20 May, 2014

Motherhood and the Scientific Method

My Mother's day began with pancakes, and coffee, and champagne, and strawberries...followed by a short nap. When I had been properly feted, Lucy said she really wanted to do "fun stuff," so we turned the day towards our children, and what adventure would make every one happy.

To the lake shore! Jake played in the sand, Descartes lounged in the shade, and Lucy and I set about to make a sandcastle. It's one of my favorite things we do together, even though it wrecks my hands, leaving them dried out and cracked every time. 

On our trip home later that afternoon I dug through the console of the car and found lotion to slather on. I rubbed in the moisture, and discovered a few age spots that have appeared. Actually, as if I hadn't seen them in years, all of the scars that I have, seemed to stand out on my hands; a burn from grabbing dinner at the wrong angle from the oven, while shooing away a dog and a kid from the open door. And there, on my left hand is an odd 90-degree-angled scar: two lines, each less than ¼ inch long. They came from my son's perfectly square tooth. He was two, and that was his only way to tell me that he wanted nothing to do with my art project. (Ironically, I was trying to encourage him to paint Mother's Day note cards for each of his grandmothers.) My hands are keeping track of all of my parenting.

I think Motherhood is like a great scientific experiment. 

When we begin we have a hypothesis of what we think might happen, who we will be, what our children will be like, how we will teach and discipline, and love and care for our kids. Then it begins, and what follows is a series of trials, endless trials. This mothering lab runs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

And every time we think we know where the data is going, when we think we've cornered the answers, and can make predictions, the children grow, life changes, we change.  At the end of each trial, if there is a pause longer than a breath, we review the data, check for patterns, then we try to make better decisions about what to do in the next go 'round.

Sometimes, a few times, it all makes sense: you have a clear expectation of what will occur, and things play out in exactly that way: I will carry my baby, and that baby will be healthy and enter the world without any struggle. More often, you begin a day expecting one thing and get another, different, but wonderful thing... Silly Putty, Play Doh, and potato chips were each happy, unexpected surprises.

Other times it looks like nothing you expected, with no books to guide us because we are outside of the norms, and we are stuck on how exactly to Mother. At a loss, we seek counsel from other researchers. But it seems that no one has this motherhood thing down, no one has figured out the one way to perfectly parent children.

Honestly, there are days when the entire lab seems ready to blow, when I have little tolerance for the details, when there are too many moving parts to keep track of it all; moments when all of the slides smash to the floor, and it's all you can do to find a place to stand while you bleed. Loving this much means that your child's struggles can tear at you, and leave you sleepless, and wrought. Being undone can feel more familiar than having it all together.

Of course there are breakthroughs-- moments of clarity. Moments when you stand back and you can see that the work, this life, your family, has taken on its own cadence, and there is a peace in watching your children move on their own, safely, happily, greeting the world with kindness. You have presented a part of your data set and perhaps you get to know, briefly, that your work is good, that you are on track.

I'm just another phase in this trial, and my work is made easier because of those who have done this before me. I thank all of the women from whom I have learned, all of the women who pushed the boundaries for what being a woman and being a mother means. I am grateful for the enduring support of my peers, and the advice from my elders.

When I find myself alone with my thoughts at the end of the day, I ask,

Did I give to my children more than I took?

Did I endeavor to show patience when my grace was running low?

Did I love so deeply that my children feel it, even as they create their own space in the world, apart from me?

Did I break their falls just enough so that they bruised, but did not break, even though my heart ached with every moment they struggled?

Did I put my hands into the sand without reservation, and play with the earth alongside her little fingers?

Did I listen to, and honor, my son's voice even when no one else can hear a word?

Did I help them learn to choose the right thing, even when it does not benefit us; to choose to be kind, though it could be easier to be callous?


I am rarely satisfied with how I finish a day, especially when it comes to my work as a mother, but I am learning, that in this grand experiment I will often fail myself, and my kids, sometimes spectacularly. I do know that they are worth every trial, and when it is all written down in the end, the conclusions in the lab report of my life, I can only hope that I have continued to move the line on what it means to parent, and that somehow I've created some beauty in this world by helping shape my children.

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