lifted it carefully off the tender branch – it was blown glass, purples and blue, and it read “Wisdom.”
I suddenly knew I could do this.
With more confidence, I walked further into the forest, thinking of Noah. Another orb, deeper in the darkness, began to glow. I reached for it. It was crystal clear, with a photo of him digging in the sand on the inside. Etched in the clear glass was the word “PEACE.”
I journeyed deeper still.
Now completely dark all around me, and just when I started to feel lost, a little ball began to bubble with oranges and yellows – it read “JOY’ and I plucked it from the tiny branch for tiny Holly.
And finally, I travelled right to the center of the forest. There, hanging from the strongest branch of the tiniest, centermost tree, hung a rosy pink strained glass heart, engraved the word “LOVE”. It was for our newest, baby Eden .
I gingerly and carefully placed the four glass orbs into the basket I suddenly found myself carrying, and began to make my way out of the dark and deep forest. The pulsing light of the fragile orbs lit my way, and they clinked together like a tea set. I would glance down each time I hit uneven ground or took an abrupt twist in the dark path to see if they had shattered with all their clinking – but they were strong and bright and the beat together like little hearts.
I remember feeling so proud and relieved – like my work as a mom, in the vastest sense of the word, was somehow done. I had chosen the gift that would mark each of their lifetimes – and I was SO happy with my choices. With the glowing, other-worldly wishes I had brought back with me to make their time on earth meaningful and right.
When I woke up, I began to write:  
Once upon a time there lived a family.
The Dad’s name was Strength.
He was tall, like an oak tree,
and his heart was big enough
and wide enough
for everyone to fit inside.
When anyone felt sad or small,
they climbed up his sturdy branches and into his heart.
There they stayed and rested,
until they could once again face the world.
The Mom was named Light.
She shone through the oak tree’s branches.
She bathed her children in moonlight
and dressed them in rainbows.
She painted dazzling stars on their soft cheeks
and wove wildflowers into their hair.
Violets watercolor floral giclee fine art print

When they forgot their beauty
- or the beauty of the world
she spun strands of sunlit spider web around their tiny torsos
and give birth to butterflies.
Papillon original watercolor flower painting 4x6 inches
Their first child was named Wisdom.
She burst through the frozen earth,
a brave and solitary crocus,
beckoned by the first light of spring.
She was dark-eyed and careful.
She carried her treasures close to her heart.
She was sometimes afraid,
but mostly, she was the bold leader of the children.
The next child came close behind.
He came quick as a trick, on a day meant for mischief.
He was named Peace
(although sometimes he forgot that was his name.)
He was as sweet as candy.
His eyes burst with flames
and his heart was so open,
he could hear whispers from other worlds.
Next, came a precious girl named Joy.
She was hand-plucked
from the heart of the silver winter moon
and drifted to the blanketed earth
as a gentle snowflake.
She was sparkly and bright
and bubbled with gratitude.
She traced tiny circles in the earth
with her fingertips,
and spoke the secret words of the fairies.
And then came the littlest one, warm and pink,
named Love.
She fell across the bright blue sky
like a gold-tinged autumn leaf,
carrying with her guides and galaxies.
When Love was born,
worlds upon worlds opened up.
And, when Love opened her gentle eyes
and gazed upon the family,
Strength deepened;
Light expanded;
Wisdom forgot her fear;
Peace remembered his name;
and Joy danced and danced and danced
in the yellow sunshine.
Spring Sunshine yellow floral watercolor giclee fine art print
The circle of heaven and earth pulsed between them
There is more to the story…maybe next mother’s day?
But for now, these are my wishes for my children who are already here – I wish them the wisdom, peace, joy and love that is their birthright and their life gift.

6. How do you find time for yourself/what do you do?
I have the best, most supportive, most equal husband in the world.
All I really need from a day is a walk and a prayer. Then I am ready for things to unfold as they may.

7. What do you wish you had more of? Less of?
I wish I had more strength. I wish I could run alongside my kids while they biked (or bike along with them!) or give them awesome under ducks or lift them anywhere they ever wanted to go.
I wish I had more time to paint, more time to write, more time to read.
I wish I had more patience.
I wish I could make my day one giant prayer. To live from morning until night with one big outpouring of gratitude and other-worldly guidance and presence…
I wish I could see things as perpetually perfect and right, especially when they are most difficult and dark and complex.
I wish I had less pain.
I wish I had less mess to clean up.
Or maybe I just wish I didn’t flap my arms and walk in circles and waste time picking up messes that weren’t even messes
I wish I had more time to be fully and spellbindingly present with each of my kids, one at a time, in every moment of every day.
That sort of holy presence where you just soak in everything and miss nothing.

