I felt adrift all my life, until Dakota. He anchored me spiritually and physically. The first bath we took together, he was a few days old and looked like a wrinkled old man, suction cup lumps on the top of his forehead from his extraction. ( I was screaming 'come out come out come out' and my doctor took this literally, popping the toilet plunger on baby's head and tugging him out into the world. ) I slid into the bath with his tiny red butt on my naked crotch. He cooed. He looked at me and blinked. I looked back at him and kissed the bottoms of his feet. And then he let loose an enormous, yellow, breastfed baby poop all over my crotch and stomach.
I was nineteen. My teenage years had been a battle between my actual body and the body I thought I should have, the body that would bring boys, admiration, attention, love. Love. I wanted slimmer thighs, a higher ass, bigger breasts, smaller cheeks, less freckles. I wanted to look like a cartoon character from animae porn. I wanted to obliterate my selfness and be someone already created and tested on an audience. I vomited, I starved, I worked out, I cried. When I became pregnant, all of that came to a complete halt. I stopped smoking, starving, vomiting and eating like shit, and my body became a place I was devoted to- it carried the life of the most precious thing in the world. I ate three meals a day, with vegetables, drank water, took vitamins, went on nature walks. I rubbed essential oils on my stomach, bright and shiny and stretched and soft, shaped like a Picasso with a leg here, a foot there, his blocky head in my ribcage. I began learning to love my body by loving the body of my unborn baby.
After he was born and home a day I nursed him on the stairs in the hallway. I sat in pajamas, hair on top my head, swollen faced and blissfully happy, the happiest I have ever felt in my life. The sense of possibility and love was stardust depths, pressed into me until I was completely and totally both cleansed and saturated. Dakota latched on, and I felt my uterus clench like a great fist, like an orgasm commands the muscles but to pain, instead of pleasure. I cried out and pulled him off the breast. My mother took baby and I sat and rocked for a minute until the contractions ebbed. I sat up straight, intensely impressed with my body. My cells know what to do, I thought. I just have to follow what they tell me. After that, I lost my fear of doing something wrong. I knew that my body would tell me how to care for him.
If I trusted, and listened, I knew when to nurse, when to give up in frustration, when to roll over and when to hold closer, when to let go.
If only I could listen so well now, eighteen years later. To feel with hands in darkness the space between yourself and your grown but not grown child, to find the distance that allows but the closeness that cherishes. To hold on is so easy. To hold tightly, so easy. To let go? The very words challenge everything I know about loving my children. Parenting has been a series of steps involving choices that have at times completely baffled, humbled and humiliated me. While reading and learning and listening and praying and taking into account my own humanity, doing the very best I can is doing what? Everyone will have an opinion, especially you. ( I'm not talking to you. I'm talking to you )
When the best answers were all closer, closer, closer, I was a champion. A thoroughbred of love. Now that the answers are a dark and brilliant road of retreats and forward marches, advice and deaf ears, open doors and lines drawn, unanswered calls and uncertain genesis and a time for letting go that also demands me as the backup plan and soft landing place, I am just a humble servant of love. Did you know- were you told at the meeting?- that sometimes, doing the best you can still isn't enough? I never heard, I didn't know, and this is the fairy tale that I must let go of. I never believed in happily ever after or marriages that went on and on easily with romance and grace, but somewhere along the way, in the unforgettable days of the sweetest salvation I will ever know- my baby in my arms- I did believe that I could make it all end well with the sheer magnitude of my love. The sheer determination of my self exposure in therapy, my dogged hair suit of journal confessionals, the moral belief that if I exposed my every fault and failure, I could protect my children from them, and protect them, then- here comes the real fairy tale- from their own.
"We need, in love, to practice only this: letting each other go. For holding on comes easily; we do not need to learn it."
—Rainer Maria Rilke
—Rainer Maria Rilke