The Crux of Mothering

Mother’s Day used to mean figuring out something nice to give my own mom, or to do for her. An hour of flowers, homemade breakfast of questionable quality, saccharine presents, and “we love you”s — then back to mindlessly depending on her for everything.

These days, it makes me think about what a challenging, exhausting, but also exhilarating and satisfying job this is. And it makes me appreciate all the incredible women I’ve met in the past seven years — those I’ve commiserated with, cried and laughed with, shared cocktails with, run and practiced yoga with and established strong, close friendships with as we’ve grown into our new role together.

Having children changes your life in a lot of ways, most (all?) of which you are totally unprepared for. How would you prepare even if you knew to? I think intellectually we all know it’s going to make things different. But I don’t think I had any idea what a trial by fire it would be for me. It changed me down to the core. Perhaps it was always destined to be the experience that was going to help me figure myself out. I imagine it has that effect on a lot of women, though I’d never deign to say that it’s been for everyone what it’s been for me.

Becoming a mother challenged my idea of myself as a capable person. It made my M.O. of always having to be good at things, to master them, pretty useless as I quickly realized that this was one project I wasn’t going to be able to ace through sheer work, talent and brain power. Kate wasn’t a project. She was a little person whom I was suddenly responsible for 24-7. Motherhood wasn’t a job title with a business card and a nice view out the window of a Manhattan office. It was a daily slog, one that also included the benefits of a group of fellow moms of October and November babies in Park Slope, Brooklyn, a gorgeous park we could wander through with our coffee and sleep deprivation, amazing conversations with women I’d never have met if our first kids weren’t a few weeks apart in age.

And of course, that yummy little baby. I can still see her face in my seven-and-a-half-year-old.

There were a lot of lovely things about it in those early days, as I’ve written about here before. But as time went by and we moved out to South Orange and added Sara to our family, I struggled more and more. Adding another kid, as much as I loved and adored her, exposed my own flaws to me more and more. I struggled to consider myself a decent mom, a decent person. I had lots of other women around me who were in the same boat, and although we all empathized with one another, part of me, I think, just felt like I was the worst of the bunch — the truly rotten apple. I just could not do this job right, or well. I was doing my girls a disservice. Someone else would do so much better for them.

At some point I couldn’t hold it together anymore, and that was the beginning of the beginning. Therapy, my supportive husband and my truest friends helped me to see that my feelings were normal, even typical, and that Kate and Sara are fantastic, well-adjusted little people, despite what I thought I was doing to them. My daughters have helped me to really find myself under the guise I’d created over all the years of my life to present myself to the world. Not that it was ever a mask that hid the true me from everyone else; there were just some adjustments to make, ones that actually made life easier, and truer. And that made mothering — even the hard parts — feel so much more doable.

I thought a lot about my relationship with my own mother, and how it shaped me. It’s the central relationship of everyone’s life, isn’t it, for better or for worse? I adore my mom, and lately I’ve been witness to her incredible strength. For a long time I felt disappointed that she and I couldn’t connect the way I wanted us to. I often felt I was too emotional in her eyes, while she seemed not emotional enough to me. As I get older and see her as a person and an adult with a past and her own coping mechanisms, I understand that we both did the best we could. I never doubted her intense love and support. She did an amazing job with my sister and me. And now her emotional boundaries even stand as an example for me.

I’m grateful to be where I am and who I am. I live in a community of some of the smartest, savviest, funniest, most creative and just plain best women and mothers there must be anywhere.

Kate and Sara — well, what else can I say about those two. They have my heart.

Happy Mother’s Day.

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Fully Immersed

Our Anusara immersion ended yesterday. Sixteen of us came together with our exceptional teacher Emma Magenta for nine weekends over the course of a year. Altogether, it was 108 hours. It was a big, serious committment of time, money and effort, but one we all felt was important and managed to convince our loved ones was important.

We were all there because Anusara struck a chord with each of us, and we wanted to go deeper. It was a lot more than just a class where we took notes, or a workshop to improve our poses. Though we did learn all about the Universal Principles of Alignment that our style of yoga is based upon and did many hours of tough asana, we also studied the Tantric philosophy that makes Anusara unique. We read and discussed the Bhagavad Gita. We practiced pranayama, meditation, and kirtan. And we got to better understand how yoga touches all parts of our lives — physically, mentally, spiritually. If you’ve been a regular reader of my blog, you know that two of the Universal Principles in particular have made a major emotional impression on me: muscular energy, or creating a strong foundation by contracting and pulling in, and organic energy, or extending and shining out.

We created a kula. We went from a group of strangers — or, at most, people who’d seen one another once or twice in class — to a cohesive community, a circle of love, trust, and safety. We established strong bonds of friendship.

When I started going to South Mountain Yoga about three years ago, I knew almost immediately that Anusara was going to be significant for me. I was feeling so battered and lost, completely foundation-less. I walked in there and it felt like a haven. What I got out of it was just what I needed.

It still feels that way, and I’m a completely different person — because of all kinds of work I’ve done since then, but in large part because of my yoga. I’m as strong as I’ve ever been, physically and emotionally. I’m more comfortable in and confident about my body. I’ve found a language to understand the spiritual ideas that I already had.

It’s hard to articulate what Anusara is and why it’s special without sounding like some sort of cult member, so I try not to proselytize when my friends show an interest. I tell them that yoga is like anything else — you find the studio, teacher, and style that work for you. Of course I want them all to come do Anusara with me. But I’d love for them to come to it organically, like I did.

There’s the possibility of teacher training in the fall, and though I’ve never considered myself teacher material, I’m starting to rethink that. Good teachers are passionate about their subject. I don’t think I have the amazing gift that Emma does (that’s her front and center in the picture, in the bright blue jacket). But I’d love to help other people see what I see in Anusara, to get what I’ve gotten out of it. Whether I’m a good prospect for such an important job remains to be seen. But I’d love to learn more. So I’m thinking about it.

But I’m really going to miss having immersion weekend to look forward to. It was always so nice to know one was coming up, that I’d get to spend the weekend talking and thinking about something I love, with people I love, and doing something soothing and healing for myself. This last one was a week after my father’s memorial service, and the timing could not have been better.

One of my classmates put it this way: When we began, it was like we were in the lobby of a museum, and we were there to see an exhibit we were interested in. But it turned out the museum was huge, cavernous in fact, and there was more and more to explore. So now we’re wandering through the infinite museum of Anusara yoga.

The nicest thing about this metaphor is that even if we’re in different rooms or focusing on different exhibits, we can still meet up in the cafe. See you all there.