The Art of Mothering

I just realized that mothering is an art-form. Today, actually. After fourteen years of being a mother. This is blowing my mind.

I was watching my niece and nephew yesterday, since their dad (my husband’s brother) and my older boys were helping my husband demolish and lay a new floor in the kitchen. We had to stay out of the house so the kids wouldn’t fall through the subfloor into the crawlspace. I was down two kids and up two kids, and all day long I kept losing count of the children, even though it was the same number I usually have.

Anytime I depart an area I count to six, make sure all the heads are there or accounted for, but with different heads on board, I kept doing the math all over again. Let’s see…six minus two plus two still equals six.

The difference was that I had two one-year-olds, one that walks and one that doesn’t. One that missed his mommy, and the other that wanted to breastfeed all day. One light skinny child who nevertheless seemed older and more independent than the plump heavy one weighing down my hip.

I spent the day thinking of strategies for harboring, distracting, comforting, carrying, feeding, and even feeling some genuine affection for these kids, while we all remained nomads out on the small town.

These are skills I’ve practiced over many years, though it’s been almost as long since I’ve felt any passion for the work. Packing right, having the right tools, knowing how pink their cheeks can become on a hot day at the park before they’re signaling imminent meltdown, and when to just buckle everyone into the car and drive…anywhere… until they’re sleeping or calm–this is an area in which I’ve been highly trained, sometimes without wanting to be.

Adding a little fresh blood to the mix perked me up. The brood had different properties and chemistry, which required all of my resources–and I had them; the resources were there (except maybe the math resources). Jimmy Page, speaking on how a rock band sometimes comes to gel, said, “When passion meets competence, it’s absolute musical heaven.”

I felt that way, a little bit, like I was good at what I was doing, and that I enjoyed it, and that something was coming together with these people, that we weren’t just passing time.

Sometimes I’ve felt like a poseur in my vocation as a mother: Look at me reading to my children almost like a real mother. They’re all sitting on or near me, and I’m acting like I’m ok with it.

But I think like any calling, there’s a difference between doing and being. Often in mothering, the emphasis, is perhaps wrongheadedly placed on being–because most women can be mothers, and a lot of self-acceptance and surrender goes into embracing that identity. Sometimes we become mothers after much longing and preparation, and sometimes it’s the opposite. We’re taken by surprise, or caught off guard by how our lives have changed so quickly, and perhaps against our will.

But there’s a lot to be said for the doing of mothering, the craft of it, the knowledge gained over time, by study, trial, error and much revision–developing competence in caring for and bringing up children, and then realizing that somehow in spite of yourself, it has also become your passion.

It is, actually, a little taste of heaven.

About Elizabeth Duffy

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