My dear friend Tasha, told me (just before I gave birth to the Monkey) about her difficulties in breast feeding, and about one particularly difficult day at the pediatrician's office where she just broke down and cried about how guilty she felt about wanting to quit but wanting to do what was best for her sweet baby. The Doctor (a woman, I believe) hugged her and told her that she should get used to it, because feeling guilty was part of the job description for mothers, and that she should do what she had to do. Tasha decided not to give up and things got better.
I keep thinking about what that doctor said. At first glance it seems like a terrible thing to say to a young mother, but I've discovered- she's right. The level of duty that you feel to your child is matched with love, and when you can't seem to give enough, or do the right thing enough, it is next to impossible to feel anything but guilt. I am mostly a stay-at-home Mom with a highly verbal child who is loved and read to, and frequently given vegetables, and never beaten... but I can still find my own shortcomings. Am I spending enough time just playing with him? Brushing his teeth enough? Disciplining him enough? Is what I'm doing enough?
Ugly truth? I will never feel that I have done enough for him.
So where does that leave me? There are certainly things that I want out of my own life that I don't necessarily want to put on hold until he's out of college or married, and some other woman's responsibility. I want to get to tell stories, and connect with other storytellers, and run another 5K and actually go through The Artist's Way and do all sorts of other things that having Jonah and sweet Caroline complicates. Where is the ME part left if I'm spending all my time trying to do and be enough for my babies? It's hard to know.
So we're back at the guilt.
Today I was interviewed for an article in Storytelling Magazine by a storyteller that I deeply respect. My first thought was, WHY would she want to interview me? The article is featuring storytellers in the New Voices category (18-35 year olds) to find out what they are doing with their art. I wanted to tell her that she had called the wrong person. I wasn't really doing anything with my art.
But then we started to talk and it occurred to me that I have been telling my child stories since he was much too small to understand them, and he's highly verbal. Maybe there's a connection? And I'm teaching a communications class, and sometimes even getting to use my storytelling background. And I've done storytelling in schools (a little anyway) and in churches around here since we moved. It's limited, but it's what I can do right now.
I mentioned that I had noticed the age gap in storytellers in my category (young mothers) and she asked if I had any theories, and I told her that I thought it was just a hard time of life to put a lot of effort into a career that requires you to spend a lot of time selling yourself, and being away from your family. And then I said something that I hadn't realized that I had come to believe...
I told her that I was starting to see this part of my life as a "belly of the whale" experience. It's a time for me to learn and evaluate and prepare for what will come later. I told her about reading books about women and the transitions they go through in life and finding that I felt the need to profoundly experience these transitions so I could be able to tell stories about them with the truth of experience, not just the general knowledge of the story and an analysis to go behind it. It's one thing to tell the story of the Seal Wife. It's another to feel that it is sometimes your own skin that has been stolen from you.
I know this topic is generally something that I have generally harped on in the last few years- balance, motherhood vs. personhood, but I suppose that it's part of processing this entire transition to being a mother. I'm not sure it's a transition I will ever fully process. I've been through the beginning where you just can't believe that you actually did something as amazing and miraculous as give birth to another human being, to the mundane part where you talk about poop a lot, and now I guess I'm in that part where I'm comfortable (mostly) with my skills, and I'm trying to figure out how I got here and what really qualifies me to be anyone's Mother.
I guess it's the guilt.