She was coming. I could feel it. Preparing to revolve from my inside out. And what would leave with her from me? And what would stay from her with me? We began as union and now we would dance together to create ultimate separation, stretching ourselves apart over time to the finest threads. May they be refined and invincible. May she like us a fraction of our adoration for her. May she be healthy, may she be happy, may we care for her and show her joy. May she teach us patience and presence.
Yin, the primary energy of all things, is the deep, mysterious mother of the universe. All mothers, born out of its viscous formlessness, birth form into our offspring, instinctually carrying forth the unknown eternal process of something from nothing, or nothing that was seen, of beauty from the deep.
Somehow it did become, almost, mundane that I was alive. I learned to take it for granted, while other knowing slipped to a deeper place that still reminded me, but more gently. Sometimes, I even assumed that I would perpetuate, enough that I decided to have a child, believing I might be around long enough to watch her grow and hold her hand through some of it. And then the startling reminder: falling. There is no ground. I knew that and had forgotten, so it disappeared beneath my feet. I am more dense than the hard ground upon which I landed, all eight-and-a-half months pregnant of me, so I was reminded, yet again. Soft wood, age, negligence. An old set of stairs I had walked down countless times and on this morning it vanished beneath me. Airborne, looking at the sky again, upside down like a turtle, landing with a crack. Alone. Something solid beneath my feet was only in my imagination anyhow.
Again, the hospital. I was in the atrium of the Emergency Room, seamlessly moving between feigned calm and uncontrollable shaking of my hands, a rehearsed routine. There was a tension in the spot at the upper rear of my throat that wanted to release into a high wail, a loud sound like the haunting one you hear in the background of newscasts of awful events where some people have lost everything. But I clenched my teeth, blinked my eyes as I stared blankly past the receptionist.
They sent me to the labor and delivery unit. My outside was cold. Within, body and mind raged to a point that threatened to combust me, so I allowed the space between my skin and exterior to chill, freeze to contain it all. I did not look upset. I was just waiting.
In the moment after the fall, as I lay on my back looking up at the heavy wooden steps dangling from mere threads of a nail, with other old rusty nails pointing towards me, I thought ‘My back is broken and my baby is…’ The steps looked like they would crash down momentarily onto my head, my abdomen, so I rolled to the side, out of the way. I had left the house without a cell phone, so I crouched under the stairs and called for help. Eventually I had moved enough to know that I wasn’t paralyzed. But her kicking from earlier in the morning had stopped.
The safety of denial was where I stayed until the nurse put a monitor on me and we heard her furiously fast heart. I let go of my teeth, released my tongue from the roof of my mouth and tasted the anger dripping down my throat. My skin warmed as I returned to personhood, and I noticed that my back hurt, a lot. The rest of the day was a series of affirmations about her well-being, as I slipped into the smooth space of gratitude, where not everything ends in disaster.
A mere three weeks later the ripening of my body peaked as my body exploded, delivering the fruit of life. I revolved and created myself into a concave form, carving out space in my center for a new one. What had been a growing protrusion suddenly inverted, and emptied out to hollow my core, make room. My shoulders rounded, hunched forward, allowing me to become a cave, a place even more than a person. I was a safe landing, a home. Like a tree, my branches had leaves that enveloped her and my deep strong roots were impervious to the elements. My own growth became gnarled and tortuous in face of the mighty task to protect a fledgling. More than a being with nerves and sentiments, I was a location now, a bulwark.
Angles and firm sides had been useful, good for pressing against others, more likely to leave an indentation, an effective mark. As I stopped trying to chisel myself and cut others like stone, I wondered if my body would cease behaving like that unyielding substance. Softness, misunderstood for its tendency to collapse, yield too easily, showed me its resilience, giving in one place, bulging in another, morphing without destructing.
