Reflections on the Impermanence of Young Motherhood

That nothing is static or fixed, that all is fleeting and impermanent, is the first mark of existence. It is the ordinary state of affairs. Everything is in process. Everything—every tree, every blade of grass, all the animals, insects, human beings, buildings, the animate and the inanimate—is always changing, moment to moment. – Pema Chodron

Fleeting.

 

I’m trying to memorize the feeling. The soft, warm flesh of a four year old, whose body fits, curled up into the small of my back, while we sleep. Really, she’s too big to be sleeping in our queen sized bed – owning all the room that her parents should rightly share. This girl – the way she sneaks in a kiss on the top of my head every time she rolls over in the night. She fits like an extension of my form, arm draped over my collarbone, leg nestled over a hip – her snuggles a tonic to the loss of her littleness. But despite the errant foot in the face, or the fact that my husband and I both hug the outer six inches of each edge of our bed, despite the fact that she has a comfortable bed across the hall in the room she shares with her sister, I can’t bear to put her in it. I can’t bear to relinquish this form of quiet closeness to this child, my last child, because doing so would be to admit the end of my days of early motherhood – the end of diapers and breastfeeding, baby wearing and bed sharing- all the physical and emotional intertwining I have so cherished as a mother to babies and toddlers. The end of the most wonderful phase of my life.

Of course, I’ll always be their mom, their mother. But “mama” is a special kind of being in relationship with tiny souls whose entire world revolves around you – mama – the sun of their existence. I’ve been left breathless by the speed with which they have assumed the mantle of their own lives. My oldest daughter spends much of her time closed in her room, the sun of her own universe. A place where I now cast a reflective glow, but am no longer the fiery center. Sometimes that place at the fiery center burns. I think of the time I waited – glassy eyed, catatonic – overwhelmed by the immediacy and demands of new motherhood – for my husband to get home from work and without a word, walked out the front door, down the street to the edge of the stream, where I stood and stared into the water, watching it rush by, until I could reclaim the feeling of being human. But more often, being the sun at the center of their lives meant long days of nursing, snuggling, napping – letting the mundane details of everything else in life fade away. In that place, I would become saturated in the feeling of this tiny body containing a vast soul – so new to this earthly plane, but timelessly familiar. So many moments of the last decade I spent like this – viscerally connected to these beings who understand and communicate without words, who seem so innocent, so helpless. But I know their secret, the babies. They contain a wordless wisdom, an essence of spirit – that we adults spend our entire lives waking up to. They are pure potential, the embodiment of God, spirit turned flesh before culture carves its mark and the hardness of time and loss and pain leave an imprint. I wish I could contain that feeling, bottle it, so I could pull it out and inhale its heady scent whenever I wish. But like trying to lasso a cloud, the memories float by, changing shape, dancing around the edges of my mind – there, but shifting, moving, falling through the curl of my fingers, just out of reach. The tears well up even now, at the sheer mention of this ending, at the knowledge that time marches without any consideration of my longing to be once again buried under the flesh of small child, the heavy weight of young motherhood, the lightness of being.

the dancing girls

the dancing girls

Everything is in process, yes. My three girls are in the process of gaining increasing mastery over their own lives. They are in the process of learning at lightning speed and expressing their spirit with confidence. They are in the process of becoming the center of their own universe. I am in the process of becoming the mom who can sit back with a book and watch as her children play in the ocean without the immediate fear they will be swallowed up by the beautiful fierceness and power of it. I am in the process of learning to play the guitar and diving deeper into photography and expressing my creativity and voice in a multitude of ways. I am in the process of discovering who I will become without the weight of early motherhood suffocating all the minutes of the days. In the freedom of their becoming, I am liberated into space and time for my own becoming. My heart is eager for all that is to be – for them and for me, but I mourn for those lost days of feeling a forming child swimming around in my belly, of traveling the cosmic path of childbirth and bringing back a beautiful, soft, pink, perfect baby, of keeping that baby close to my skin, close to my heart, close to the center of my being, for all those fleeting days. I am left breathless at the speed with which their early childhood has passed and the grief of mourning their newness – a snapshot of time that can never be relived, no matter how many beautiful photos I take. Of course I celebrate the what-is, the children that they are now, – but that feeling of being so viscerally connected to these beings always dances around the edges of my consciousness. As we all grow through this life together, I will gladly cast the reflective glow of my mother love onto them as I rightfully hover more and more at the edges of their existence. But a part of me will always live in the beautiful, painful, fleeting fierceness of young motherhood, when my body, my soul, my love was the fiery center of their existence.

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