Wednesday, June 06, 2018

Every man got the right to decide his own destiny


A new post, my first since Sagan's birth, and she is nineteen months old, so that's a nineteen month hiatus.  I suppose that's about the length of time it takes for things to normalize.  Not that they have or ever will—I don't want things to go back to "normal"—she is a joy, and every minute I get to spend with her is a gift.  Nevertheless I am beginning to understand, now, why there are so few mothers who are also artists.

It is difficult to manage motherhood and any kind of creative life, especially if you also include self-care.  Balance is challenging.  I know it gets easier every day, as it already is, as I have time to write these words, and I actually want to cherish each of these days to the best of my ability.

Everyone says it goes so fast, and already it does.  Knowing how fast it goes doesn't change its speed, and I am still surprised by the experience of it.  Of course I also have bad days, including this week.  It's easy to feel like I am squandering, already, my daughter's childhood, with fear and self-doubt and recrimination.

Nothing changes when you have children.  It's just an overlay atop the person you already are, the fears and doubts you already had.  And of course everything changes when you have children.  Every cliche about parenthood is true verbatim.

She is still willing to cuddle close to my breast, to snug up beneath my chin, to come to me without hesitation to kiss her boo-boos.

When things are hard, all I have to do is remember how astounding she is.  She is uniquely herself, as, of course, all babies are, all humans are—but still. She is herself.  She is amazing, and I can't take any credit.  She's so independent, and easy-going, and creative.

Since her birth, I've been reading about Dr. Maria Montessori, the Italian doctor and feminist who invented the "Montessori method."  If I had to sum up her philosophy, I'd say that she insists on the autonomy of each individual child, that from birth we are learning through experience, and our job as parents and teachers is to present the world in such a way that children can develop confidence in their own abilities, to be able to care for themselves independently as soon as they are able.

I am shocked by the dysfunctional consumerism that has arisen around children in our culture.  How many contemporary parents have children kept forever in cages:  cribs, high chairs, walkers, strollers, car seats, playpens.  All made of plastic, all cheap, all destined for the ash heap of history.  Often these babies have screens as their only companion.  All in the name of "safety." The devil has been renamed "safety" by our culture.  People are so afraid of their children bumping their heads or scraping their knees that they'd rather yell at them, suppress their every instinct toward freedom, independence, creativity, adventure.  This is selfishness. Our fear taking precedence over their self-development.

"We cannot know the consequence of suppressing the spontaneity of childhood.  We may even suffocate life itself.  That humanity which is revealed in all its intellectual splendor should be respected with a kind of religious veneration."  —Maria Montessori

All human beings are uniquely special, especially precious:  all of us have our cargo to carry into the world.  As my epigraph says:  we each have our race set out for us.

"…you are happy for your child because you know that she is happy.  You are happy not because your child is a 'super baby.'  At any age, developing an inflated idea of self leads eventually to isolation and loneliness.  Our goal is to help children appreciate that they are unique human beings and special to us.  However, we want them to realize that all other human beings are unique, too."  —Paula Polk Lillard and Lynn Lillard Jessen, "Montessori from the Start"

Yes, this has become a "mommy blog."  Sucks for you.  Although I can't help thinking that if someone like Jonathan Franzen or Philip Roth decided to write online about parenting, their website would be called "a series of short essays on fatherhood," and not a daddy blog.  Yet another example of the diminutive way we refer to motherhood, the saccharine bromides that steal away the resonance of mothering.  We cheapen and diminish the experience of women and infantilize mothers because to do otherwise would mean that we would HEAR THEIR VOICES:  how deep the experience is, how terrifying, how hard.

But really, how easy she is.  Her needs are simple: food, water, comfort, new experience.  She is filled with joy at being in the world.  Even when she is having a hard time it's for a reason that makes sense and all she really needs is reassurance, love, attunement.  

I love how she makes this face when she nurses, as if milk is the most delicious substance known to creation, this little quiver in her eyebrows as her eyes lower, as if she's a critic tasting the most delicious wine of all of history.  There's how she clutches my fingers when I'm trying to do something, just to be closer to me.  To keep me focused on her.  How she wraps her arms around my boob like it's a huge beach ball, or a body pillow.  How she utters this deep sigh, pulls off, and rests her head gently against my breast.  Her laugh.  It's the most beautiful sound in the world—deeper than expected, almost guttural, like a chuckle—oh.  It is darling.  It makes my heart hurt.  How smart she is, how she's been signing since she was four months old, and how hard she tries to communicate with us, how interested she is by the world, especially new things, new people, new places.  How beautiful she is, even for a baby—her porcelain skin, her gorgeous birthmark, her little curved thumbs, her almond eyes, bow mouth, perfect nose, wide cheeks.  These are the cliches but they are also true.  How strong she is.  How when she tries to do something she pushes with every ounce of her muscle.  How hard she grips my fingers, so hard she can dangle from them.  How she jumps, how hard she tries to do what we're trying to do.  There are so many ways to love her.  The way she looks at me, as if she's drinking me in, just so curious about who I am and what's going on, no matter what I'm doing, as if she could just stare at me for decades.

I wrote this paragraph a while ago and already she has grown so much.  I keep thinking that all of these words I have written on this site, for twelve years now, are actually for her, for no one else.  I just didn't know that when I wrote them.  The dear grad student to whom I address my journals:  her.  And she'll have to read through all my self-hatred and ingratitude too.  She makes me want to be better, and teaches me how to be better.

[Some good Montessori blogs, for the curious:

2 comments:

Moxie said...

We miss you guys and so want to meet your "lil sunshine. Already she is blessed being yours! Been 14 years since we met on the AT. Question.does Sagan have hiking boots yet???? 👶❤👣👣👣

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