Sanity in new motherhood, I discovered, was forgetting everything I thought, and allowing the dreams, aspirations, desires to fade so that ambition could be replaced with calm spaciousness. Then I could hear, remember the call that I am mother-soft-earth, here to make room for what is to manifest. Those sharp edges were armor I put on because someone told me there was a war. But I could relinquish the stick with a crook that I had found and turned into a toy gun. Instead I could sing to the garden flowers to help them grow and explore the smoothness of a stone in the creek bed. There are other games than the ones invented by boys.
She has barely been here, and every moment I have been with her, attentive to her needs, more than I ever have been to my own. First, I wanted to—thought I could—prevent her from crying. I thought that if I gave her everything she needed, anticipating before even she knew what she needed, that she would never cry, never suffer. They weren’t thoughts of mine—not yet. They were sentiments. But I failed, almost immediately. And then again, and by a week or ten days I was a miserable failure and she had suffered more than I had ever wanted for her life. And even without me, her mind torments her. She has dreams, nightmares.
She teaches relationship to me. Frustration arises, but I can’t blame her. With an adult I might say, ‘You make me…’ but with a child, an infant, it rings as hollow as it is in the pre-verbal space of my mind. When I hear the voice in my head I think there is an imposter perched in my throat and I want to mute her. This time I can become stronger by being harder to hurt, by not giving up on discernment, but giving up on petrification.
Quiet is feeling the bottoms of my feet inhaling dirt, allowing the crown of my head to soar lightly as her cries scratch my skin, remind me I am permeable. But I don’t lose the core that suddenly opens wide in the same moment she finds peace, head resting against my chest, we are breath, heaving together. Inhale. We may not make it further today.
Parenting is uncomfortably authoritarian by nature, and I have had to face my own squirming at enacting it. I want her to tell me, direct me, and I want to reason with her so that we can come to an agreement. But as she picks up pebbles and brings them towards her mouth, and her response to my question, ‘what do you need?’ is to squirm and wail, and in peaceful moments her sign of affection is to kiss me on the lips, squeeze the extra tissue around my midsection now, and then use her tiny nails to try to gouge out my eyes, I understand that I have to direct some of this, otherwise neither of us will survive, or thrive. I automatically impose my will onto my child, because hers alone would be dangerous. But I have to keep it pure, a gift of the beautiful to her, as the line needs to be drawn separating danger from safety, not convenience from tasks.
One day I will have to teach her impermanence, but at the outset I have to teach her object phenomenon, so she can believe in a semblance of permanence one moment to the next. And I must teach her to be afraid in order that she might learn to self-preserve, that a healthy fear will keep her alive. But there is an innate wisdom with which she joined us; a curiosity and openness to receive everything as it is without judgment or preconception, a need to be experientially convinced before she inhibits her actions. And, as she does, I can watch walls being erected in her mind, constructing the safe case in which she will pass through life, as she filters and catalogs. I hope that I did a fair job of helping to carve those outlines, that she is neither too rigid nor too weak, that she will not be unwavering nor become a victim.
Objectification is seeing the other person as an object for my own means, putting someone else in the role of one I lost. It would be simple to mistakenly do this with my child, assuming that her presence here has anything to do with me. But I am a vessel, a guardian, and I owe her everything and she owes me nothing, because I agreed to allow the viscous matter to coalesce into form within me and bear it into the world, allowing it to be and become something outside of, beyond the control of, whatever I think myself to be.
Logically I know that she will grow, lengthen, gain weight, walk, talk, run and play with friends. But I still cannot gather myself to prepare for it by buying the things she will need because it seems like I have to use my imagination to project her into something she isn’t. And so I wait until I am always behind, preferring to relish her just as she is: pants too short and shoes getting tight and surprising me with new skills rather than always anticipating the change, making a box for her to fill. I measure time in the length she takes up beside me in bed and the thickness of the curls at the back of her head.
