“Sometimes it’s hard to be a woman,” sang Tammy Wynette, “giving all your love to just one man.”
I remember as a little girl thinking hard on that line and wondering if it was true, wondering if an overflow of passion really was a problem of womanhood and a threat to fidelity. You may think little girls don’t think things like that, but I have two nieces old enough now to ask questions, and they sure do.
I’ll be thirty this month, so I guess I’ve been a woman long enough to know something about it and this problem of Tammy’s… well, it does not reflect the human condition. I’ve never yet met a woman too full of love, or a woman who could afford to be giving it out to two men, for heaven’s sake. Instead, we all of us feel a bit stretched, as Bilbo said, like butter scraped over too much bread.
Maybe Tammy needed children, or friends or a dog. Maybe she needed a garden.
I know I need more love. When someone needs me to stay up late and someone needs me at night and someone needs me in the early morning, I need more love and I need more strength. I think it’s true for most of us who are married, that you don’t need to “stand by your man”, as much as you need your man to stand by you.
What is endlessly comforting to me as a Christian is that the first step in God’s provision is emptiness. What qualifies you for Christ? Need, lack, want. These are things I have, so this is good news. A lack of love and strength is exactly what I can bring to Christ.
A few years ago I very much wanted to be married and I was part of a very small church.. Faith can be tricky, because although you know God can do anything he likes, drop a good man in your pew, for instance, sometimes it’s also faith to look around and say, “God show me what to do”.
What I had to do was be humble and honest and brave, which all too often meant just showing up with empty hands. I had to stop pretending I was content. I had to stop pretending I wasn’t sad. And the hardest thing, I had to go. I visited churches all over the area, sometimes crying in the car before I went in, looking a mess. I went, not so much to meet a husband, as to meet other Christians, because I knew I needed other Christians and I knew I needed help. I had just enough faith to believe the help I needed wasn’t in a singles Facebook group or Tinder, but in church, which let’s be real, is full of weird and awkward and old people, not to mention the sick and heartbroken. This was the place for me. I tried my best to be honest when I talked to friends and acquaintances, and ask them to pray for me.
A funny verse that I often thought of during this time was Eugene Peterson’s translation of Psalm 53:2. It says God sticks his head out of heaven. He looks around. He’s looking for someone not stupid – one man, even, God-expectant, just one God-ready woman. Like God I was looking for a man, and God knows I was a man-ready woman. But was I God-ready? No, I wasn’t. But being so is not a permanent state in this life. It comes with perennial need, as we slowly learn that it is Jesus who is ready.
This isn’t a cause and effect story, because God didn’t actually use any of these churches or Christians to get me married, but I did get married not long after this, and I could feel the effects of this softening and tilling up of my heart, when he brought a good man from a world so different than my own. When I visited the seeker-friendly mega church with him and the catholic church with his family, they didn’t feel so strange. I was used to the uncomfortable feeling of being in a crowd of people worshiping God in the way they thought best, of being full of my own need and all too aware of myself to reach for Him in such a place. I knew by then that most people are too concerned with themselves to even notice you, which is a comfort, but the ones who do care, truly do, which is a comfort too.
Sometimes I’ll say to my husband “I’ve been to that church” and “I visited there” as we drive through town, and we will laugh about our retirement plan to hit every church lunch and dinner in the area to save on groceries, but it’s a true and a serious thing that we may go to the church if we are hungry, and so can you.
This was a long and rambling story to say, if you are like me and looking at all the things you need to do this morning, and all the people who need your love— your man and all the rest of them— and feeling so tired and empty, you are not alone and this is a good place for us to be. As my old friend said, “Needs are my best riches, for I have these supplied in Christ.”
This Christ has a garden in your heart. When you come to him empty, he looks over you with love. He purposes a harvest. He is filled with satisfaction and He is filled with joy.
We’ve been using cloth diapers, not exclusively but daily, for several months now. This has made me feel altogether more accomplished as a housekeeper. Perhaps this is why I breezed through the laundry sorting Monday morning, thinking deep on other things. Perhaps this is why two new dresses worn over the weekend, one red and one white with flowers, ended up together in a delicates cycle. Perhaps this is why the white dress is now pink and has been soaking in my sink since Monday afternoon.
