On this day twenty years ago today I was very pregnant.
I was uncomfortable in the best of ways.
My body was tuning for a symphony that has played on for winters and summers and falls and many, many revitalizing springs.
I have become, my 5’7” frame, wide thighs, strong arms- an orchestra hall with acoustic panels surrounding the conductor, my heart.
This symphonic alignment of my being began with a newborn devotion to love, to my husband and the possible future we conceived before we had an iota of an inkling of how this musical passage would alter the course, the texture, the foundation of our lives forever. Forever, that is, being from that moment until now which has every indication of momentum, of forward motion.
I have learned, while caught in this musical reverie, to be more present, to drop my prospective planning of future to settle in to the melody of now.
This journey, the playing of the symphony of motherhood in my life, in the concert hall of my body, in the acoustic sphere of my emotional life, in the reverberant sound waves that pulse into the world around me has called me in to a vivid kind of listening.
20 years ago, I found myself in the scarlet velvet seat of mothering and I have not tired of the changing melodies, the sonorous undertones, the minor keys, dissonance and cacophony yielding to mellifluous tones.
I have questioned at timorous times whether I could trade my seat for a better view or perhaps a different composition. I have wondered if I could just turn the sound off or at least lower the volume more than many times.
But this all penetrating, relentlessly consistent world of sounds is as steady as sunrise. It has the beauty of Yeats:
“I thought of your beauty, and this arrow
Made out of a wild thought, is in my marrow.”
The music is that close to me, so close it is within me. I pulse with it. Even twenty years in.
Poet Alicia Suskin Ostriker wrote in a poem,
“Oh young mamas
no matter what your age is you
are born when you give birth
to a baby you start over
and both gently, just slightly
separated from each other
like a vine, like an oriole’s nest”
I might doze through a passage, I may flat out sleep through an exciting part, but when I wake the symphony reels on, playing in and though and around me. Curious to me is the fact that no one else hears my symphony of motherhood. They witness the effects of its playing, catch wafts of sound when the breeze carries it just right, but on the whole, I am the only one who hears this sound. I venture to guess each of us have our own symphonies, the ones struck in to our mothers and fathers and the ones that are struck in to us each as parents. This symphony is an ocean of sounds waves that permeate every single thing I do.
So, when 20 years ago, my husband performed the ubiquitous duty of parking the car on 7th Avenue in Greenwich Village at 4:35 AM on a Sunday morning, I clung to a parking sign post that prohibited him parking right there, but provided me with an anchor. I was lost to all social decorum. Lost to the delicacies of how people behave on a city street, albeit the wild frayed edge of morning on a warm July weekend. My bare hot hands pressed in to the green metal, sharp-edged and evenly punched with holes that I could peer through between contractions.
I felt a wave of sound coming at me. I braced myself, as if that parking sign post was the mast of a great ship, bow heading right in to the wind, musical notes pelting me, an unfamiliar melody that now, 20 years later is the sound of my cells.
I sailed in to motherhood and I live in the symphony, square in the center of this haunting, startling, heart-breaking beauty.
This morning I was struck by this phrase from John O’Donohue’s book Beauty.
“Each of us is aware of certain threshold times in the lives of our hearts when such thoughts arrived and changed everything.”
Our son, my boy Ben, is in Munich, warm in the arms of our German family. If he cannot be here, eating blueberry buckle for breakfast, then him being there is a comfort and joy for us both. I will spend the day listening to the current measures of this music, the ones that carry his voice over the airwaves or the cadence of his speech in a text.
Hey Mom. Just wanted to hear your voice.
Mothering is about sound, about hearing, and about listening.
Thank you Ben for bringing this music to my life.
Twenty is very good.
Very good indeed.
That segment of the Alicia Suskin Ostriker poem, Propaganda Poem: Maybe for Some Young Mamas, appears in her book,
The Mother/Child Papers, published by University of Pittsburgh Press 1980, 2009. You can find it here.
PS Subscribers to Laundry Line Divine have been given a chance to update your connection to this website. I hope you will continue reading me here, following the work I do and the events I produce. I am taking An Anthology of Babes: 36 Women Give Motherhood a Voice on tour this August to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Stay tuned for news!