In the production society in which I live I could almost consider myself a failure. But I am producing a (hopefully compassionate and secure) human being. I am also producing an infinite well of patience within myself. If I can carry that out into the world then I can add myself to the scale that would like to tip our humanity towards the side of peace, understanding, non-production contentment. My inspirations are the people I know who keep plodding, scraping out whatever it is they scrape, in glacial time making a faint mark, and when I lose my way, I look to them and remember that the path is inglorious with faint effect and excess determination and I want it again.
Dimples for knuckles, she strokes her red-blonde hair, stares at things I cannot see. Each night in the crook of my arm she is longer, her skull is larger, her body thicker beneath my hand. I am watching time. There was a time—not so long ago—that her scapulas were the size of butterfly wings, I think, as I press upon the tiny articulations of her spine and she kisses me with an open mouth. She knows tenderness already.
Her long legs stretch for the floor, as her feet seek a flat surface to press, push up. Hips, torso straightens, heavy head stabilizes, tilts to one side, regards me, the world. And what will I tell her about leaves on the tree that died in the fall but hold onto their branches through the winter? And how we meticulously rake and gather the leaves on the ground, send them off—out of sight—to be rid of their reminder, but there are always stubborn ones clinging overhead, the skeletons that won’t be buried. She will ask me infinite questions, reifying the gaps in my understanding so I see that I have ossified around them and I am porous stone.
I need to catch up, quickly, figure out at least some things so that when she asks I don’t just stare back open-mouthed and mute. Sleep was something I did in days of boredom, when monotony demanded a respite from itself. Now, a day is a year is a lifetime. I age in the moments my eyes are closed and she is, yet again, transformed. Stone that I am, I cannot move quickly enough. I have to show up for another but I have not even learned yet how to show up for myself.
Early morning, I creep out quietly from bed, try to walk weightlessly, not press my feet into the squeaky floorboards, steal a few hours before the dawning of her day. Coffee in hand, dark hours ahead, free moments feel infinite as I begin to imagine filling them. But from the moment she coos her first utterance, she grabs my hand as we hop aboard a high-speed train and time accelerates, the wind blowing through my hair, I don’t have time to look behind me, settle into what has passed, what we’ve passed. If I’m not entirely present I miss it altogether. Then nighttime, sleep that I don’t have the energy to resist: motherhood.
I am a universe to the cells within me and reality is the patterns I allow to imprint themselves. Respirations, exchanges, synapses are the random micro pieces that coalesce into me. New science tells us (we already knew) that having children changes a mother’s DNA, and includes her child’s DNA in her own from now, forward. And the child, of course, carries the mother. What if your arm jumped off and walked away from you? Or your foot left your body behind—phantom limb. Wouldn’t you think it still there? Try to engage it? Get the sensation to return? And what if the arm began to do things, like slap your own hand? At what point do you decide it is not yours? Or—never? You realize it is yours, as are all arms, all hands, accountability drowns in the sea of isolated parts, as we create the wave in unity, drops of derision crack back into the froth. Once I grew out of the amorphous dead. Then she grew out of me, as cells of hers stayed with me. Chimera, we all are. I am part corpse. She is part of me. And what she was before she became this. And what I was before her.
Attachment is the nature of infancy. My child sleeps when curled in the space between my elbow and knee. I become tethered to the earth by the life force within her small being as it grows and gathers and expands into each moment of time. I am holding the core, embracing the source. Lying beside her, I know that for her this will never become a vivid traceable memory of the time when we were so connected. Perhaps she will one day have a visceral memory, driving an unconscious, mysterious desire for re-attachment throughout her life; a need we all share that keeps us spinning, though seemingly chaotic, actually in concentric patterns around the same core: mother, yin, our shared primary existence. Then, eventually, we learn independence and un-attachment, cavalierly implying maturation, although they are negations of our primary state of an absolute unity. We learn some unique self-awareness but take it too far to solidifying the self that never existed anyhow, fortifying false borders, launching raids to protect them. The greater challenge is whether we can admit the underlying attachment, allow ourselves to recall the umbilical cord that ties us all to our mother, which is to say—all mothers—and accept that we are all interdependent, while still maintaining a certain nonchalance.
