There is something that hasn’t been said yet in this blog series on The Village: Who else is here while you mother? When I sent out the submission guidelines for the Out of the Mouths of Babes blog series for 2015, I figured at least one writer would touch on partnership, having partnership or not having it, living with someone who shares parenting with you, living without that, about loosing a partner or gaining a partner, or finding something new and exciting about your partner after all these years.
No matter what the topic, in this vast territory of motherhood, which we explore with our pens and paintbrushes, there are canyons full of bad memories and hard feelings, posted with signs that say, “Let’s just not go there.”
And, it seems, that partnership might be one of those cordoned off, “No trespassing” places. Today, one of my Out sisters, Amanda Magee, sent me her post that she’d submitted to the Modern Love department of the New York Times. While I am sorry they turned her submission down, it does mean her post will run tomorrow, here on Laundry Line Divine.
Stuff I see online stirs me. Today is #TBT, throwback Thursday, when people across social media, especially on Instagram, post old photos. I never get it together to do this on Thursday. But Amanda’s post had me thinking about my husband, Jonathan, so I hauled out this photo of him, taken by our pal Keith, when our first child, Ben, was four days old. We are in our tiny little apartment. He, for one, had not shaven in days. There are hardly any photos viable for public sharing of me because, well, let’s just say I hadn’t shaved in days either.
But seeing J’s hands on Ben’s bottom, the steadiness of his gaze, the set of his jaw, the calm in his body brought me right back to the founding days of our Village. It was here, with a new baby, that our friends gathered round, sent us gifts, called and showed up to hold Ben, coo and claim favorites, where the stakes were placed around our nubile family and we moved from a couple to a Village. These little clues got me writing.
Jonathan and I met when we were both emerging from very bumpy rides, lurching off the wobbly wooden roller coasters of bad relationships to the sidewalk of newfound serenity and burgeoning positive outlooks. We were both broke. We were both recovering from being badly rattled by those rides we’d taken with other people. We met and carefully, okay- we dove right in to each other like starving cats. I cannot lie. We pretended to go slowly for the sake of safety and decorum. But from the first we knew, or let’s say I knew, because this is my story and not his, I was sure that this man from a very different background than me, with a very different career path, who had nothing but an interest in theatre, was the man for me.
We did wait for lots of legal and reasonable time to pass before deciding to wed. Close friends knew things were changing for both of us. He had family stuff going on. I lived in a room in Queens filled to the ceiling with the contents of my life, since I’d never bothered to unpack. I’d landed off that bad rollercoaster ride and hunkered down like a Collier brother among boxes of books, making a neat path between my bed and the door. The windows were clear. There was light. But no room for another human.
Unless that human was very skinny and this guy fit.
We spent a few years getting clear of our entanglements. We got married and almost a year to the day after our wedding, Benjamin was born. And four days after that, this photo was taken.
Something foundationally important to our marriage happened on the first days of Ben’s life. We lived in a tiny apartment. When we’d conglomerated our belongings, we stuck what fit in to the apartment and everything else waited in a storage unit for the day when we’d have space to spread out. Picture a one-room apartment with a postage stamp kitchen and a bathroom and hallway with a closet. The only place you could go to be alone was the bathroom, unless you fit in the closet.
In order for me to continue what J knew to be my daily practice of writing in my journal for 45 minutes early in the morning, he had to mobilize- as in get out of the apartment. Since I have known him, he swims daily, so pre-baby, this was easy. But, with this little bundle of joy, complications arose. Diapering, nursing, packing Ben in to a sling on J’s chest, the hubbub of it was exhausting and who wants to write after all that? But we worked it out. He was vigilant. I was determined. Ben was content.
And so this man made it possible for me to carve out time to write. I was immersed in new motherhood. I was dripping with joy, literally. But, I had a long established habit of journal writing that was as much a part of my daily routine as, well, you know what you must do daily. As that. I had to write.
What some might call the restrictions of the daily office they find to be an opportunity to foster the inner life. The hours are appointed and named… Life’s fretfulness is transcended. The different and the novel are sweet, but regularity and repetition are also teachers… And if you have no ceremony, no habits, which may be opulent or may be simple but are exact and rigorous and familiar, how can you reach toward the actuality of faith, or even a moral life, except vaguely? The patterns of our lives reveal us. Our habits measure us. Our battles with our habits speak of dreams yet to become real.
-Mary Oliver from Long Life
J’s support of my habit allowed me to foster my inner life, which had just been uprooted and flung around in public by giving birth. As I poured my fretfulness on to my morning pages, our “new normal” became established. So, this guy took our vows to heart. He held me to the best version of myself and does everything in his power to support me in that. He has been a constant echo in the crazy chamber of parenting. I trace my ability to write from inside mothering to those early days when we’d both weather the agita of getting one, then two kids up and out, or down to the kitchen to start the day. Then I’d head back upstairs to a room where I’d close the door and open my journal. As Mary Oliver states so beautifully, the patterns of my life reveal me.
It has taken me many years of these mornings, strung together over time, him driving the kids to school every day, navigating the parking lot conversations and snow boot dramas, while I hover over three blank pages, to begin to sense what Mary suggests as an actuality of my faith. I have found, in my daily practice, a meeting place with spirit, the Divine. If I miss a day of writing because of more pressing needs, illness, upheaval, play performances, doctor visits, you know the list, my faith remains intact. But writing daily lets me rest in it, allows me room to explore, gives me permission to welcome new ideas and weave coherence for myself- making my own map of my motherhood.
This morning I read this in Eavan Boland’s A Journey with Two Maps about watching her mother contemplate the painting she had worked on each day:
I depended on that act. It was the first sign of expressive power I saw as a child. The first article of feminine faith.
What I find in the man who founded our Village with me, is a person who supports me in my expressive power as a woman. He stands by the first article of my feminine faith by arranging his early morning so that I have clear time to write. All chaos can break loose after this, but for the most part, he is “Daddy on deck,” as we like to say.
I feel a tickle of argument here, the voices of “yeah, that’s what she has, but look at my life” and the condemnation of not having the courage or ability to discover this faith myself without the support of a partner. I am sticking to my theme here people. When I look around the Village that Hillary tells me that it takes to raise a child, there is my husband making me laugh til milk spurts out my nose, who holds me while I weep, who sat across from me as my mother died and sang the Weenie Man song over her last breaths, who is there at the other end of the phone with the good news and the bad news, and bakes the best lemon bars you ever want to eat.
Maybe you are thinking, well, she has no kids at home this winter. She is likely still in her jammies at noon. Today, you are correct. I have borrowed some of Jonathan’s loyal stand for my writing and given myself more time to work. I have created a business around this and sometimes my work outfit looks just like what I wear to bed.
Like Amanda says, on that early morning in July, Jonathan reminded me that “I am still inside”, no matter what is happening in our Village. He has stayed constant in that commitment and to say I am grateful touches the tip of a great big iceberg.
Look for Amanda’s full post here tomorrow morning.
How about you?
Dare you defy the signs and wander this territory with me?
You are welcome to share this post with your friends. If you are near Berkshire County in western Massachusetts, please join me on March 7 at 7 PM for Out of the Mouths of Babes: An Evening of Mothers Reading to Others. This live event features 9 women reading new work, the premiere of a new short film made by the women of Out titled, The Permission Slip, new work by Berkshire women artists, and some very delicious bedtime snacks. More details here.