I left a piece of myself there

Last week I read Amy at Never True Tales’ words on The Witching Years.  She writes about the years that her children were young, with a combination of regret, loss, gratitude and wonder that I recognize intimately.

It’s clearer here, on the other side. In the light. With kids who brush their own teeth and do their own homework and get their own snacks. I know now that being a mom of young children, staying in the house day after day, parenting solo 80% of the time…well, it is what it is. (Oh, is it ever.) I know that I did my best.

I also know I’ll never get those years back, as much as they often make me shudder: those years that passed so slowly as to nearly grind backward. Those years so long I measured my children’s ages in months instead. And that’s a travesty, because I left a piece of myself there. Something raw, and unmeasured, and instinctively maternal. Something sacrificial.

Those years were also, for me, a time that felt removed from the rest of my life.  It’s absolutely true that it’s clearer here, and also that this feels a bit like the “other side.”  In retrospect those dark years were a kind of slow, dark traverse, like the hours-long slog to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro where all I can remember is step, breathe, pause.  Step, breathe, pause.  In a white-out ice storm.  For eight hours.  All the while wanting it to be over, and then the minute I’m through it I want to go back.

Hurry up, slow down, faster, slower, the interplay of impatience and of regret.  This is the music to which my life is danced.  When my children were little I used to talk wistfully – everyone used to talk – about “getting my life back.”  And yes, I have my life back now.  But it’s not the same life.  And furthermore, I feel nothing short of anguish that I wished over some of the most tender, raw, and special days of my life.  I will never revisit that unique interval of time when your regular life – that life I wanted back so fiercely – recedes.  I will never have that wild magic back.

And I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat.  What I can’t stop thinking about is the notion of I left a piece of myself there. Oh, yes.  My first few months of motherhood were a crucible, so hot that I emerged made up of a totally different alloy.  In those dark weeks it rained and snowed constantly, we waited for Matt’s father to come through surgery, I woke up every morning from deep, soggy sleep and swallowed a white pill, believing desperately that it would help me?  Beyond those initial weeks, the first few years were also their own country.  Set to the drumbeat cadence of the needs of a toddler and an infant, the demarcations between day and night eroded, the very earth beneath my feet tilting perilously.   My sense of self adjusted slowly, creakingly, to this new forever-after reality?

What did I leave there?

I left my body swollen with childbirth, with milk, with life.  I left eyes so tired that they felt like they had sand in them; I’d press my fingers to my eyelids and see stars exploding faintly in the blackness.  I left behind the powdery smell of newborns, a bottle drying rack by the sink, mint green coils of diaper genie wrapped diapers, sterling silver rattles dented from being thrown on hardwood floors, and all sizes of white onesies. I left behind the explosive and extraordinary experience of natural childbirth, though it reverberates to this day through my sense of self.

I left my naive but absolute belief that motherhood was my birthright.  That shattered like a lightbulb exploding and left behind questions and doubts as numerous as those shards of glass.  One of the tasks of the last few years has been to see the beauty in the doubts, the tremendous richness in the questions.

Most of all I left behind my certainty.  My certainty that I knew what I was doing, that my path was assured, that I was safe.  That was lost forever in those weeks where my sense of solid ground shifted; the tremors of those days reverberate still.  Nothing feels safe, but the uncertainty holds a dangerous, fearful promise that I never anticipated.  The impact of those years is carved onto my soul as indelibly as a scar would be on my skin; the difference is it is invisible to others.

I grieve those old, surer, more confident versions of myself, though in retrospect I can see in each of them the buried seam of doubt, rising occasionally to the surface, disturbing the apparently smooth, clear surface like a pebble dropped into a lake.  That’s what I left there, most of all, in the autumn of 2002: who I was sure I was, what I was certain the world was, and the future I saw unfurling in front of me so vividly and assuredly.

Nothing has ever been sure again.  And what an immense, outrageous, terrifying blessing that has been.

Thanks to Denise for the link that sent me to Amy’s beautiful essay.