8. What do you hope your kids learn from you?

I still see myself so much as a bumbling, stumbling learner when I am with my kids.
I guess my deepest hope is that they learn to read the world symbolically…
That they come to know the meaning of the moon in all her golden phases…
That they believe in the fairy is curled up into a blue bell, even though they can’t see her…
That they always say “YES” to walking a million miles to see a rainbow…
That they remember the truth of who they are…
And that they know with unequivocal certainty that they are never, ever, ever alone…
I am still learning all of this myself, so maybe we can teach each other?
9. What are some of the best things you learned from your own mother?
My mom is a fierce protector.
She is faithful and strong and incredibly stubborn.
She has devoted her entire life to her children, and now her grandchildren.
She taught me that if you are crying REALLY hard, you should try and take a breath, because it is virtually impossible to cry and breathe deeply at the same time (she is totally right.)
She taught me that love overcomes all suffering (again, totally right.)
She tried to teach me to slow down, but mostly this lesson irritated me, so I keep going my own speed.
(She used to tuck notes into my high school text books and lunches, saying “SLOW DOWN”, “THINK BEFORE YOU ACT”, and “TAKE IT NICE AND EASY.” Every once and awhile, one of these old and faded notes falls out of an old book or appears magically in the strangest of places…just when I actually do need to slow down. Plus, she was still making my lunches when I was in high school, so who can argue with that?)

When I was in elementary school, I was always doing these weird self-directed-studies and once a month, I was allowed to present my personal research project to the rest of the school in some sort of assembly (really??) and my mom ALWAYS ran around town to find me the perfect kimono or spent hours cooking up fried rice, enough to feed the whole school.
In high school, my friends all loved going on funny adventures with my mom. One night, when all my girlfriends were sleeping over and we were hanging out in our pajamas, my mom came into my room and ordered us all to hop in the car with her. We all piled into our cutlass cruiser station wagon (Pachelbel’s canon had been stuck in the tape deck for three years on high volume) and my mom proceeded to drive us to Bonavista Mac’s, where ALL OUR FRIENDS were hanging out and smoking. She slammed the car into park smack in the middle of the parking lot. She remained nonchalant when all our friends began to climb on the car and pound on the windows. She even rolled down the window to say hello to a few that she knew, pachelbel’s music filling the parking lot like a church.
She then turned to us, our heads all tucked between our legs in utter mortification, and said calmly, “I don’t ever want to see any of you hanging around here.”
We each had to solemnly promise before she agreed to roll up the window, wave good bye and put the car back into drive.
When I was just a few months away from my 21st birthday, I was in a wretched, near-fatal car accident. Can you imagine, as a mother, driving upon an accident scene of a heart-sinkingly familiar car (already engulfed in flames) and your child, lying lifeless and bloodied on the road. Now as mom myself, I can hardly fathom. And then, to be able to leave that child months later, with a shaven head, wheelchair-bound, on the other side of the country (because I insist there is nothing more important in the world to me than finishing my degree and graduating with my friends) and somehow mirroring back to that broken child that the world is safe and she can do it, even though I very much doubted both of those things and mostly felt broken and tired.
I think my time here on earth would have felt far more wobbly had I not had my mom, who gave me deep roots and prevented me from floating away at every turn.
still, she says goodbye to me and (most of the time) allows me to find my way, no matter how many potential disasters I skirt.
I sometimes felt misunderstood as a child. And like I was “too much.”
But mostly, I felt protected and strong inside, even when things crumbled around us.
My mom advocated for me with a terrifying and primal ferociousness.
She drove me and my friend anywhere we ever wanted to go (and many places we didn’t.)
She made enough hot dogs in our new-fangled 1970’s microwave when I brought my entire grade one class home for lunch day after day.
And, she let me wear bridesmaid’s dresses (and on warm days, lacey SLIPS) to school until I was in grade six.
I am not sure if this was good or bad, but it definitely honored who I was.

1 comment:

Jamie said...

That's beautiful and amazing. You are lucky to have such a great friend!!