In the early days, holding her impossible smallness in the crook of my arm, I realize that everyone—even the monsters—were once small and soft, and I wonder about our collective responsibility in raising, creating them. As we all grew out of the same primary source, I reflect upon what nuance of early life pushed us and formed us into better or worse, and that each of us could have easily been thrust upon a more destructive path. Looking back at my own life, the myriad crossroads between disaster and peace, I’m not sure which is more terrifying: that which is done to me or that I might do to others? Have I suffered more at the hand or as the hand?
Standing on the edge of a lake settled into the cracked earth of the plains in the shadow of the foothills, I watch fish come into view out of the murky water, then spin and disappear. Swimming between form and dissolving back into the abyss, just as we arrive here, out of nothing, returning quietly, quickly, our time in the light under the relentless sun as brief as a twirl. Pulsations of breath, time dismantled, ‘circadian’. My sun and moon are a miniature goddess. Shine, wake me, pull me along. I push against the mudslide that is time. I build an earthen wall, press my back against its new, fresh sun-baked warmth, rest in the shadow of clouds, allies of the sun that make her more friendly. Watch the shade of leaves dance on bright green summer forest floor. Sit so still the birds come near, sing fearlessly, think me a tree.
We crouch in the driveway to watch a rabbit poised under the car, hoping he hasn’t been spotted, and I wonder if this is what all creatures share in common: feeling like we are on the brink of some deeper understanding that permanently evades us, something that would elevate us out of the misery we call ‘being alive’ and into a more fulfilling realm. But our own incapacities are the cloud, shroud settled over our mind and senses, keeping us perpetually from arriving there. We are poised mid action, paralyzed, and wishing to not be discovered just yet, as perhaps any moment we might attain an understanding that could liberate us.
I am watching her as she tells me in words I’m too deaf to hear. She must think me an idiot. What preceded language acquisition? A thought? But thoughts require language. An emotion? So are all thoughts emotionally driven and based? Or is it an understanding? What is our nature? What drives us to speak? What will she do with it next? And at what point does it become colored, influenced by all of us around her? Likely, it already has. Wince. And what is her thought and the movement she uses with mouth and hands to try to recreate it for me? I am so conditioned that she has to learn my mother tongue so that I can hear her say, ‘Mom, I’m hungry.’ As she wails it and I am incompetent she finally commits to learning the foreign language. What would hers be? Unadulterated? Non-judgmental? Could I learn it? Could I learn? Can I listen? What is hearing, seeing, speaking? Inadequate rudimentary conveyance. With her, everything is immediate or inane. Survival or inconsequential. What is a thought without language? A true experience?
I crawl into bed beside her and in the dark I listen to her breathe. On this cool, early fall morning I can feel the fire from her tiny body radiating to me, the strength of prana, of aliveness, and I remember a year ago I gave her life, except I didn’t really. I just let it pass through me. I want to protect her, put her in a bubble. No, teach her. No, let her be. Suddenly, I am overcome with a deep, aching loneliness. Into the future I can feel the longing I will one day have and I miss her as if she were already gone.
Nighttime, I am dreaming. I hold her in my arms, tight, close into my chest as I walk down a stairway. But then the railing of the stairway disappears, followed by the connecting parts of the steps. Soon I am merely stepping from one floating wooden step to the next in a vast blackness, balancing on one leg at a time, only intent on keeping her safe.