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22 Comments

  1. Posted February 7, 2011 at 6:38 am | Permalink

    Amy’s essay touched me deeply as well. I’m still pretty steeped in this part of my life, with an almost 2 year-old and a 4-year old and the ever faint possibility of a 3rd. And perhaps this is because I haven’t yet completely pushed out of it, but I have this feeling that I lost a piece of myself. For the first time, after reading this, I realize that what I lost was certainty. What an intesely life-altering place that is. To feel uncertain, always.

    Once again you’ve unlocked a piece of me. How do you keep doing that?

  2. Posted February 7, 2011 at 7:38 am | Permalink

    Amy’s words are beautiful and true. And so are yours. This is so good for me to read right before I welcome my third child. It is my sincere hope that I can slow down this time around, take it all in, embrace the struggle a bit more. I know it is a tall, if impossible order, but I vow to try.

    A gorgeous way to begin the morning. Thanks to you (both).

  3. Posted February 7, 2011 at 7:41 am | Permalink

    i live in a constant cloud of doubt and confusion, grasping for clarity and certainty. it arrives in magnificent radiance sometimes with an ocean gaze, a bedtime cuddle, full surrender to the dance. but my head in its infinite swirl pulls me back into the anxious worry about not being worthy of this outstanding privilege and honor and challenge to co-craft and witness my children’s childhood. {started poser last night, and my soul is swelling with gratitude for her story already. thank you for the invitation to journey with claire dederer.}

  4. Posted February 7, 2011 at 7:58 am | Permalink

    I’m honored that you’d reference my post, and that it caused you to ponder all these beautiful words you’ve written here. You made me compare those early years with a snowed in weekend, a day without the benefit of electricity, and the like. But what I love most about this post is the optimism. I, too, wouldn’t trade it: like the stretch marks or the extra tummy girth, those years on our psyche are like battle scars we can be proud of.

  5. Posted February 7, 2011 at 8:00 am | Permalink

    These days are the crucible of life. Suddenly, we’re thrown into an undoing of gigantic proportions. You always speak so eloquently of these times, these raw moments of life. Thank you for sharing this gift you have. We don’t have to share our gifts with the world. Many don’t. I, for one, am so glad you do.

  6. Posted February 7, 2011 at 8:09 am | Permalink

    As someone who is still “in the dark” with a five month old baby, all I can say is YES. And I will try to keep your words in mind as I make that slow slog up Kilimanjaro today.

  7. Posted February 7, 2011 at 10:47 am | Permalink

    Lindsey – While my foray into motherhood was not as dimly lit as yours was, the idea of conflicting feelings about the passage of time in these early years still resonates with me. I think there is one universal truth here, though – we all lose some of our cock-sure confidence when we become mothers. Much of what we thought we knew is disproved and we have to learn from scratch. When we are in the throes of this process and doubting everything it is a comfort to know that every other mother in the world has shared our doubts at some time.

  8. Posted February 7, 2011 at 11:39 am | Permalink

    As I sit, just having started a post about a similar topic, I nod my misty-eyed head at the truth woven in your words. Julie said, above in her comment, that she’s so glad you share your gift with the world. Ditto, my love. xoxo

  9. Posted February 7, 2011 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

    What beautiful words. I’m not yet a mother, but I can relate to having left a piece of yourself behind in a turbulent, yet precious, time of life. Thanks for sharing these words with us.

  10. Posted February 7, 2011 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

    I’m grateful to read your words, your thoughts from the other side, since I’m still fairly close to those intense, muddled newborn days. And sometimes I need reminding that they will evolve, and that I will miss a great deal. And I also left some certainty and clarity and confidence (arrogance?)behind. Which is a blessing, but also, perhaps, a loss.

  11. Posted February 7, 2011 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

    Lindsey, you are a marvel.

    As you know, I am a lot further down this road than you are and yet I am right there with you.

    “I emerged made up of a totally different alloy”. Amen.

