The Great Mother

reflecting on life: stories, wisdom, inspiration, aggravation

In This Place April 27, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — emlott @ 3:31 pm

I have been home for eight months now without any part-time job or any graduate school requirements. While I’ve had similar windows here and there since the boy’s birth, this is the longest and most free stretch in three years. I still fight the labels of stay-at-home mom and, especially, housewife.  I don’t really think of myself as either, though I know much of the world around me needs those labels so as to quickly identify what I’m doing (those same old, unfortunate tendencies to identify one another by vocation or action rather than presence and character).  

There are many joys in this at-home life: baking with my son, walking through the botanical gardens on a pretty day, picnic lunches on our porch, catching almost every new smile and laugh that our daughter shares, enjoying this old four-square Virginia home, listening to the quiet of the afternoon when both children are sleeping.  But there are times when I just can’t let it be enough.  I’m sure I’ve written about this before, and it’s not unique to mothers, but there are times when I struggle so with being content in this place.  

My latest disquiet sends me looking toward home, Alabama.  I miss home so much right now as a second grandchild will be reintroduced to her grandparents for months and months before remembering who they are.  I miss home as I do things alone that my mother and grandmother would so enjoy doing with me–walking with the kids, gardening, baking, making home.  My days at home still feel alone at times, even though they are centered around these beautiful children.  I find myself thinking, “I could do this anywhere.  Why am I here?”

I am present enough to myself and the moment, I hope, to realize that a couple of things might be at play here.  First, it is so easy to romanticize a place far away from this one (this one being wherever we find ourselves right now).  Second, packing up and running for the quiet of the Gulf Coast does not guarantee that I would be content in that place, either.  

I am also quite comfortable with the language of calling.  When my husband and I began to consider a move to Virginia, there were quiet, steady signs of calling.  I remember feeling sad as we said goodbye, but I do not remember feeling afraid to go.  Even in moments of great homesickness after arriving, I still did not doubt the rightness of the move.  Are my persistent feelings of disquiet signs that a new calling is on the horizon?  Or are these feelings signs that I need to learn to better be in this place?

Motherhood can be very isolating, and I have felt that from the beginning.  Whether at parties (left, once-again, to chase the children while the other grown-ups get to play), in old social circles (when childless friends no longer know how to relate to me and are aghast at my stay-at-home-ness), or even in the battle inside me as I feel the pull and push of desires and identity.  I want to feel at home, content, quieted whether here in this place or there in another.  In many ways, isn’t this life’s work?


Exhale Today April 17, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — emlott @ 3:25 pm


It’s a quick, lovely reminder of what is important and what is foolish.  I love the final paragraph:

Here in London where I live, one father I know lost his job in banking. The result was his two highly-scheduled children got yanked from most of their extracurricular activities. For several weeks he felt like a failure but last Sunday he woke up and realized that the family had a completely free day stretching out before them (instead of the usual manic dash to take the kids to multiple activities) – and he actually felt good about it. “I exhaled and it was like I was letting out a breath that I’d been holding for years,” he told me.

He puts it so well.  As the sunshine pours into my home, as the weekend approaches with promise of planting and playing, as my baby girl and so-big boy rest quietly in their rooms…I feel myself exhaling.  I strive to live a slow life but often find myself holding my breath–literally and figuratively.  I hope to remember for the rest of today, and through the fun weekend days ahead, to savor the moment and exhale well.


Tantrum: A Drama April 16, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — emlott @ 5:09 pm

Ooh, boy.  We are in the tantrum stage.  I am thankful for two lovely mothers (one of 5 and one of 6) who sagely shared that three was the most trying of all the early years.  I often felt that two was rarely terrible but knew to wait the boy out.  With that mindset, I am usually able to walk away and listen to the humor of the moment rather than fighting back or throwing my hands up.  

Today’s tantrum: fruit chews.  A sometimes food?  A constant-all-day-eat-the-whole-box food?  The boy and I are in different camps.  I said no to the boy’s request for a third pack, listened to the escalating whining, offered a healthy alternative, then walked away.  From afar I hear (in a pseudo-weep style):

“I want some more fruit chews.  Whyyyyyyyyyyy can’t I have more fruit chews?  Where is my daddy?  I looooooooooove hiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiim.  Why, why, why can I not have more fruit chews?”