And then, one day, she is no longer miniature. Her spine has straightened, her legs are strong as she pushes them into the ground, her still oversized head bobbing atop, blonde curls trailing at the back of her head as her tiny feet seek new ground to tread, over sidewalk cracks, sticks, rocks, and into streets if I let her. So I have to let go of my idea of ‘tiny’, ‘harmless’. And as I do so, I accept that this will be the process. I will stand beside her, mostly, sometimes letting her lead, sometimes gently stepping in front, asking her to follow, and that ratio will change as her head looms higher and higher against my own body. One day, theoretically, I know, she will be an adult and will sit across a table from me, debate me on my theories of the world, likely think me an idiot in some of my ways. Right now, all I can imagine, is that I’ll stare back at her, partly mute, wondering how that bobbing little head crafted so many ideas of its own and where did the time go. But I can somehow accept that, even look forward to that. More odd is to imagine much further into the future, to the time when I am gone. That she will be here without me, the spirit of my decayed body long gone, and I can hardly imagine how she will navigate without my presence ready to reach out my hand at any moment. Mostly, I feel lonely thinking of it. But stranger still, is to think that she, even she, will age. This smooth, plump baby body will one day dessicate, wrinkle, gray, and then even pass. So far into the future, yet a blink of an eye, my knowing of her passing seems impossible.
I am old now, I know, because I remember places as an image in time but can no longer place the image or the time; my memory an unwieldy photo album with old, ripped photos, pieces and no one remembers anymore where they belong. My past is like a series of tales of another person I hardly know. I cannot believe who I was yesterday. Perhaps the acceleration of distancing from what I was is a positive sign. Perhaps I should have stayed pre-literate, infantile. Perhaps I did. What could I possibly say that hasn’t been said? What version could I spin that wouldn’t only create more havoc? Thoughts without filters: every emotion is a photo, a clip, an emoticon, a public display. Maybe the best thing I can offer is silence, stillness.
Walking. Breathing. Pulsing micro beads of space between thoughts, emotions and action. At first they are so small they hardly create friction. But eventually they are like ball bearings and my mind runs more smoothly, coasting along, not getting stuck, hung up. Then everything becomes less devastating, less likely to derail me. I can function even amid chaos. This pressing, urgent need that eclipses science or math, can I teach it to her, I wonder.
India: we are towing one another, the family. Toddlers should be called ‘waddlers’ as they bounce left to right, exploring all around them, turning a neighborhood block into a complete world with continents and oceans to explore. Minus the sidewalk, adding narrow streets with suggestions for traffic rules, corner lots for trash instead of playgrounds, exploration here is dangerous and we all miss home.
Do Indians sleep? Do they sleep through it all? The beeping, the dog fights, the late night festivities? The early morning call to prayer? We don’t. My year-and-a-half-year-old daughter and I toss and turn, waking one another, sharing insomnia and restless dreams. In one of them she and I are on the side of a dark road, walking. I insist she hold my hand, but she suddenly she runs out into the middle of the road, disappearing before me in the blackness. I call out to her, willing my eyes to see better through the night, as I hear the whine of cars and motorcycles approaching. Finally, I see the reflection of her bobbing white head, whisk her up into my arms, skirting over to the tiny strip of shoulder, and breathe. We are not yet safe. But so far, disaster has been averted. I wake, she wakes. I hold her and looked into her bright laughing eyes.
In India morning comes quickly, as if it had been waiting impatiently in the wings and then when the slightest signal is given that it’s time, it impetuously arrives, no time for pink hues. Here, we are always being reminded of the dichotomy, the parallel, the dance, the balance, the opposites, the lotus growing out of the swamp. India never calms, never takes a break. A corpse is always hovering above a wedding. Death is always imminent.
In the rickshaw during rush hour, I hold her tightly. Practicing kumbaka, I hold my breath for ten minutes, I’m sure. And in that time I want so badly for nothing to happen to her. I beg and pleaded with every benevolent force of the universe to protect her, but then think of how many millions of children need that protection. I remember photographs of mothers clutching children to their bosoms in countless events, numberless tragedies, where they were not kept safe, where the outcome was devastating. And I feel useless, and suddenly understand that loving like this exposes me raw, that I could lose everything like others have. And I also understand that this feeling won’t go away—that becoming a mother makes me permanently vulnerable.
