Instructions for the New Mother
by Andrea Potos
Mothering magazine, January/February 1998 issue
Give up your calendar and clock,
start flowing with milk time.
Hunt for the frayed scraps
and threads of your fears.
Wrap your child’s cries around
the skein of your days.
Stop racing to meet your familiar ways–
will always beat you.
Lower that small fist of resistance
still struggling to rise within you–start now–
unclench your life.
I feel like I have spent my whole mothering journey trying to unclench my life and to surrender fully to the rhythm of life with small children. I “should” myself a lot about this actually, telling myself about various things at various points during various days, “you need to just give up. You need to surrender. You need to figure out when to quit.” To be clear, this can be about things as simple as fixing myself breakfast or as complicated as wondering if I should give up blogging. As I’ve referenced, I’ve been going through a period of internal debate about my blog and my writing and wondering if I should just stop writing for a while. I feel like I am constantly awash with blog ideas and can spend the better part of a day waiting for the opportunity to finally have a few minutes to write one. While I really love it and find it fulfilling to do, I don’t like the tickling feeling that I’m spending so much time waiting to write about my life, that I’m not actually fully living my life. And, I do not like the frustrated, blocked, squelched, and denied feeling I get when I’m not “allowed” the space in my day I feel like I need to write (see my post about “my music“). So, I’ve spent quite a bit of time moaning and groaning about how I just need to know when to quit. I also somewhat coincidentally stumbled on a blog post by Progressive Pioneer about quitting blogging, in which she makes a lot of interesting points about the “darker side” of blogging.
And, duh, I know some people reading might think, “it’s simple. Just write when you have time and don’t write when life is too hectic. It’s just a blog, dummy.” And, I know that maybe someone will comment and say that I just need to find, “balance” (which is why I already wrote about that here). I know myself well enough to know that isn’t how I work though—I am very black and white about my responsibilities. Either I can make room in my life for something or I can’t. I cannot STAND having things lurking in the back of my brain that I want to do, or should be doing, or thought I was going to be able to do. I either have to do them, or cut off the possibility all together, otherwise they haunt me. I am almost pathologically responsible and it is impossible for me to “just relax” when I have a to-do or ought-to or thought-I-was-going-to-get-to hanging over my head—even if they are completely self-imposed. Despite parenting for almost 8 years, I continue to have trouble realizing when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em, often struggling to keep working on something or doing something, even when it would make more sense to just quit—or, perhaps more rationally, take a break and come back later.
But, a couple of months ago as I struggled to complete something and simultaneously berated myself about not knowing when to quit, I also had a companion thought—is this what I want to teach my children? That when something feels difficult or is hard work or feels like a struggle, you just quit?! Do I want to raise children who give up when something isn’t going perfectly smoothly? Do I want them to learn to just throw up their hands, throw in the towel, and never raise a small fist of resistance? If I’d “known when to quit” trying to have another baby, I wouldn’t have Alaina right now. She is here expressly because I didn’t give up. I kept going even though it was hard and I felt like quitting and I even felt like maybe I was ignoring signs that told me I should quit. Maybe I’m actually glad I haven’t yet learned when to fold. So, I hold companion thoughts, that there is grace and ease in surrender; it makes sense, is harmonious, is zen. And, it is brave to try again. To not give up. There is beauty and strength in persistence and in refusing to quit. I do want my kids to know when to quit, but I also want them to value getting back up. I don’t want them to capitulate to the “plodding dullness of spirit” that can occur when you lower that small fist.
I was also reminded of an essay that I wrote several years ago, but no one has yet published, in which I considered the notion of “surrender” in relationship to mothering:
Is it more sensible, more true, more rational to surrender? Or is surrender another word for hiding behind? For failing to reach potential, to scale to new heights, to realize dreams. “I can’t because of the kids”—does that represent a truth and a surrendered, graceful acceptance of the season of my life, or does it actually mask fear and a hiding from potential? Isn’t it possible to hide behind my children and their need of me and in so doing deny all of us opportunities for growth and to stretch our personal boundaries?
Isn’t there value in the seeking? Is it better not to ponder and wonder, but instead to coast and flow? Which is more beautiful? Taking the fabric of life as it is and embracing it, or actively trying to sew something rich and new? Is acceptance or struggle more illuminating? Is flowing or paddling? Is it more graceful to surrender to the current or to flap my wings and soar above the trees?
What I know is that I wish to live passionately. With aliveness. Connected to the arteries and pulse of life. To know deepness, not hollowness. Sustenance and hope. Peace, but with the ability to peer into dark places and to ask difficult questions in order to more completely scale the cliffs of life. Vibrancy and truth in word, action, life, and rhythm.
I originally wrote the above in 2008 when my second son was two. After writing it, I paused in my chair and a spontaneous vision came to me—I was walking to the top of a hill. At the top, I opened my hands and beautiful butterflies spread their wings and flew away from me. Then, a matching vision—instead of opening my hands, I folded their wings up and put them into a box.
So, which is it? Open my hands and let my unique butterflies fly into the world. Or, fold their wings and shut them into a box in my heart to get out later when the time is right? Do I have to quit or just know when to stop and when to go? When to pause and when to resume?
What are the ways in which my children can climb the hill with me? To be a part of my growth and development at the same time that I am a part of theirs? How do we blend the rhythms of our lives and days into a seamless whole? How do we live harmoniously and meet the needs of all family members? To all learn and grow and reach and change together? Can we all walk up the hill together, joyfully hold up our open hands with our butterflies and greet the sun as it rises and the rain as it falls? Arm in arm?
I guess rather than balance per se, it comes back to mindfulness, attention, and discernment—knowing when to hold and when to fold. Just as I continue to return to my image of grinding corn, I continue to return to this inner vision of joyfully releasing our butterflies together…
Like many posts, I originally wrote most of this over a month ago, with, as noted, some quotes from a piece I wrote three years ago, but I continue to return to the same issues in my life. The to blog or not to blog question actually surfaced for me in this post, but I then published several other pieces before it that were also musing on the same topic—so, if this seems like a rehash of some recent posts, consider that this one came first! This morning, as I considered that the time had come to finally publish this post, I sat at my living room sacred space/altar and these words came to my mind: surrendering to the moment is not the same as a permanent surrender.