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The Village: Who else is here while you mother?

Out of the Mouths of Babes prayer card by SBB

Motherhood is my teacher.

It makes me perennially curious and preternaturally suspicious.

For all the wisdom that gets handed down to mothers, we begin our own research from our very beginnings. Since the moment we are tiny girls and boys , we watch how our mothers hand us bowls of soup, we feel how they zip us in to snowsuits or close our doors at night, we are constantly collecting details about the qualities of this job. Who a mother is, is one of the first stories we ruminate on. Those eyes gazing at us in a cloud of love, confusion, tears, fury, wonder, gentleness, regret, desperation and plenty. Who a mother is, in the village of our becoming, is one of the fundamental, and, let me say it, necessary parts of us being who we are. By necessary, I mean alive.

My inquiry leads me to the work I do today as a writer and artist. I study and watch.

This morning in yoga, a mother with a baby who is about 3 months old, laid him in the center of the room on a blanket while we all went upside down on the wall preparing for handstand. His tiny chorus of gurgles cheered for our abs. We all breathed deeper because this little beast in a snuggly all-in-one was fascinated with the dust motes or the snow falling outside the window, the play of light on the forearms and backs of 30 people. He was content there in the middle of the room.
Later, while we were on our backs in shavasana, the only sound was his suckling. Next to the heartbeat of our own mothers, I do not know another more basic sound of connection and care. The quiet in the room settled, as if we were all being nurtured like this little one, in the arms of peaceful rest for a few minutes before we entered our busy days up on our two legs in motion.

Lissa Rankin says this in her excellent book, The Fear Cure:

“The willingness to be humble and curious, to simply wonder whether something is true, opens a doorway to possibility. It frees us from the limits of certainty and allows life to become our own mystery school.”

Becoming a mother humbles me. I dine on curiosity. Daily I wonder whether something is true. I live at the doorway of possibility. Faith builds in me as I marry this possibility to prayer. For my children and people in the Village around my family, the others who are community to our family unit, we hold possibility for each other.

Ben tiny foot
Ben day four by Keith Weber

 

Motherhood, even before you become pregnant, just considering pregnancy, draws you in to a wild world. We are instantly freed from the limits of certainty and thrust in to a mystery school of our own making. Our power to create comfort or terror is nearly unlimited. The hoarse-throated cries of women torn from footloose single lives to being forever in relationship to worry, time and love is a sound that will cease only when humans exit the planet. As long as we birth and nurture, we will be in the midst of this unknowable, but daily discovered territory of motherhood. For this reason, this slippery, transparent, muddily concrete existence is worth learning more about. These stories run the gamut, because each of us holds a unique prism on human experience.

Who joins us here in our Village, who impacts us, who shows up can be as random or as surprising as anything you have never planned. Do you intend to know the drivers of the ambulances in your town? Did you ever think you’d be familiar with the people you know now, who you never dreamed of being on a first name basis with? It is a hugely common, mundane act to connect with others, but this unity creates a web that, like the little boy nursing in a room full of yogis this morning, provides unspoken nurturance and continuity of our human story.

We carry on.
We carry each other. We are carried as we care.

Listening to the little boy nurse this morning, hearing him sigh with needs answered and care felt, the mysterious bond of parenting becomes audible.

OUT 2015 Poster

I hope you will join me for Out of the Mouths of Babes: An Evening of Mothers Reading to Others this Saturday evening, March 7, at Dewey Historic Hall in Sheffield, MA. If you are far away, stay tuned to this event and the ongoing blog series here on Laundry Line Divine. If this topic of the Village intrigues you, here are the submission guidelines for the blog series.
Out Blog Series Submission Guidelines 2015

And, wherever you are in your life, with or without children, I urge you to consider Lissa’s reflection. Becoming willing and curious opens our lives to new ways of being. Look at your Village and wonder, who is here and how do they care for me? Who do you care for and what impact does this have on your life?

More on all of this during the month of March.
xoS

PS Lissa is one of a growing group of creative women expressing from inside motherhood. Here is Lissa’s post in the Out of the Mouths of Babes blog series. This piece also appears in An Anthology of Babes: 36 Women Give Motherhood a Voice, available here and here.

The Village: Amanda Magee

Dismantling the Armor of Busy

It was December, we’d been granted an unexpected night out. My folks were visiting from the West Coast and mid afternoon my mom texted me at work, “Don’t come straight home. Spend time with your husband. Go. Get a drink. Gaze into each other’s eyes.” I thanked her and said that we would. It reminded me of those first weeks after we brought our firstborn home. I was besotted, doing nothing but nursing and watching her. My mom set a sandwich on the arm of my chair and whispered, “Save something for Sean.” Those words have come to me throughout our 12 years of marriage, particularly when the well is dry and he says, “What about us? When do we become a priority?”

I told Sean we had a pass for the night. He looked surprised, “Wow. So, what do you want to do?” Where there ought to have been flutters of excitement, I felt tired and oddly disappointed. We stood there looking at one another. Everything about us was tentative; from the way we left the office to how we slowly threaded our way across the snowy parking lot.

We settled on visiting a new restaurant close by. Climbing into the truck I wondered, “Do you think they can take us without a reservation?” He shrugged, one hand on the wheel, “We won’t know unless we go in and ask.” I envied his ability to slip into date mode.

NPR played softly on the radio as we pulled up in front of the restaurant, a massive old mansion with a wrap around porch. I thought of our own porch and how we hadn’t yet chipped away the ice on the stairs. There are also the two small trees in the backyard that split in the ice storm; the limbs need to be cleared. The trampoline is weighted down with snow.

