November 1, 2014

Resilience: On Working and Mothering

We have been having conversations lately, my son and I. Last night while I was putting on his pajamas, it was about the man on the road walking his dog. A week ago it was about porcupines, and how, for him, they have somehow come to mean "ouch." This afternoon, we looked at the leaves. They were so red--this one line of maples--and when I said, "Aren't they beautiful, El, all bright like that?" he said yes.

"Yesss," he said, drawing out the sibilance, nodding his head. He looked up at me. He was wearing a winter hat. He was holding my hand.



His father and I worry sometimes about him. More accurately, we worry about my leaving in the morning, followed by G's leaving from the daycare door, followed many several hours later with one of us returning, sometimes both (but often not before he's in bed), and how he interprets our comings and goings, how he feels about the drive away from home, if there is a part of him, come 3:30, 4:00 in the afternoon, that waits.

Sometimes, after I've returned from work and picked him up and squeezed him and whispered to him and asked him about his day and interpreted his new words and kissed him and kissed him, I say, "Elliot, are you okay? You doing okay, little man?"

"Yessssss," he says, and I hold onto that just like I hold onto his hand.

As he has grown, and as I've progressed through motherhood, I've watched both of us relax into the new selves we continue to become. As a baby, he needed my arms to fall asleep, and the moment I tipped my body forward to set him down, he would feel it, tense up, resist the change and cling. Tonight, all smiles, he asked for his bed, for his Monkey and Morty and Blanket; he didn't even need me to sing our special song, although as I tucked his blanket around his body I sang it anyway. And I think about the way I was those first months, questioning everything, hours on the internet searching out the answers, puzzling over a little red dot an inch above his ankle. I still worry, sure, but he knows now about "shaking off" a bump or bruise because that's what I've taught him, and I suppose inadvertently it's something I've relearned, too: we are resilient.

Someday I will be able to explain to him about work in a way that is more than a one-syllable word, this thing I leave for. I will be able to talk with him about Reuben and about Reed, about Zoe and Madeline, about the way certain students are curious and others funny and others afraid, about the way my heart is somehow big enough for these rooms of people. "I may come home tired," I will say to my boy, "but isn't it something remarkable that I never come home less?"

I've asked myself: Can I do both well? Mothering and teaching, giving and giving and giving, and getting back.

Let me tell you: The answer to this question isn't on the internet.

We are each being pulled and stretched and pressed and bent. How can this not be our daily experience when life is so big? When there is so much to want--not things, but much. I will flail a little bit, dip my toes in the chaos. I'm convinced that if there is a truth to find, it is there.



This afternoon, the wind picked up the maple leaves--those bright and brittle stars--and sent them flying frenetically, unpredictably, beautifully down the road.

"Do you want to chase them, El?" I asked. And off he went, joyous, running and running, bending himself into the future, despite all the times before that he has fallen down.



12 comments:

  1. Beautiful, evocative post, Emily, written from a mother's heart. We really never stop worrying and wondering, even when they're grown. (And then,there are the grandchildren!)

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    1. Thanks, Barb. I think a little worry is inevitable, and the wondering is part of what keeps us connected. And grandchildren! My! Life is so full.

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  2. Lovely & complex & pulsing with such tenderness...I have no doubt you are doing all of it well. His joy the greatest testament!

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    1. Thanks, Robin. I'm trying, and in an effort to be gentle with myself, I think that's a good place to begin and begin again.

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  3. Emily:

    I've grown to love your unique style of writing; your individual "voice" always ringing clear and true. Recognizable and dependable. This fragment: "... about the way my heart is somehow big enough for these rooms of people." ... struck me deeply as a retired teacher. You, my dear, have a big heart; a caring heart, a loving heart. For El, your husband, your students, your profession, your writing.

    I wish you continued satisfaction in your life, pride in your accomplishments, and gratitude for your gifts and talents.

    May God gently shower you with blessings,

    ~ Richard ~

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    1. Thank you, Richard. I so appreciate your support here, especially as a former teacher. These kids--biological or otherwise. What I most appreciate about them is all that naked hope.

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  4. I wish I could have read something like this when I had my first child and wondered how I was going to leave him behind to return to work. This is so beautiful, so affirming, and so spot-on. You son is lucky to have you.

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    1. ...and even if you had, you probably would have needed to experience it yourself to believe it anyway, right? I know that's how it's been for me. Plenty of people have told me that things work out, whether we worry about them or not. But learning that lesson is now and probably will always be a work in progress. Thanks for the comment, Kathleen. :)

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  5. Of course the entire piece is beautiful, but I was especially caught by this: "We are each being pulled and stretched and pressed and bent..." That's true for us all, no matter the specific circumstances of our lives.It's good to acknowledge such realities, and to learn to accept them as the gift they are.

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    1. Absolutely. Everyday. It's more comfortable to stay in the same, I suppose, but considerably less interesting. Hope you are well, Linda!

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  6. Emily, beautiful mother, beautiful writer. Thanks for this.

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