Rachel’s Parenting Life

by Mark Chmiel

Rachel Kell is doing an on-line class with me (on Thich Nhat Hanh!). We had Social Justice class in spring 2003.  I asked her how her parenting life is going, after hearing Kate Heidemann Vandergriff describe parenting as “magical” and “exhausting.”

This is what Rachel shared with me…

Parenting life…I have thought about grabbing some moments several times throughout the day to respond to your request. Each time I would have had a different answer. Each time I was stopped by a more pressing “need”. Now the house is quiet because the children (5, 3, and 1) are sleeping. All their needs are being met by their own subconscious, and I am free to make a pizza from abandoned crust and remnants of toppings unfit for their own dinner. I have wine, which is more of a ritual than a beverage, a signal that my day is done and time is my own again. And I have a clearer mind that can see the day for what it was – another ordinary day filled with extraordinary moments. I watched Maeve’s dance moves and wiped Lucy’s nose. I counted steps taken, each one a new record. I swept up broken flower pots and remembered to water thirsty basil. I finally folded the laundry that sat stale in the dryer for a week while wondering why we hold onto things we can live without for 7 days.

I also yelled. Not about the broken flower pot, but about Mia’s reaction to the broken flower pot. Because more than cleaning up messes I am curating character. And sometimes I look at their failure of emotional control as my own failure of instilling healthy reactions and failure makes me ugly and seeing my ugliness makes me angry so I yell at her for screaming and waking her sisters from a nap that I probably needed more than they did anyway and then I have to apologize.

I’m not too proud to apologize but I also know it is always too late by then. The message is that “mommy yelled and she’s sorry” instead of the only pure truth they need at this age which is “I am loved.”

And they are loved. I would give my life for them. And I do, and most moms do, though not through our physical absence on earth but through a mental one. I am an introvert. I thrive in quiet, but I live in noise. The unceasing noise of the day is followed by the gentle hum of a sleep monitor at night. I am a traveler, but I live at home. The joy of anonymous friends in foreign places is replaced by my family and my backyard and adventures are frequent but different. I am creative, but spend my day responding to needs instead of creating ideas, and by nightfall I too tired to excavate original ideas and so I ask a book or the television to create for me.

This is what pours out after a good but trying day. I could write volumes more about the life that these children inspire in me. I’m learning to watercolor with Mia and we are on this unexpected homeschooling journey together and I belly laugh at our inside jokes and I read books that she has written and in seeing her potential I have a glimpse into my own. Maeve can find my lost patience just by touching her hand to my cheek and she has taught me volumes about grit and kindness and how to dance – not like no one is watching as is so common the thought. She dances in front of the world and just smiles as they all realize they must have been doing it wrong all along. And I have no words for Lucy, because those small and silent ways she holds my heart are too precious and young to be spoiled with language. If I tried I would come up with things like “my peace” and “kindred” but she is still so fresh from creation that she carries the obvious Divine and it is stunning. My parenting life is joy and failure and messy and loud and sweeps me with peace. My parenting life is instantaneous; in this instant bliss and in another, depleting.

My parenting life has unlocked the unseen parts of me – ugly, goofy, resilient parts that lied unprovoked for 28 years. Now I can know them and tame them and make them part of me. At the same time I try to know Mia, Maeve and Lucy and never tame them and watch as those parts of me take themselves into the world. And that time will come so soon that I shrug off the advocates of “mom time” and ignore those who would make small my sacrifice of self. This is not martyrdom. This is motherhood. While the world shakes its head and thinks of what I could have been, my head is high in the awe of what I have become.

I agree with Kate. This is exhausting magic.