Here is an article I wrote two years ago, describing the way our pasts touch our present life as mothers and offer many moments for healing, growth and surrender….
I want to know where I’m going
I want to go where the rivers are over-flowing
I’m ready to let the rivers wash over me
I’m ready”—Tracy Chapman
My son Lucas is almost five. He is a bright ball of energy and light, incessantly curious, joyfully silly, amazingly athletic, his little cells bouncing everywhere in eager exploration of the world. When I was his age, I was sitting in a corner, rocking myself over and over with eyes glazed over.
My mother, in the midst of a nervous breakdown stemming from the deep tragedies of her own life, had pulled me into her neuroses and mired me in a world of confusion and devastation. A year later, I was placed in foster care where I moved twenty three times between the ages of 5 and 18. Many years and much healing work later, my life feels miles away from that unhappiness.
Recently though, I have been walking around for weeks with a deep sadness, always just under the surface. I thought I was overwhelmed by parenting or feeling lost in my life’s direction. I knew something was wrong because I was falling into old addictions of sugar and TV. I could feel the heaviness in my heart, the old familiar numbness that crept in, but I thought it was simply the buildup of the daily frustration of trying to balance family/home/work life.
Then I was reminded that this is grief. Grief that was getting triggered throughout my experience of mothering my children.
Since my children were born, I have been concerned that they would not know the love I have given them. I battled with a fear that I would die and they would never know how profoundly I love them. In my own journey I have a hard time accessing any memory of life before the breakdown and so have never known the experience of a loving mother. This is a common fear I have learned, for women who have lost their mothers. Our memory of mother love is so fuzzy or nonexistent that we want to make it clear for our children that they do belong and are loved profoundly.
I marveled at the way a mother’s love is required in so many moments in a single day. A child needs so much love. You just don’t know this until you know it. We needed and deserved so much love. Now that my son is at an age I can recall, the stark difference between his reality of love and security, and mine at that age is magnified. This realization shines a bright light on the wounded heart that did not get what it needed to thrive. This grief is triggered in simple moments of conscious mothering. In the knowing that this connection was never there and in the struggle to find it for myself and my children.
Right on cue, as I wrote these words, my daughter wakes from a nightmare. I take over twenty minutes to soothe her back to sleep. She cries and cries, then after trying various positions next to me, she climbs onto my chest and falls asleep there. Feeling our hearts beat together, the tenderness of her drift off to sleep, I wonder, “Did anyone ever hold me this way, or take the time to hear and honor my cries?” I know that this sweetness rarely existed for me. That for a very long time I could not even fathom the possibility of this ease and comfort with others, nor within my own skin.
In this moment, I can stay in my head reasoning it all out. My eldest sister did her best to be my fill-in mom. As the youngest, I probably received more love and attention overall than any of them had. But the truth is, that not one of us received the love we needed. I could just accept this in my head, or detach from it as my story, but the blunt pain would still be there. So instead I let it flow out….
Ohhhh this ache, this bittersweet moment of fullness as a mother, graced with a heart full of love…tempered by the rawness of the child within me awakened to a longing I had forgotten. After I lay down my daughter, I hold tight to my heart, sobs emerging. I tell myself, “Oh dear one, you needed and deserved so much love.” Yes, yes, yes, the words flow in tears, with gratitude at being seen.
I ask for guidance, “How do I mother all three of us?” knowing that the path to healing is to embrace myself as one of my own children. I am reminded to give my needs and desires credence and make time for my soul to feel this journey. To allow time and space to release, release, release the old story and pain, all of it, every time it re-emerges.
Though it may not always be convenient, a moment of honoring my feelings opens me up and allows me to be truly present and alive. The grief comes and when allowed, goes, like a river rushing downstream. The lightness that follows is almost giddy as I shed another layer (an energy my children always find irresistible).
When I remember this, I can find a quiet space even in the throes of motherhood, to as Tracy Chapman says, “let the rivers wash over me.” To wash over me and cleanse and restore my heart to a watery place of surrender and grace.