4 kids in 3 years: reflections on motherhood, art and life.
Yesterday* I was at the beach with my four children, catching some of the very last of the wonder that exists at the beginning of fall before boots and hoodies, when my children can still run barefoot in the surf, maybe even dunk themselves in the water knowing that the strength of the sun captured on our rocky beach will warm them in good enough time.
I sat leaning against a particularly warm stone, running my fingers through the pebbles in search of beach glass. It was only twenty years and one lifetime ago that I collected beach glass on another shore to turn into jewelry to peddle at New England craft fairs. Looking at my hands that seems like a lifetime ago, and yet I still have some of that jewelry sitting at the bottom of a small bowl containing mismatched earrings and buttons I’ve been meaning to sew on. Somehow those pieces of beach glass never go away, just become softer and rounder.
As my kids ran through the surf, pulled each other back and forth on a raft tethered with a rope from a lobster trap, I began to separate the large stones from the small in piles around me. With a book too hefty to read in the sun and no cell reception I was left to discard my time in utter pointlessness.
It reminded me of days at the beach just a few short years ago, where I’d plan and schedule these adventures for my three toddlers and infant, an adventure in the morning and then one again in the early afternoon. I’d leave the baby on the quilt napping, and then I’d direct the others in a very important piece of business.
Catch crabs! (To later release.) Build piles of stones as tall as you can! (To be knocked over by the next beach-comber to wander along.) Dig a hole and then build a wall to (literally) hold back the encroaching tide! (Enough said.) This was serious business, us laying out nature just so, making a mark to say we were here. And each day Mother Nature would come and erase our efforts.
And that’s how motherhood mostly felt during those early years. I described myself as Sisyphus in the movie Groundhog Day, a woman destined to roll a rock up a mountain on an endless loop. It felt like such a change from a working life, a recognized life. For all its beauty and almost mysterious minutia, mundane was how it felt. And forgettable. It’s one of the reasons I began writing again, so that I could leave a mark after the tide came in.
Today I was listening to Radiolab as I wiped down counters and moved laundry from dirty to wash to dry (repeat, repeat, repeat.) It’s a beautifully crafted show on NPR produced by WNYC that celebrates scientific curiosity in the most lyrical way imaginable. It was Neurologist and author Dr. Oliver sacks in a final interview with Robert Krulwich talking about how he didn’t find love (or it him) until he was 77 years old.
This was the man who inspired the movie Awakenings, a brilliant, funny, thoughtful man who was described by the New York Times as “the poet laureate of science.” He died on August 30, 2015 at the age of 82 after nearly a lifetime without fulfilling, romantic love.
For a man who loved science and life, and most of all humanity, the sheer human-ness of us all, this seemed absurd. At the root of this he recalled his mother saying that he was an “abomination” when he was just a teenager for daring to be born something different than she expected, for loving who he loved. (Remembering Oliver Sacks, August 30, 2015.) It made my voice clutch as I swept crumbs into piles, wiped fingerprints off the refrigerator.
What power we have in our mothering. What absurd responsibility to hand to people, mostly untried and unqualified, to provide another human with roots and wings, with a sense of self, with confidence, and perhaps most importantly, self-love.
Sacks said of his first love, found just five years ago, that he approached Sacks and said, “I have conceived a great love for you.” Such deeply felt words, finally.
I have made mistakes mothering my children. I yell too loudly, am too busy trying to keep up sometimes to keep joyful, I want so much for them that sometimes maybe I push too hard. And yes, there are days when I feel drained by it all, my own sense of self more a faint glimmer than anything truly present.
But in all my mistakes, may I do everything I possibly can to let my children know that they are wholly loved as they are, that they may have a crush on their kindergarten best buddy, pick a pink peg or a blue to place in their plastic Game of Life car when it comes time to marry, take a boy or a girl or someone who finds themselves in the in-between to a party, the prom, family dinner, to wed.
I have conceived such a love for my children that I love whoever loves them well, and most importantly, I love them no matter who they grow to be. There is no wavering on this. There must be no wavering on this.
On the beach I built a wall of rocks around the warming stone I’d been sitting at. As they fought and laughed and searched for crabs on their own, I picked and piled and built. I was about to close the circle but decided to leave it open instead.
The four of them wandered over to look at my creation. They said they remembered the stacks we used to make, the walls to hold back the tide. I took a photo to hold onto the memory of them standing there just so, in all their infinite and singular beauty. Then we left our circle of rocks there for the tide to disrupt, confident that in its way, some memory of this will be imprinted on the inside wall of who they are and who they will become, that this love we have conceived is forever.
*This was not written the day after yesterday as the first word of the whole thing might suggest. It was written in early September and then was sent to two different blogs and rejected. And thus, begins a new category of blog posts I share with you here, slightly stale, but with all the same nutrients and love, “Posts That Other Blogs Rejected.” Think of it as bread pudding. You’re welcome.