At a recent circle meeting “Austen’s Mom” was asking questions and sharing some second-hand advice. She sat with calves crossed, Mountain School binder open on her lap. She was dwarfed in an oversized chair, like Lily Tomlin in that 70’s comedy sketch. I listened, longingly from my own comfortable spot. Safe at home, sandwiched between a sleepy carpool partner and a new friend on the cozy sofa. Ashleigh was describing how she had asked her own mother, a former mountain school parent about how to observe Austen. Her mother’s advice was to pretend she was looking into a fish bowl. I thought this was such a great metaphor, and I relished Ashleigh’s contribution to our conversation dearly.
Listening to people convey advice from their mothers tugs at my heartstrings because it is a dialog that I crave. My own mother is long deceased. I’ve learned over the years to take mothering where I can get it, but still there is always something in my life that is missing. Like anyone my recollections of early childhood are dim. It was a time when my mother did the lion’s share of the parenting. My mother was not a “talker” and she died long before I was even thinking about becoming a mother, so I never asked what it was like for her with little kids. I have tried over the years to ask friends and relatives for recollections to piece together a better understanding. But in the end, I am left with not much to go on, and a vague point of reference.
As life would have it, I’ve been left to carve out my own path of maternal wisdom. So far this has proved intuitive, but not easy. One of the techniques I have found to be most useful is to write. Every time I sit down to write about my son, he and I become engaged in the creative universe. The act of writing helps me sort out what matters in our life right now. It helps me identify what his needs are in that moment. Most of all, writing helps me embrace the humor in our lives. If I make one tangible thing while my son is 3 it will be a record for him. Not a record of day to day life, or a sentimental overview, but a collection of poignant vignettes. In the future these may help him understand himself, and give him insight into my experience and how our interactions informed our relationship as mother and child.
I sometimes wonder if it isn’t so bad that my own mother is not here. In many ways my circumstance has forced me to create my own experience of being a parent. Perhaps it will get easier as my son grows older. Because, presumably there will come a time when I can access my own memories of being mothered. Regardless I refuse to languish, I just keep engaging. I witness “what is” and commit it to paper – creating my own points of reference. I find myself listening, and drawing on wisdom from the universe of parents all around me. Maybe someday Seth will join the universe of parents, and find my observations helpful, or healing. Maybe he will just chuckle to himself, because every time he does I catch a glimpse of his grandmother.
Where there could be a void we have constructed a house. Where there could be sadness we have made our own joy. – Alis Whitman, 3/4s Mom