The Best Literary Writing About Mothers and Motherhood

On Numbness by Jennifer Edwards

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1973: In the beginning there was mom, music, and movement. My world was rich and alive with trees, fresh fruit and vegetables, and an earthy vibration that flowed through everything I knew.

1988: The lock-down crept up on me, much like my mother’s cancer, a slow mass that weighed on my heart and deadened my senses. Her departure washed over me like an ebbing tide, receding, uncertain, and inevitable.

1999: I began unpacking the emotional burden I’d been carrying. Years of suppressed reactions bubbled within me and needed release. My artistic process was the excavator . My son, then 7, and I connected through the various forms of this process – dance, music, and writing were foundational to our relationship. We improvised after arguments. He completed homework assignments in dance studios and theaters. He even went on the road with me as I conducted workshops, led residencies, and performed.

2001 brought two disruptive forces: a lover and a national upheaval. I began to direct my art through the external impacts those experiences had on me. I transitioned into an activist-artist. I felt I needed to speak for others and left myself behind. This slowly eroded my artistic impulse and my relationship with my son and myself.

2008 cracked me open with the end of the Bush administration and the abrupt, unexpected departure of my long-term partner. But freedom soon became a prison, and I shut down. Turning to my son, then 16, I looked at a stranger. Tethered by responsibility, yet effectively mute and language-less, we ran from one another, terrified by the ghosts of what we once were. Where did we go? How do we return?

2011 is a year of committed reflection. As I sat down to write this, I started with a simple sentence: ‘Motherhood has been an exercise in shutting down.’ But that is untrue. The act of mothering is what you bring to it. I have used motherhood as an excuse for failures, sadness, and a loss of self – but it’s not that simple, and I’m not unique. I’ve learned motherhood is a marathon of challenges, but the goal is not always related to time or tied to an expected outcome.

This year my son turned nineteen – the age I was when he was born. I think of him, mourn my own losses, appreciate each of us, and exhale. I feel my feet on the floor, grounded, balanced, and at home in my skin. Perhaps I’m not so far from where I started after all.

Jennifer Edwards is a strategic planning consultant and founding partner of Edwards & Skybetter. She is a content creator, choreographer, and she writes for the Huffington Post, and other publications, on dance, culture, and health.,


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