At Home, Cambridge, Massachusetts
Our new apartment sits adjacent to a pre-school. Today is pretty warm so the kids were playing outside this morning. You can hear them pretty loudly from the living room, which is pretty funny at times. Yesterday they were all howling for a good ten minutes. Today I’ve been imagining how much Baby V is going to want to watch them from the window when she hears them come outside to play. And eventually she is going to want to play with them. I can just imagine her little head perched against the window, longing to play with the big kids. It was a lovely morning, sitting in the sunshine, working on my thesis, and contemplating my little girl. I can’t wait to meet her.
H. and D.'s House, Chattanooga, Tennessee
Parents are made for leaving behind. This is what I've been thinking about since Thanksgiving. It's been rolling around the back of my mind, but it's a thought that I've had a hard time giving traction to.
During our visit to Pittsburgh, it really struck me again that I don't have to be my parents, that I can be different from them. I can be free without loving my parents any less. Connected to this realization, I thought about my own future children and how one day they will feel the same way towards me. I will never give them a perfect enough home that they should want to stay under me. They will feel as frustrated with me as I have felt at times toward my own parents. Frustration isn't even the right word, though. It's more the basic human need to differentiate oneself from those who have come before. I am not my parents, they are not me. I can't seem to find a way to express myself adequately here.
My families all love each other deeply and we all want to be with each other. But there is still the issue of how the generations relate to each other. We get in each other's ways and often can't seem to understand what is truly service and blessing for the other. Parent and the child waltz around one another trying to figure out how best to love.
It seems to me that at stake in so much of the parent-child dynamic is what must or should be done to maintain closeness. I want to feel closer to my parents who live far away, so I feel pressure to replicate their choices and selves in my life. We are all afraid of not feeling close to each other, because in fact we aren't "close" but live thousands of miles apart.
In the end, I think more and more that what we have to accept is that parents are made to be left. Marriage is the most important relationship in a person's life – it is the only relationship where there might be some expectation of lifelong companionship. Parenting is a short-lived endeavor. It is in incubator – short, intense, and hot – and then it must be turned off. For me, I need to turn off my desire for my parents to parent me. I want to stay in the incubator, but the time to turn off the lights has long passed. That time has passed and is gone and we are no longer sharers of the same space.
As I think about having children of my own, I do not need to contemplate how to keep them for the entirety of the rest of my life. I will give them life and then it will be their own. I will have Trey afterwards. Every family is nothing more than a succession of incubators, maintained and cared for by a pair of life-long friends. This should be a relief. I am not my parents; I am not my children. I am only myself.
At Home, Arlington, Massachusetts
We just returned to Boston from Prince Edward Island. I fell deeply in love with the place, though I think somehow I already was through my childhood love of Anne of Green Gables. On the long drive home, we listened to an audiobook of the first Anne book. So many memories of my girlish self came back. I have always resonated on a profound level with the Anne stories and it doesn't seem to wane with age.
I'm not quite sure how, but these got me thinking tonight about my own future family and the many fears and sorrows I harbor concerning them. I think it might have started with the way the Anne stories have always stirred up my longings for "place." As a child who struggled terribly with identity and a sense of home, and as an adult who spent almost an entire decade on the move, Montgomery’s sense of belonging to a place and a people has always struck a deep nerve with me – tonight I've once again been pondering my own inability to claim a "home."
As I think about my siblings, my parents, and myself and the unlikelihood of us all living in the same place again in life, and as I contemplate the general roaming, caravanning way of life among my generation, the more I long for the certainty of the location of life past generations enjoyed. I often feel like it will be necessary for my children to know stability.
But really, wherever we are and whatever degree of locational sameness we give our children, they are only with us for a short time. All we can provide them is the proverbial wing to shelter under, and then they are gone, whether it is to the other side of the world, or the next street over. They will leave us, and they must leave us, and geographic proximity can't reduce the process.
Vacationing with my parents earlier this summer, and Daniel and Bethany just this past week, has really caused me to think about the next "level" of adulthood that it seems God is pushing me into. I've been on my own throughout my twenties, sometimes very much so. But it seems like my thirties will really be the time in which I will not just be figuring how to live and operate on my own, but also come fully into womanhood. It's time for me to "become my own man." Doing so is not and will not be a severing of familial ties; but, it will change them. It will reduce my fear of disapproval and disagreement. It will empower me to imagine the life I believe in and strive after it. It will reduce my unconscious attempts to placate and replicate my parents, letting go of things I truly disagree with and embracing those that I wholeheartedly embrace.
For me, geography and independence are inexplicably intertwined. My guilt for leaving often resurfaces in my attempts to keep things exactly the same. But it is not good for children to stay under the wing prolongedly, whether physically or metaphorically. My children will do the same to me wherever I raise them. They will be with me for a time, and then they will leave, and then they will change. Life will go on.
The important thing is that I have a life that will go on.
At Home, Arlington, Massachusetts
I've realized two things recently.
First, I am incredibly jealous of people, particularly those close to me. I have a pervasive and unsettling inability to rejoice with those who rejoice. When someone close to me experiences something good, my immediate and first reaction is to feel insecure, as if this good thing for someone else is by default bad for me. It causes me to think that people do not like me, or that I am dumb, or that others never want to include me. It's like FOMO, but incredibly twisted and sad, and it causes me to stress constantly about people, trying to evaluate them and perceive if they are doing better, or getting more out of life than me.