He pecked me on the cheek before heading up the walk to see about a table. I waited, worrying we might be turned away. After a few minutes he sent a text saying that we were all set. I walked up the path, breathing in the night air to calm my nerves.

The restaurant was unpleasantly crowded; hips and elbows grazed my shoulder as I sat in the center of the room. I imagined that if you were to look at the room from an aerial view it might resemble a pinball game, tables positioned for optimal crashing and pinging.

Sean sat across from me looking content, which made me retreat further into my unease, shifting my focus to us felt awkward. I wondered what our daughters were doing. Phantom pangs of things I ought to have been doing pelted me—

The laundry still isn’t folded.

I need to find that Frozen pajama top for Polar Express day.

I left the mail meant for our neighbors on the counter again.

Did the creamer get put away?

 

“Did you want to start off with something to drink?” I looked up to see our waitress smiling at us. Sean tapped the menu and said, “We’ll take a bottle of this Sauvignon Blanc.” He was beaming at me as he said, “Sound good, babe?” I nodded and smiled, taken off guard, “Yes, great.” She nodded at us and promised to be right back.

I watched her go, avoiding Sean’s gaze and feeling utterly unprepared to meet his hopeful face. How did this happen? How can being adored become one more thing?

The relentlessness of vulnerability in parenting and marriage startles me. Each day brings with it so many new ways that I can’t seem to stretch my reserves far enough to meet everyone’s needs. Mean girls, puberty, common core math, adult time, down time, me time—sometimes it feels like trying to choreograph a multi-course meal with different dishes that each require distinct and precise cooking temperatures, specific rest times, and a delicate hand. If my marriage were a soufflé it would surely have fallen.

A question about work bubbled up and I swallowed it. Talking shop is not for dates.

“Hey,” he whispered, “You ok?” His blue eyes scanned my face. I brightened, “Yup.”

He cocked his head and did that funny thing he does with his mouth when he knows I’m glossing over something. I shifted in my seat and decided to try. Our dinners came soon after the wine and we made short work of it. Little by little the din of the room slipped away and I found myself looking from his eyes to his hands.

When he practices a new song on guitar he watches his fingers, moving them gently, yet deliberately across the fret. Usually the girls are in bed and I am curled up on the couch. I love being able to watch him when he isn’t looking. It takes me back to Williamstown in July of ’99. That summer his forehead was sun kissed and he smelled like clover. I’d press my hands on his temples and kiss his forehead, running my lips back and forth. When he looks up we smile at each other, in our twenties and flirting again, but the years since then still present. Sometimes he’ll grin and put a finger on the right side of my mouth, “Your fang is caught,” a reference to a tooth that catches on my lip sometimes. No one’s ever noticed that about me and I still get a fluttery feeling when he mentions it.

“Are you ready?” he asks. I nod and we make our way from the restaurant. “What next?” he asks. I bite my lip, suddenly realizing how much I want to be with him. These times when I am not actively grading my performance as a mom, not feeling conflicted about a checker board schedule are so few and far between. Desire blooms, and I am reminded that beneath the wrinkles of my forties and the layers of my exhaustion, I am still inside.

“What about shooting pool?” I ask. He looks at me grinning. We both know that leaning over a pool table with a cue in my hand is one of the only things that lifts away everything but the next set up—I go from pursed lip, tight ass to smiling, smart ass in one shot.

I watched him chalk the cue, his shirt cuffs poking out from beneath the sleeves of his sweater. Half my mind considering the table and how the break may go, the other half realizing that sometimes you have to follow your instinct, I let my shoulders slip.

IMG_7152

Forget that the combo shot may be a scratch, blow off the fact that you may make a fool of yourself, sometimes the ball sinks, or if you’re lucky, the flutters come back.

The tricks in my head of thinking there are have-tos more important than I love yous can get the best of me. I think maybe it’s that I always thought that it was supposed to come easy. If it’s true love, if it’s a strong marriage, if you’re a good enough person then it just comes. Turns out it’s more of a matter of being able to see your shot and trusting that your eye and your gut can get you to the sweet spot.

 

A photo posted by Amanda (@amandamagee) on

Amanda Magee lives in the Adirondacks of New York State, where she is raising her three daughters with her husband Sean. She owns an advertising agency. She’s been known to tweet irreverently about life, work and everything in between at @amandamagee. She blogs about life with 3 girls, and how the bitter and the sweet tumble together, at amandamagee.com. Her Huffington Post blogs are here.

The Village: My man is a handy man

Painting by Terry Wise
Painting by Terry Wise

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.

 

A photo posted by Suzi Banks Baum (@suzibb) on

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.

Please share this image!
Please share this image!

 

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.
-Eavan Boland

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?

xo,

 

S

 

 

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.

 

Powder Keg Sessions create a Village!

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Yesterday, the Powder Keg Sessions writing workshop women presented their first public reading at No. Six Depot in West Stockbridge, MA. We are part of the Berkshire Festival of Women Writers reading series. We had a blast. It was such a joy to share this new work, some of it rough, some of it published, but all of it new, original and brave. I am deeply grateful to Lisa Landry and Flavio Lichenthal for hosting us at No. Six.

This gallery of photos are all taken by Lynnette Lucy Najimy of Beansprout Productions. Lynnette and I work together to produce my March 7, Out of the Mouths of Babes: An Evening of Mothers Reading to Others. This year, we have a new element to our presentation- nine women writers and a new short movie titled The Permission Slip which features poet Ingrid Wendt reading her poem, “The Simple Truth.”  Oh please join us. $10. donation at the door, art by Berkshire women artists, socializing over bedtime snacks and more.

Happy Monday all! Brand new week!
xoxoS

 

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