In a fortunate twist of events that involves some beloved family and friends who seek inspiring adventures and a universe that sometimes delivers just the experiences we need, I found myself on a primitive island boat pulling up to an ashram in the Bahamas late Friday afternoon.
A courtyard packed with tents and a serious daily itinerary that included mandatory meditation and “yoga church” participation quickly revealed this was the real deal, not the occasional Saturday morning class I’ve attended at our posh Naples studio with infused water and a curated boutique of “Spiritual Gangster” shirts and sports bras with elaborate webs of back straps.
A few minutes after arrival, I signed my name, committing to respecting ashram policies and held out my right hand for my bead string bracelet. “Now make an intention for the weekend,” the beautiful yogi instructed while she tied a knot at my wrist.
I whispered my intention to myself, thanked her, and then made a very purposeful decision before taking my bags to our room. I reached up and fumbled for the clasp on my necklace–the one I always wear when I travel without my kids, the one that holds their fingerprint charms close to my heart so I’m never without them–and I removed it.
If I was going to really listen to my own heartbeat over the weekend, I was going to need to remember that my heartbeat existed before the kids and that the foundation of my commitment to them is rooted in discipline and strength and love for myself. Because lately when I’m running and feel like stopping, I push myself to keep going by imagining I’m running for my kids–that somehow the proof of my love for them exists in another block of sprinting. And when I need willpower in its greatest form for anything in life, my first resort is to tap in to how much I love them and mold that love into some weird mind game incentive because it’s the strongest force I know. I don’t think that’s the healthiest way to find my own strength.
My friend texted me a few weeks ago after her yoga class. She has four kids and like so many of us spends her days making them breakfast, getting them off to school, e-mailing teachers, driving them to dance practice and hockey games and play dates. Worrying about how they’re absorbing the world, if she’s doing her job right, equipping them with life tools. Ever so slowly pushing them out of the nest while tickling their backs, kissing their foreheads and whispering life wishes for them as they fall asleep under sheets she had so much fun picking out for them. We text pictures and videos of our kids back and forth to each other and have built so much of our friendship on how similarly we mother…on how much alike we love.
“I just had the worst metaphor jump into my head for my life and what I feel like is happening. I was lying on my yoga mat and I thought”…
I waited for the end of her thought that arrived in a separate text a few seconds later.
…”I’m being erased.”
“There, now you have to deal with it,” she wrote. “Like the brother and sister in the photograph from ‘Back to the Future’, remember?”
“With every day…I’m just going going going…gone,” she wrote. “How can we feel so invisible while making so many marks a day? I write all their shit in permanent marker,” she ended…
“…and I write mine in pencil.”
“We fight the eraser,” I texted back.
She didn’t need advice, and I had nothing to offer because I know how this works–like everything else in motherhood. Nobody has the balance game down pat. The weight of everything in life is constantly shifting; scales tip. There’s always either a little too much to the left or too much to the right, and we make it work. When they’re tipped too far, we’ll know–a cup of spilled milk puts us over the edge during the witching hour, a little voice speaks up in yoga class. We reevaluate our schedules, make room for date nights, get up early to meditate, run, read. We write in journals, plan a girl’s weekend, eat better, drink less. We feel good, clear, balanced, able to see our own stuff written in permanent marker…until we realize the demands of life slowly faded it to pencil again and we begin another cycle of weight redistribution.
I think moms are a lot like that magic balance bird toy. Have you seen it? It’s a plastic bird with a weighted body that magically balances on the tip of your finger from the point of its tiny beak. Dash has one and always laughs, positioning himself to catch the bird, waiting for it to fall…but it never does. Unlike objects of uniform shape, the center of gravity isn’t in the middle, and the wings are specifically designed–heavy enough and extended far enough–to withstand the weight of its back. Motherhood is as far from uniform shape as you can get–our unique situations and schedules and family circumstances in constant motion and the love we feel for everyone, an overpowering force. You know how the law of physics works for finding the center of gravity in non-uniform objects? Trial and error. Every day.
The love we feel for our families is so deep, so complex, so intense, it’s only natural for it to tip us off balance sometimes. And then when you add the other things we think about–our work, our hurts, our future, our finances, our parents, our friends, our community, our world–it’s no wonder we’re able to get off the ground at all. But we’ve got wings that stretch far–farther than we can ever comprehend–to withstand the love and weight on our backs. So we fly.
Coincidentally, my mom instincts had me running after Dash the other day to keep him from walking into a parking lot, and I lost my balance. My foot snapped at the edge of a curb, and I fell and broke it. I’m off-kilter now for the next 6 weeks, finding new strength in my right side, learning ways to slow down.
Trial and error–the very definition of motherhood. And yet still, we fly. Or clomp in a moon boot air cast.