Being a Mother to Others

Some thoughts on being a mother to others. A blog post from Bali. (and the result of three cups of Bali Coffee.)

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“We’re eating noodle soup in Taipei, see you this afternoon!”

Butterflies hit my belly like leaves in wind—strong, soft, tangled. Poignancy is a word that could replace pregnancy, as it sums up what you will experience becoming a parent. So much love pulses through my body when missing them, away or working a lot, I don’t pay the attention I’ve been given to just them. They grow independent from me. In my mind, I was supposed to be their only source of life, but nothing is more wildly untrue. They need you and they don’t. You’re the most influential being and you’re not. They eat noodles with or without you.

Ten days ago I embarked on a journey to Bali and left them with Gerard. I taught a women’s writing retreat on the island and we planned Gerard would bring the kids to meet me, it was a separation by international dateline and a globe. This used to be easier for me when they were younger, we had more time, now I know the urgency of their maturing minds and expanding bodies. I am missing the luxury of their childhood. “Days are long; years are short” is the saying when it comes to raising children. I scoffed at it, but from here I know it.

Sorting laundry and reminding the kids not to shake their toothbrushes so the paste splatters the clean mirror, I forget the taste of this sort of missing. Missing their soft skin and new souls, their nubby noses and burrowed hands. Mia sounded so much older when we talked yesterday, she said, “OMG” four times when speaking with one of my authors, Emma Mildon. Mia’s voice sounded deeper, raspier, like more of the world was behind her. She consumes days like wildfire. Age seven is a third of the way to twenty-one. Will we go to a wine tasting on her 21st? Or a temple? A spa? Will I be here that long?

There is so much risk in opening to life. I cry often when the pain of being alive and scared is forcing me to allow them their own journey. I want to be in every one of their thoughts. Their eye contact opens my soul; I am sad after these ten days that I make more eye contact with my email sometimes than with them. I will change that. Distance has proven I don’t have it in me to miss anything else of them.

Being a mother is pregnant with hot tears and tantrums one moment and wet kisses and fingers wrapped around mine the next. I am a mother at my core. I mother not only these creature treasures by which I’ve been biologically blessed, but also my authors, clients, friends, and even those I don’t know. Even you. I shake my head at the dramas of the world, and wonder where Trump’s mom was during his character development. Missing? Overbearing? Too weak? What creates a hungry ghost and will Mia’s bent for sugar create one in her later? How can I make everything easier for her, for Sage? How can I keep the plankton from dying? The bees from disappearing. Who mothered the executives who build infrastructures that rape nature? How can I mother them?

Mothers are the boundary setters. The ones who are supposed to instill a sense of responsibility, compassion, and manners into the minds of their spawn. Mothers are the friends who read your whole email. The ones who tell you when to stop. Mothers are embattled servants of what is good and right, hopefully. We feel like we fail when we are really only losing by our points of limited view.

We are archetypal, feminine heroic mothers. We parent pets and mother meals. We foster community and hide our needs so others’ can be filled. We mother plants, prophecies, and fill the birdbath. Mothers here on Bali pile their babes two and three on a moped and speed through the streets with concerned concentration, with a dignity granted by their children’s existence. We as mothers are afforded less time for mistakes. We need to mother more and worry less. We need to stop the plastic spilling into the oceans, to say what we think instead of hiding our guilt for not being enough.

While the kids and Gerard are on layover in Taipei, my friend Olivia is planning an arrival party for them here. She wants them to feel loved, and that they were thought of, anticipated with gifts. I didn’t think to do that. I just wanted to fill my needs with their faces and voices. I wanted to touch them to make sure they are real and this life is real, after all, they are somehow my only proof. Olivia isn’t a mother yet, but she mothers better than me today as we go to markets looking for Balinese toys, trinkets and sweets to gift them on arrival. We are all each other’s mother. I am mothering her for her mom while we’re here on Bali. She is mothering my children. We are interchangeable but never irreplaceable.

I beg Gerard for some pictures of the kids in the airport eating noodles. I text him: “Please send pics of kids eating noodles, my mom cells are starved.” But the internet at the airport is slow, the pictures trapped mid-flight between satellites. My heart feels pangs waiting for them while I sip my third cup of Bali coffee. Tucked away on Monkey Forest Road in Ubud I measure the minutes.

The pictures aren’t coming through. I ask Gerard to send me details. He writes: “Kids ate big breakfast, Sage is noodling on his computer, Mia is playing on her Kindle, and I am reading a novel. My international data plan must not have kicked in.” This craving to know what they are eating and how, what they are wearing and how their eyes look at this moment. I want everything. I want it now.

I want love in detail. I realize as I’ve stopped working on that manuscript that detail is required nourishment for the soul of whatever life we’ve chosen.

At the writing retreat, my student and new friend, Worth, told me of her near death experience. She said of the afterlife, “It’s beautiful, but boring. That will always be there, but this life won’t.” She summed up my next book in one line, and I wondered if I’d need to write it now at all. But yes, I must mother that too. I want to savor each word like I want to savor my children’s faces eating noodles in Taipei. It’s written, perhaps sloppily so, but by measure it’s been one of my greatest pleasures—to dive into a sea of words, sentences, and to savor the growing tension of time limits and limited vocabulary have busted my mind open to taste the infinite through the writing, the translating of soul-on-paper process.
Worth mindfully eats her way through her second life, leaving nothing on the table. I envy her as I remember Mia asking for my attention one day, I shooed her away the conference call I was on more important.

I say things to the kids like, “Mommy has to work to pay for this nice house, these yummy meals,” but I know that’s a bullshit excuse that doesn’t deliver them what they need at all. In fact, it makes them believe my absence is the fee I pay for their comfort. I hate that I say it. I will stop as soon as they touch down here on Bali. I will be better. I will take less for granted. I will be the mother they need and that the world needs.

And when they arrive later today, there will be a celebration. And the pictures of them eating noodles will become my prize, I will post them. I will share them. I will dive into the details of them both in person and through the details of being alive.