I need two things. I need to learn to be deeply and truly content. I need to remind myself daily that if I cannot be happy with what I have now, then I will never be happy. If I cannot cherish the people and the material gifts and the opportunities I have now, then I will not cherish those things if they change. Additionally, I need to learn what it means to rejoice with those who rejoice. I am quite good at mourning with those mourn. My life is a constant “mitgefuehl” with the woes of the world. But I do not know how to be happy with those that are happier than me. I am missing an entire half of the equation of what it means to love people.
All of this has struck me recently because I've struggled greatly with jealousy concerning those closest to me. I've been jealous of family members having fun without us. I've been jealous of my sister's beauty and talent, even though I am incredibly proud of her. I've been jealous of my husband’s intellectual abilities, even though those abilities will support and provide for our family. I've been jealous of numerous people very near to me for numerous silly reasons. And as I thought about all of this on the T ride back from the Athenaeum today, it struck me - I will struggle with jealously of my children. If I am jealous now of these silly, petty things when I am in the prime of my life, what will I be like when I am aging and my children are not? I need to learn contentment.
The second realization I've had concerns my mother and my fear of motherhood. Just the other day, Trey was teasing me about how much I will worry over our children, or in fact, how much I already worry over them without having any! I admitted to the fact that I already frequently worry about our future children and pray for their souls. We laughed together, but in the midst of the laughter, it struck me that the degree to which I feel anxious over our children, my mother has felt similarly anxious and more for me. It became real and tangible to me in a way I've not known before that I am my mother's anxieties. I am what worries her, has worried her for 30 years, in the way that I worry for my own children. It was staggering to think about, and fearful. I always say that it terrifies me to think of having a child like myself, and it was as if I could feel the anxieties of my mother for me as her reality and my reality merged with each other for one brief moment. Motherhood seems like a frightful thing and I am glad for my mother's endurance in it.
(Image by Gertrude Käseboer, "The Heritage of Motherhood.")
Momma and Daddy's Flat, The White House Guesthouse, Glasgow
I really want to live abroad with my children whenever I have them. In particular, I would love to live in Edinburgh. Some of the greatest treasures of my childhood were my experiences living overseas and in various places around the county. As with most things in life, this is also funnily the most painful aspect of my childhood. For so much of my life, I longed to have a sense of place. But now I look back and am deeply thankful for the way my world was always a much bigger place than it would have been if I had just lived in one location. I hope I get the opportunity to share this aspect of who I am with my children.
B. and V.'s Flat, Shoreditch, London
I want to listen to my children if I have any. And by that, I don't mean adhere to them, but rather to take them seriously, to engage them, and above all to remember what childhood was like. I want to hear their souls.
We went to see Matilda tonight and it brought me to tears. Though my childhood was of course nothing at all like that depicted on stage, the point of the play hit home. So many things about childhood are deeply painful and adults too often feel distant and terrifying. Children think that growing up will give you the strength to overcome the multitude of fears you face and the loneliness you feel. Childhood in many ways is essentially lonely, even in the very best circumstances. Children may be dear playmates, but they are never less than competitors, and adults may be deeply loving, and have no clue how to communicate with you or hear, really hear, what lies underneath the seemingly simple exterior of your childhood.
Children are never simple and what may seem petty or foolish is usually only a simple expression of a very serious and complex emotion within. I observe many parents who don't understand their children, especially if they have moody children, and it makes me sad. These kids are simply dealing with all of the things we deal with now as adults, but in childish terms. If only more adults could remember, truly remember, what their internal lives as children were like, and from that starting point try to engage their children. This won't make their children any less sinful, but I imagine it would enable those children to feel less like growing up will solve all of their problems, and in turn create less adult exasperation that all of our problems haven't yet been solved.
Families are always messed up, and they always will be. Children will always have a rough time. Growing up will always suck. There were many things I loved about homeschooling and I still want to try to do it myself; but, if there is any charge that I level against the homeschooling movement of my childhood, it was the idea that homeschooling would fix families. Yes, I know (as so many parents have told me) that our childhoods were nothing like their unhappy experiences in the school system. I do not challenge that. But just because something is better than horrible does not mean it cannot also be painful. My siblings, my friends, and I all grew up in what were, all things considered, idyllic homes. And we all have deep turmoil in our souls over many things concerning our childhoods. Does this mean that our childhoods weren't good? Of course not! But it is a fault of homeschooling to fail to understand that even in healthier contexts we could have our own issues within childhood. If we can't openly talk about the pain of our experiences, we cheapen something that was good in a broken world by turning it into a false ideal. When we argue that something was better than the alternative, we sometimes fail to recognize the traumas of our own ways. We are all broken people with very real and significant pains – every happy homeschooling family included.
And this is why I want so much to really hear my children. Whatever paths we choose for and with them, their lives will be painful. They will be broken. I will cause that brokenness. And the worse thing I could do would be to think that I can create a system that would offset the brokenness, when really the best thing I could do is just actually get to know my child's heart.
About the Project
This is a very personal project. It tracks my growth and development as I journeyed toward motherhood over the recent years. It doesn't document every experience I had, and probably neglects my more joyful and peaceful moments in the frenzy of trying to communicate my fears, anxieties, and doubts. If you are a friend or loved one, please do not let anything you read here overshadow what you know of me personally. If you are a stranger, please remember that a living and flawed person stands behind these words. To all my guests here, please understand these are not political statements and try to extend me grace, even as I share my failures and foibles - I have repented of much of what I share. I don't share this journal as an exemplar, but rather out of the desire to share my hope that entrance to motherhood does not need to be a fearful thing - despite the very real fears I have fought against. Motherhood is simply a part of life and one through which I am discovering more of myself and my God.