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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.

Sunday afternoon writing time

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After the Powder Keg Sunday Session, a persistent, sweet feeling of the brave permission that happened here. #Berkshires women write. XoxoS

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If I offer you a word-morsel from my heart
does it matter so much, really, if you
deny my soul language?
If I believe this word-morsel is truth
what language could deny it’s reality?
If my last straw is a beginning to know,
how hard can it be to keep myself from the flames?
~Suzi Banks Baum

 

 

 

Today the Powder Keg Sunday Sessions met in my dining room.

There you have it. We have crossed the great public divide and brought my work home.

What a joy to clean up the house this morning knowing I was preparing for the arrival of what would happen when women show up with their journals and a willingness to dive in. Sometimes I write along with everyone. Today was one of those days. We answered a prompt I read on poet, Rachel McKibbens’ website. The prompt asks you to list “your last straws”. We took this ball and carried it throughout the afternoon. The writing took on a very soulful quality. We used my new painted Powder Keg Prompts to wedge new words in to our writing. The gathered writers had a really rich afternoon.

 

 

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What would you put on that last straw list? If you are in the Berkshires and want to write with us, our next gathering is November 19. I can only seat 7 women, so let me know ASAP if one of those chairs has your name on it.

It is Sunday afternoon. JNB is cooking in the kitchen. My girls are doing homework. The sun is setting on another day made good with light.

All my best to you,
S

 

Plenty of fish in the net of my heart: Linda Gregg’s poem and what I find in my net

The Joy of Effort by Suzi Banks Baum

When summer turns toward September there are still beach towels on the laundry line, but there are also sweaters on the backs of chairs and socks where there were only flip flops last week. I sit out on my back porch with jeans on wishing for another day of full summer sun, but know that, as Linda Gregg says in her glorious poem, there are lots of fish this time in the net of the heart.

SBB and JNB by Ruth Barron 2011
JNB and me.
SBB Senior Photo 1976 by Tim O'Leary
My best friend’s brother Tim took my Senior photo. The hair, the eyebrows. Oy.

I have always been one to prolong a good thing. I am married for 21 years this past July and I am shooting for another 50 if I live that long. When I graduated from high school in 1976, I was messy mixture of DAR Good Citizen of the Year and wild child. In my Senior Will, listed in the B’s at the back of my Eskymos yearbook, I said my life wish was to “have the ultimate too much fun.” I was quoting a song that I loved that the band I hung out with (didn’t we all hang out with a band?) played at parties. That song was all I had in my mind at the moment. Forget world peace or food for the hungry, I wanted to have fun.

Oddly enough, while I live in service of women’s voices, as a mother and family member devoted to supporting and loving my people and everyone I can get my hands on, having the “ultimate too much fun” has not been a bad credo. Without realizing it, I have pressed in to the ultimate part. I am a fiercely loyal person and relentless when I have a good idea or taste going. I have been part of theatre companies working on new plays and groups devoted to various causes like rent control or lake preservation, I have banded with others, and I have worked alone. What this “ultimate too much fun” has led me to is getting off my duff and doing, especially when the doing is fun. And that means I am a hard worker. I like this about myself.

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Leigh Strimback and Janet Elsbach and me, having fun at a reading of An Anthology of Babes: 36 Women Give Motherhood a Voice.
SBB at Bay Cliff by Bev Delaney
This may not look like I am having fun, but I am working Bay Cliff Health Camp in Big Bay, with Miss Terri and all the rest. Photo by Bev Delaney 1978

When I looked back at my Class of ’76 Senior Will, I was initially embarrassed to be so off color and rowdy. Couldn’t I have wished to find the cure for AIDS or to discover a new species of dragonfly? Wouldn’t it be oh so very virtuous to wish to build bridges and solve autism? I didn’t write that. I wanted to have fun.

I just turned 56 this week. I celebrated with my family and hosted a sweet evening around a campfire for my Moon Circle. We ate delicious chocolate cake with raspberries on top. Yes, I ate the last piece from the glass pan, licking the crumby layer of chocolate and red berries off my fingers. What recalls that Senior Will wish to me today is that there is no limit of cherishing something that could inspire me, like a birthday, like a raspberry, like this heavy air that promises rain on 9.11.

My birthday wish is the same as my Senior Will wish was, to have the ultimate too much fun. To work doing what I love with people I love. To meet new people and share an invitation to awaken their voices through making art and writing. To create space for women to feel permission to be their fullest selves, even on their bad days. To give voice to the inner landscape of my life as a woman who is a mother and to hold the light for others to do the same, whether that mother is here in the Berkshires or in Nigeria or cyberspace.

That sounds like a ton of fun to me. An ultimate too much fun.

What about you? What fish are in your net today?

Thank you for your birthday wishes.
I had a great day.
And I am ready to work.

All my love,

S

While searching for a way to request permission to publish Linda Gregg’s poem here on LLD, I see that her birthday is on September 9, one day after mine. Thanks to my Moon Sister Sarah for sharing this poem with me. Please read it here. If I can make contact with Linda, I will share it on Laundry Line Divine.