Deep breath.  He walks downstairs.

“Mom, I just came down here to ask you why I cannot have more fruit chews.  Can I have more?”

No, we can start making dinner.

“Oh, I think I’ll play with my stickers.”

Tantrum over.  If only they’d stay this easy.


Thoughts on Guilt April 3, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — emlott @ 1:13 pm

Moments ago I placed my sweet, happy, awake baby girl in the swing in order to make a healthy lunch for my boy.  I felt guilty as I walked out of her room thinking, “I’m probably shaping her to be someone who won’t desire human interaction because she’s spending so much time alone.  I should wear her in a sling more while I work around the house.  Oh, well.  At least she’s nursing and sometimes co-sleeping, so she does have contact with a caring human for part of the day.”  And I felt more guilt when I returned to find her completely asleep.  “Great, she gave up on me and just went to sleep instead.”  

Then just last night I sat and cried while I nursed the baby because I wished I could be the one to read books to the boy before he fell asleep.  I felt like the whole day had been about me caring for the baby while the boy was exiled to play on his own.  “Scarred for life,” I worried to myself.  “He’ll never remember all those loving days we spent together but will just remember that his sister always kept Mommy from paying attention to him.”  

Seriously, these are the thoughts that bounce back and forth in my head.  Sure, there are times of deep gratitude, joy, satisfaction, and even pride.  But there are also irrational pangs of guilt.  Why do we mothers experience such guilt?  When I asked you about guilt last week, one mom quickly replied: “fear of insufficiency. We have this instinctual drive to do what is best, or, at least, what we think is best.”  I agree; the drive to do and be best is powerful.  As I’ve thought about when, how, and why I experience guilt, I think it goes beyond just the fear of failure, fear of insufficiency, fear of inadequacy to a deeper issue of control.  My desire for perfection is sometimes simply a desire to control everything around me.  Guilt is my misguided notion that I actually do have the ability to do more, be more, control more rather than acknowledging that I know enough, that I am enough.

Elizabeth Gilbert wrote of her lessons with control in her book Eat, Pray, Love.  Book Two: India, pp. 155-156, she’s talking with Richard at the Ashram, who nicknames her “Groceries”, and he’s pushing her to think about contentment:

“Letting go, of course, is a scary enterprise for those of us who believe that the world revolves only because it has a handle on the top of it which we personally turn, and that if we were to drop this handle for even a moment, well–that would be the end of the universe.  But try dropping it, Groceries.  This is the message I’m getting.  Sit quietly for now and cease your relentless participation.  Watch what happens.  The birds do not crash dead out of the sky in mid-flight, after all.  The trees do not wither and die, the rivers do not run red with blood.  Life continues to go on.  Even the Italian post office will keep limping along, doing its own thing without you–why are you so sure that your micromanagement of every moment in this whole world is so essential?  Why don’t you let it be?”

Gilbert then wonders what she would do with all of that leftover energy, and her Guru advises her: “Look for God like a man with his head on fire looks for water.”

How does this translate to my efforts here and my mothering guilt?  While there are certainly real-life issues of abuse and neglect going on in the world around me, sitting my daughter safely in her swing while I make a lunch tray for my son does not qualify.  And my children will grow and be who they are by intentions and desires and dreams beyond my body and my mind–the world has dreams for them, they will have dreams for themselves, and the God who pursues and nudges me along is doing the same with them.  My efforts and good work in their lives is important, but it is certainly not the whole of who they are or who they will be.  

Gilbert’s hand on the top spinning the world, for my life, is my hand on their bodies making them breathe, making them happy, making them strong and confident and compassionate…and I need to let go and realize that I influence very little of that.  The right ingredients for mothering are much simpler than magazines and websites and parenting books make them out to be: deep love, warm arms, sweet encounters, safe home.  

The Guru advises that Gilbert turn her efforts into a pursuit of God, instead.  I think that’s what I am attempting to do with these reflections; not so much a first-encounter as a fresh perspective.  How is God present in my life as a mother is to her children?  How is God present to my children in ways that I cannot be?  What lessons does God’s Spirit Breath have for me when it comes to these important questions of control and letting go?  To change my focus and energy and questions–to relax my white-knuckled-grip on perfection–might free me to a fullness and contentment that actually makes me a better mother.