My relationship with India is like my relationship with myself: love and hate. I love the sound of spiritual song early in the morning. I hate the squalor in which so many people live, without recourse for something better, without even the hope of it changing, at least in this lifetime. How do they persist? Thrive? Without hope? Or perhaps their hope is on a deeper level, for something beyond their skin and bones. And, in that sense, perhaps they are wiser than the rest of us.
The first day home in Boulder I pass a man in an intersection, standing in the small strip of median in jeans and a thin coat, holding a sign. I glance quickly at the dashboard while turning and it reads 19 degrees Fahrenheit in the middle of the day. I reflect that perhaps homeless in India isn’t the worst one could be.
Interrupted. That is motherhood. Every thought, every action, every mid action is interrupted. And then we can get frustrated, angry even, or we can let go. Let go of whatever attachment we had to what we were doing in that moment, even if it is preparing a meal for the family, and we have ourselves convinced that it’s generous, altruistic. That’s still just a theory, still just an attachment to a role for ourselves. Can we let it go? Can we let it all go?
She said her name two days ago and then yesterday said ‘I’. Of course now that means sometimes we have to battle egos, which is illuminating. I watch my own assert itself, and the ego’s way is always in a deafening roar, silencing all others. But I have to pause before I react and then I see it so clearly: the emptiness beneath. It sounds so loud and imminent and important, but that’s it’s façade as it’s so afraid of being forgotten. So is hers. Her new ego screams and flails, afraid she won’t be heard. And I sit with her, listen, patiently wait, telling her I hear her, but reminding her why that thing in this moment cannot happen. Suddenly, she looks around, bewildered by her own reaction, and comes running to me for validation: a hug, nursing, she calms. She is a miniature orb emanating warmth. The force of life is fierce, has claws and grit. There are no accidents.
The time is flying by. Even knowing that, I cannot seem to dig in. Mostly, I sit idly by, watching, in awe, mute. She finds small spaces: nooks, closets, peaked ceilings, where only she fits, so the world is shut out and she is safely nestled in, peering curiously to be sure I am close outside. With only one verb, her response to all questions is, ‘Yeah, I do.’
One sage eye—on a cold winter, before morning—regards me. Small clanks reverberate, echoing vastly in rare quiet. I am waiting for her to drift back to sleep, deeply. As her breath slows, I watch her face still, notice the features are more defined. She has cheekbones, not just cheeks, supple lips, a high forehead. She is a person now. I’ve been scrutinizing the gaps in time, letting seconds widen, inviting in infinity.
Preparations in the dark blue bright early morning, after the flood of dreams. The small spaces between there and here are ready for open eyes, eager feet, wistful solitude. I cultivate the pebble of warmth in the vast borderless experience that will not be filled or pressed or compressed. I need to be like a child, and cup my hand, trying to hold water in my palm. And even as it drips between the gaps between my fingers, continually emptying, I continue to stare in awe, hand open, not giving up. I know that if I believe I am a vessel of patience, then I will be.
Beads of water on the leaves on the ground in the morning. I no longer look at the world; I look at her looking at the world and it is much more miraculous than my own jaded perception has become. I open the shutters in the morning and she springs up, reaching with her hands for the lines of light through the room, streaking across the wall and the floor and I say to her: Can you grab the sunrays? Can you catch the spots of dust mid-air? Can you do magic? Probably.
I am her light, refracting the sun. I am darkness. I am yin. I am mother, of all things. And I will dissolve back into nothing, as will she. In the meantime, she is everything, and the space between my mouth and her forehead while we sleep is the center of the universe. My shoulder hollows as a resting place for her head, as our lungs harmonize and our exhales warm the space between us. Squinting into the blackness, I am balancing on splinters in the infinite abyss, balancing like a goddess, not leaning into the future or falling back into the past, while holding close to my heart the most precious being. All beings.
I am all of this. I am none of this.