On Mothering Grown Children
The impetus for creating this folio arose when, by chance, I read an entry I’d made long ago in a journal soon after the birth of my daughter. I hadn’t planned to have a child at age nineteen and I hadn’t planned on the caesarean section by which she made her entry into the world. Over the years during which she grew into adulthood, I made many plans for my child, some of which worked out and just as many that didn’t.
I hadn’t planned on reading the journal entry. I’d been in my study, eyeing my shelves of old notebooks and journals, a handful of which, unbelievably, dated back to high school, and wondering if it was time to get rid of these records. I’d mostly written in journals when I felt lonely and alone, unsure, and at times, frightened. For many years, I lived as a single parent and separate from extended family, and the journal entries took the place of missing feedback from absent interested parties on how to be a mother, a good mother. I poured out my consuming worries, unprocessed emotions, self-interrogations, existential questions; my stunning, ego-dissolving joys. All that venting! Hadn’t the journaling served its purpose? If I were to die now—already a few peers are unexpectedly gone—what possible good could the evidence of my struggles serve for those left behind, namely my children? I picked up a random journal and read.
She holds her hands in tiny fists, pink buds that will blossom open, won’t they? She stares at me so intently, though it’s well-known scientific fact that she can’t really see yet, her world—which is me—is out of focus. But she seems to watch my every move.
I am her whole world. I don’t know what to do.
She doesn’t want to be separated from me.
It’s hard to hold her—the pain of this sutured abdomen. I try to hold her higher up on my body, at my breasts, but sometimes her long legs pedal her feet over the stitches.
They say once you become a mother, you always are; you will never be who you were before. Already there’s the divide between the hours before the OR and now, after she’s been cut out of my body.
My body will never become mine alone again, not really.
She will always have it; it will always belong to her, her first home.
She will one day travel the world, will see in focus the details, but my body will still belong to her. I am her mother, her first home.
The world is already more with her.
The weight of her on my chest, inside my chest. The weight of her.
I’d written other details, too, of her extraordinary beingness—many adjectives, much gooey-ness. But what struck me when I read the entry was the certainty I’d felt then, so many years ago, that being a mother was, would be, forever. I would never be just me in the world ever again.
To think about the “weight” of my first-born now is to also think about how my child acquired weight of her own in the world. As with any mother’s children. That weight anchoring us mothers—our hearts, our expectations, our unforeseen grapplings—into the bottomless ocean of motherhood. At the beginning, we’re our children’s entire world and then they grow into a world of their own, one that may feel alien to us at times and one to which we have no access unless they grant us a visitor’s visa. Their early dependency weighed on us, and for some of us, their absence from our worlds now weighs on us as heavily.
That initial sense I’d recorded in a journal so many years ago that I would be a mother to my last breath has held its truth and its weight. In this folio, poems, flash fiction, and creative nonfiction pieces present the words of mothers who share this experience of children becoming adults, bringing us joys and sorrows, the weight of which has strained and strengthened our very beings.
I’m very grateful to my fellow writers and mothers for their moving and insightful contributions: Maria Benet, Jacqueline Doyle, Rebecca Foust, Linda Michel-Cassidy, Stephanie Noble, Daye Phillippo, Dorothy Rice, and Angela Torres; and to Marjorie Altman Tesser for her most excellent Mom Egg Review.
Peg Alford Pursell