At Home, East Arlington, Massachusetts
Last week, my mom came to visit. Mothers are such complicated things. I don't think my relationship with my mother is any more complicated than anyone else's, but sometimes, in my most disoriented moments, it certainly feels that way.
My mom and I are very very different people. She is all practicality. She is rooted in life in a way that I've never been able to share. Her mind is all lines and sense where mine is chaos and flicker. People are central to her world. Ideas are central to mine. She listens to people's hearts. I imagine what their hearts could be.
Recently, I've started to realize that as much as she struggles to understand me, I struggle to understand her. For a long time, I thought that I was a lot like my mother. And we are. We both care about people a great deal, and I thought that her gifts and talents were mine. The thing about this is that of course most children inherit some of their parents' abilities. I got just enough of my mother's straightness, just enough of her “peopleness,” just enough of her empathy to think that I could go through life doing much of what she did. As with most children, I tried to pattern myself off of her frame.
But I can never be everything that my mother is because I can't understand her frame. And this is currently one of the biggest struggles in my life. Within me, there is a tug to be rooted in reality and people the way she is, but I can't do it. The times I've tried have overwhelmed me. But without following in my mother's footsteps, in whose footsteps do I follow? My own are a scary and lonely place.
I can't be my mother. And she doesn't want me to be her. She made it very clear when she was visiting that I have to be my own person. I have not been made to replicate her. But this is frightening. It is being cut loose into a world of decision. It is having to think. It is having to examine. It is having to trust.
There is so much within me that comes from my mother. Though we do not think alike, we certainly feel alike. And that strongly. And maybe that is why it is sometimes difficult to relate. Our minds and attitudes are miles apart, but our hearts beat the same emotion. We struggle to comprehend what the other is thinking, or why she is thinking such things, but we feel the same way – strongly and sensitively. Both deep love and great hurt are often produced by this reality.
My mother is a great woman. Perhaps the greatest I know. And in the end, this is the most profound reason why it hurts at times not to be just like her. I have risen and called her blessed, and I fear that unless my life looks exactly like hers, my children will not be able to do the same for me. What does it mean to honor your father and mother? Surely it does not mean becoming exactly them. And yet they have shaped me and molded me in indefinable ways. I am grateful to know they love me and are proud of me, despite all of the internal crises I put myself through.
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.")
At Home, Arlington, Massachusetts
My poor Norfolk Island pine is dying. I bought it in December to use as a Christmas tree in the grand Snoke tradition, but it hasn't fared well in the months since. I want it to live so much.
It needs to live. Not only do I hate letting living things pass away needlessly or due to negligence, but I also want it to live because of my mother. There is no single object on this earth that carries stronger associations with my mother for me than a Norfolk Island pine. Some of my earliest memories involve her love for her own pine and in my head I can clearly hear her voice rapturing over the pretty plants.
My mother causes things to grow and live, and she is a nurturer to the core. Sometimes this scares me. I don't see in myself the same intense desire to nurture. Sometimes there is so much more of my father than my mother in me, and he is the complete yin to her nurturing yang. For a while, I thought that centering everything in my life on the gift and desire to nurture was what I wanted to do, and ultimately what God wanted me to do. It's much of what took me into ministry. But it has completely drained me. For a while, I thought I was so much like my mother in this way; but in recent years, I've had to realize that I am much less so than I once imagined.
But my dad associates my mother's particular gifts with womanhood generally. In his mind, what she is is what all women most naturally are or want to be. Because my mother is a natural mother to all, he imagines that somehow these are the gifts all women have within themselves to bring to the table of God's economy. But I don't know if I can do it. Both my mom and my dad are inside of me, but everything in me that reflects my dad so often feels illegitimate.
And so I often end up afraid. I am afraid of becoming everything that my mother is because it's not everything I want to be or know myself capable of being. And I am afraid of not becoming my mother because she is to my mind, and to so many other people's minds, everything that a woman should be.
In the space that occupies these conflicting fears, I find my houseplants. They are small expressions of my attempts to be my mother. They allow me to connect to her, to feel I have something in common with her. But they are small, and in the end, extemporaneous to my life. They somehow allow me to be like her without really addressing the bigger callings of my life.
So they need to live. My Norfolk Island pine needs to live. Otherwise, not only am I lost to who my mom is in the larger, spiritual gift of nurturing, but I am also lost to it in the small, tangible spaces.
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.