Writing Motherhood: Driving with teens

 

 

Catherine driving

Driving Mother

by Suzi Banks Baum

One tangle of mothering teens is this:

You emerge from sleep. You hear your teen making a smoothie. She is grinding what sounds to be at least two cement blocks lugged from the garage at a pre-dawn hour and placed without liquid in the Vitamix. You decide that getting up is better than pretending to sleep. Recalling an endless parade of bowls of oatmeal, granola and toast, you are happy to know the teen is feeding itself.
You pray. You meditate. You turn on the bathroom light.
You encounter the teen reading over the porcelain sink while brushing its teeth.
You greet the teen.
The teen grunts.
You pass by carefully so as not to dislodge toothbrush or book from grip of teen.

You pad downstairs to look after your hot drink. You avoid mess around sink hoping the teen will clean. You mention this to teen when next you cross paths between laundry room and mirror. Teen grunts again, clearly offended that you’d ever think to doubt its dish washing abilities.

You blow on your hot drink, steam rising. You consider the drive to school, weather, road and teen conditions. You check time with teen. Teen snarls at reminder. You sip hot drink. Teen says ten minutes. You go upstairs to dress. You move slowly, for in ten minutes much can be done. Quiet moments pass in your bedroom. You make the bed with one sock on and the other tucked in to your elbow as you shake out the comforter. Four minutes later you have the other sock on but no shirt and teen is ready. Impatient. You ask teen to go warm up the car.

You put your coat on in the chilly mudroom. Teen is now not ready. You don your boots. Now teen is in car and buckled in for safety. Somehow teen is ready and not ready within same two minutes.

Teen shall drive you and her to school. You buckle up.

There is a transformation that must happen in the dynamic between you and teen. Surly morning behavior must give way to supplicant asking for your gifted guidance, eyes and patience as teen backs car down icy driveway. You brace your hot drink with one hand, your body with the other against the dashboard as if you could slow this whole operation down a few years. But there is no slowing down now. You and your hot drink are here for the ride.

Teen drives. You breathe.
Teen stops at the light. Drink sloshes.
Teen breathes. You breathe.
Teen drives on.

Between the stoplights and the accelerations that require you to brace your self, your drink and her childhood, there are moments when teen is driving smoothly in correct lane at correct speed at correct distance from other vehicles while calculating arrival at potential stoplight ahead, incorrectly. Another sloshy stop.

Up a mountain you go and it is not even 7:45 a.m.
No need to speed.
Slight adjustments necessary for wandering over center-line or in to the breakdown lane, both descriptive of your current state- hardly centered and on the verge of breaking down.

Teen slows to final stop sign with newfound grace.
No slosh.
Teen flicks blinker on for right-hand turn in to school driveway.
Proceed up the hill.
Keep sunglasses on to mask wide-eyed gaze as you behold the coming confidence in this driver who just yesterday was using her slippered feet to scoot herself along in an orange plastic car with a yellow roof, small rubbery steering wheel glazed with saliva dribbled from a sore teething mouth.

Teen has driven herself to school. You, slightly damp, get out of car to congratulate her and yourself for a ride free of arguments and discussion of any heated topics like summer jobs and travel plans, perhaps one that includes back packing through India while teen is still a teen.

You watch teen haul heavy backpack and self-made lunch in to the cosmos of boys with wet hair and flushed cheeks, to on-call discussions about despair, a bio test and Student Senate, in to the world of sophomore year where mothers are not allowed on campus or anywhere near the topic of what exactly goes on in school today. Echoes of that cheerful question die on the lips of mothers of teens everywhere. Teen becomes more of a teen in tenth grade. Mothers become more mothers, wrestling steamy cups and conversations in cars driven by the hands of those who used to play Patty Cake.

You pour yourself in to the car where you no longer get to look in the rear view mirror to see teen nodding off in heavy blue plastic car seat lined in sheepskin, Good Night Moon in her hands.

She is a big girl now, this teen.

Buckle up.

 


 

 

 

 

Momma Love by Ali Smith on the altar with Grandma Jo waving.
Momma Love by Ali Smith on the altar with Grandma Jo waving.

 

 

 

Thank you for reading Laundry Line Divine.

If you are intrigued to know what would happen if you began Writing Motherhood, please join me June 9-10 at 6:00 PM at Edith Wharton’s summer home in the Berkshires. Yes, Edith has a room for us, with a door, behind which we will write and share.

More information is here.

For more writing from inside motherhood by Suzi and 35 other women, find yourself a copy of An Anthology of Babes: 36 Women Give Motherhood a Voice. In a recent review posted on Amazon and Good Reads, a reader said:

“This book is filled with little gems, golden nuggets of words and illustrations, emotions and dreams, vulnerabilities and expressions of deep pride, humor, poetry, and prose that’s visceral.”

You can give a gift to a friend that has the power to grace women’s lives. Proceeds from the sale of An Anthology of Babes benefit two organizations in Berkshire County that provide free and low cost health care for women and families locally. Make a difference in one woman’s life that ripples out in to the world.

Order your copy here.

Many thanks and much love,

S

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