It began in the kitchen, as I was stirring the spaghetti and fussing over the day’s dishes. I felt anxiety start to dip its way into my heart. My brain was reminding me of all that was still left undone: the clothes spewed across the bedroom floor and the toys piled up in their room.
But in spite of it, my heart won.
My heart went on to remind of the crafts we had done together, the smallest one running amuck in between rifles of raw paper. The eldest one cut the straightest squiggly lines I ever did see. Later—before the dishes and the feelings of inadequacy—they’d had a water fight behind my back. She’d been thirsty; and I, like a mother should, obliged. I gave her a lukewarm cup for sharing, and some words about being careful. Before I knew it, the crafts were wet and the kids were wet, and their curls laid flat upon their heads, stifling giggles of what they had gotten away with. Truly, what could be better than a water fight in your living room, against your mother’s wishes, no less? Nothing. Nothing, I tell you.
I recognized the anxiety, recognized the anxious woman. She usually arrives around the holidays. She is eager, appears happy and outgoing, and is equally fascinated by the great big city and the children who run at her toes in that tiny kitchen. She’s also quietly afraid. She waits in the throws for the holidays to end. She is all too aware of time’s ticking hand and knows she must prepare herself for the disappointment that comes at the end of a hard, exciting holiday jaunt. She starts to stir early, planning what to do after the holidays, asking questions about what work will come.
I birthed that woman the moment I birthed River. As River lay on my chest, pale and breathing heavy and looking for my breasts to suckle, that woman appeared in armor made of guilt. She came a victim, pointing at all the circumstances attached to the new little bundle in my arms to start: You caved to the epidural too soon, she said. Your birth plan was incomplete. You didn’t even get to hold your baby immediately.
I learned to cope with this victimized woman. I’ve given her a name or two: Guilt. Anxiety. Self-consciousness. But over the years, in wisdom and self-assurance, I grew from coping to truly dealing with this invader.
I acknowledge her existence.
I remember the good.
I shoo her away.
I keep moving forward.
I notice the greatness—and it comes in the tiniest things.
That particular afternoon, I set the crafts out to dry, later to be hung by the door. The spaghetti got cooked and I chose to leave the dishes for another time. The kids continued playing and laughing and occasionally showering me with a few kisses. At one point, River went in to squeeze me, her tiny arms right below my stomach’s pouch and right above my stretched-marked hips. Then Oak came barreling down the hallway. Forcefully, he grabbed me. Lovingly, the both looked at me.
There, they held unto the most insecure parts of my being. Living evidence of the not one, not two, but three pregnancies, subsequently leaving me with only two living children and one angel. They held on to those parts of me with the strongest love and sense of security. It’s in those moments I notice the greatness. That woman, that guilt, that anxiety—she tells me these parts are disheveled and lacking; but they show me they are truly whole. The tiniest forms of greatness in River and Oak. In me too.
Image of Eartha Kitt and her daughter