originally published in The Huffington Post 2/15/2012
The Gifts of Motherhood and the Ordinary Places I Found Them
It is late fall. The sun is delicious and warm. I give my girls an early lunch and bring them out back. We are way ahead of schedule for the afternoon kindergarten bus and I want them to soak in this radiant day. I rake some giant piles of leaves and let them jump in. I tell them to start on one side of the lawn and run all the way across. They do cannonballs and belly flops, cartwheels and twirls into the leaves. They squeal with delight for close to an hour. The girls lay on their backs, exhausted, and let the leaves rain down as I bury them. They feign protest, but I only see thrill in their eyes. It is one of those fleeting, spontaneous moments of motherhood where joy is captured, tangible, so pure and present, there is room for nothing else. Today, I am the only witness and as intensely as it arrives, it passes.
There is work to be done — a bus to catch, dishes to clean, a toddler to nap, emails to return. I store this beautiful morning with the millions of others, filed away as more of a feeling than a memory: this is motherhood. They pile high, these moments. Stacked in places I pray my children comb through when telling their stories. I hope these twinkling sparks of our life be made visible, if not now, then someday.
A few months pass and I have some photos printed. There is soccer and football, beach sunsets and birthday parties. My husband flips through with me and stops on a picture of that ordinary autumn morning. I have snapped a shot of the girls tossing handfuls of leaves in the full morning sunlight. Smiling, he pulls the picture out and holds it up. He’s quiet for a minute and then casually says, “Look at how happy you make them.” I pause. He does not understand the grace of this comment. He does not know how my heart expands hearing his words. Sharp, grateful energy shoots through me. He saw it. Whatever that unnameable is, the one I spend my entire life force cultivating, exists in this photo. Real, breathing proof is translated as he effortlessly honors one of the quietest corners of everyday motherhood — to know the simple is to know the magnificent.
This is shown to me over and over again. I slow down just enough to make applesauce with my daughters one afternoon. I watch as my growing girl glides a knife into the crisp apple with profound focus and genuine care. I am so moved by the timelessness of this instant. The intensity of being present makes me feel so connected to her, so in tune with what is good and true. Sometimes I lay next to my baby girl and listen to the sounds she makes as she sucks her thumb. I press her tightly against me as she surrenders to sleep. It is so powerful that as she exhales, I am certain I will live forever. I have stood back, frozen in time, watching my boys sling mud across the marsh at each other in the blazing summer sunset. I feel their life, their essence, pulse so strongly through me that I fight the urge to let gratitude bring me to my knees.
But I stray. I am harried. I snap. I over schedule. I say yes too much and it wrings me dry. I want more money. I want to log more miles on my runs. I want to wear an apron while I make things from scratch and decorate my house like a magazine. I want to wear a sophisticated suit and heels to the office. I want to do a headstand during yoga. I want to sit in the corner of a coffee shop and read a book from cover to cover. I want a tropical, romantic vacation with my husband. I want to eat more raw foods. I want to see Paris. I want to linger over poetry with my children. I want to be gentle with the people I love, and the people I don’t. I want to set the world on fire with my energy and passion. I want to take constant action even when I know it makes me frantic. Even when I know the answers are not here.
And so, I decide to pin the now sacred leaf jumping photo above my desk with the millions of other scraps of my life. I know it is just a slice, a blink of my work. But it is a bold reminder, shouting to me, that conquering a list of things to do doesn’t make me any more alive than stopping. That my very humanness allows me joy and grief, peace and urgency, balance and extremes. And that motherhood, in all its wildness, pushes me to dwell where it’s both beautiful and impossible. Because it is the most routine stops on our journey where the greatest gifts are revealed. I just need to be still enough to receive them.