    And as always, thanks for your incredible words…

  12. Posted February 7, 2011 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

    I have been thinking about this–the points you brought up–more and more lately. I am sure much of it has to do with me thinking of trying pregnancy again, but more of it is figuring out the person I was when the babies first arrived with the person I am now. A beautiful and touching post.

  13. Posted February 7, 2011 at 5:53 pm | Permalink

    I hope you feel more confident, more clear sometime in the future. I trust you will. And that I will, too!

  14. Posted February 7, 2011 at 9:07 pm | Permalink

    Incredible writing, Linds.

    I feel like I am on the cusp of leaving of the ‘early years’ and while I hear it’s clear and lovely on the other side, I’m still hanging on with all my might. I don’t think I’m ready to give these days up. I’m almost crying just writing this.

    Your essays are always so moving.

  15. Posted February 7, 2011 at 10:05 pm | Permalink

    Wow! What an amazing post! I am knee deep in toddlerhood and pregnancy so I can completely relate with the desire to slow down, speed up you mention. I can also see that I will one day look back at this period with fondness even though it is often trying. Finally, it is so true that motherhood changes our sense of self in a profound way. Who ever would have thought not knowing why your child is sick or unhappy could consume you so thoroughly?

  16. Posted February 7, 2011 at 10:14 pm | Permalink

    I think I am getting there. To that moment you are describing about emerging. Days are getting easier and yet part of me is changed.

  17. Posted February 7, 2011 at 10:46 pm | Permalink

    Wow. This is so intensely gorgeous. As beautiful and raw as childhood itself.

    Enjoy “the other side.” You have earned it. There is magic here too. This post really took my breath away.
    Pamela

  18. Posted February 8, 2011 at 5:56 am | Permalink

    I’m with Elizabeth. Truly incredible writing here.
    I’m on the other side of the witching years too, and yes, it is terribly bittersweet. It’s the idea that “we won’t come back here” that always puts a lump in my throat.

  19. Posted February 8, 2011 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

    You may have left it, but you didn’t lose it.

    We leave pieces of ourselves all along the way of our living. They are the breadcrumbs of our soul. Because life is not a line, and we will circle back, and find ourselves arriving home again and again. And each time, we will be thankful for the soul crumbs, for that is how we remember the way we came.

    xox
    L

    ps – the soul is like Jesus with the loaves and fishes – we drop off many crumbs but we never run out of bread.

    L

  20. Posted February 8, 2011 at 8:00 pm | Permalink

    Lindsey, The deeper you go, the better you get! This is so powerful and provocative. Reading it, I can’t help but wonder what I left behind, all those years ago. Certainly certainty, as you describe so beautifully. What’s interesting now is that, years later, once the kids are grown, I find myself circling back, literally and figuratively, to retrieve some of those lost bits of self, and attempting to reassemble them.

  21. Posted March 28, 2011 at 10:14 pm | Permalink

    *SIGH* and YES!

    I feel like I can tap into that wistful place because it’s still so tender. Inspired to use your post as a prompt one of these days. Will let you know if I do. . .

  22. Posted December 18, 2011 at 7:35 am | Permalink

    I know. And yet. The sadness carves canyons for happiness to fill. I am a better parent for those caverns of sacrifice. I am a better person. I’ve decided I no longer want to mourn about anything, but rather simply celebrate it all.

3 Trackbacks

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by AnthonyLawlor, Julie Daley and Amy Whitley, Christine . Christine said: This post hit home. Exquisite RT @lemead: I left a piece of myself there … http://bit.ly/i7Ft2d […]

  2. By The Cinderella Effect — Coffees and Commutes on February 9, 2011 at 2:48 pm

    […] week I read Amy at The Never True Tales post about The Witching Years, and then Lindsey’s follow-up piece in which she helped me to realize that what I lost when I became a mother was certainty. Snap. […]

  3. […] from “A Design So Vast” wrote a very succinct post on the early years of parenting after reading another inspiring post, from Amy at “Never True […]