I could blame it on baby brain, but here’s a secret: I did plenty of stupid things before babies.
I am here to tell you: not oxi-clean, not white vinegar, not hydrogen peroxide, not baking soda, no prayer of penitence, has removed the red stain from my dress. I’m not ready to give up. They say not to let it dry, but I’m not sure how much longer I can set aside that sink, or how much longer it can soak before the fabric dissolves.
I’ve had it on my mind to write something beautiful about cloth diapering— what it’s taught me about renewal and how lovely they look, the once rank pile, washed clean and sweet smelling and bright on the line in the sun. Wendell Berry said to “practice resurrection” and practically speaking, what better way is there than to take something so soiled and considered necessarily disposable by our society, and renew it well, again and again?
But I can’t write anything like that now, because it sounds too perfect in light of my failures. The truth is, cloth diapering has been good for me because it has taught me faithfulness in this one little area. I confess, until marriage, I cast my stains upon my mother. I said she was good at this, but really she was just more patient.
One day, Lord willing, I will be great enough to take on the stains of my children, grass and mustard and charcoal, garments improperly paired, but today, today I turn again to google and simply refuse the take the pink dress out of the sink just yet. In my trying and remembering, I have a long way to go.
But I remember something else now. That quote of Wendell Berry’s, it’s from a poem, and doesn’t the line before say “Be like the fox who makes more tracks than necessary, some in the wrong direction” ? And so perhaps in my failures, in ruining things, wasting time, circling back and forgetting, perhaps I am the one coming clean, and perhaps resurrection is happening, whether I practice it or not.
My work in the garden is limited these days, but I was out there yesterday. The baby was in one empty bed on a sheet, tearing a flower apart, and I was in another bed weeding. I was thinking about the “no work” garden technique of raised beds and mulching and how my mother has been doing it for over thirty years and how hers has grown to be the biggest and prettiest personal garden I’ve ever seen, and how it’s occasionally neat but usually wild and never has it ever even for one month been “no work”.
Sometimes she’ll have aspiring gardeners come over and usually they are after some secret sauce, some hidden knowledge from the inner circle, and oftentimes they are chiefly after the harvest. I get this because I have approached so many things in just this same way, only to discover that in art and skill, even in a counter full of tomatoes, there is no inner circle. There is only those who give themselves to the work, and those who don’t.
I found my mother in the garden yesterday morning, and I asked her what is it that you are after mostly in gardening? Is it the harvest?
No she said quickly, then she thought a minute. It’s time in the garden.
I thought about this awhile and came back to her and said So would you say it’s about having a relationship with the land itself?
And the plants she said.
And the plants. The bed I was cleaning out was for rutabagas, a crop we always make room for and seldom harvest. Why do we do it? Because rutabagas are worthwhile and shouldn’t be forgotten and because sometimes we get to eat a few of them and because we need a cover crop to protect the soil…
But mostly because the hope of rutabagas gives us more time in the garden.
On the night of June 24th I laid in bed in a dark quiet house and cried. For the first time I was feeling the regular movements of my second child. For the first time I had the relief and comfort of knowing that this child, and all his or her unborn peers, have been finally seen as humans under the law of the land, humans endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights. This is a good and beautiful thing, because it is true.
I know life is especially hard for some mothers, and if that is you, I want to encourage you: If there is one thing I’ve learned as a child of God, it is that He does not give us all the answers before He asks us to obey Him. This is the very point of faith. He provides as you go, as you trust Him, as you wrestle with His will and are willing to say not mine, but yours be done and as He welcomes you into His big heart, He gives you the grace to be an open and hospitable place too— for all humans, but especially those who are very young or old, needy, oppressed or troubled, all of which, along with everyone else, begin life in the same fragile place, the place of the incarnation, a place now made safer some places here in America because God hears the cries of the innocent, even from the ground, and I am so thankful.
The president, in his speech this week, said that women have the power to control their own destinies. I believe this to be baseless and untrue, but more than that, it’s led us into a sad sort of angry freedom. The truth is, we are all bound in many ways. For the most part we can’t prevent bad things or cause good things. We meet death and pain whether we stop for it or not. Mercy comes to us when we least expect it. We can no more control our destinies than we can control the beating of our hearts.
This tapestry above is one of my favorite pieces of art. I could look at it, into it, for hours. It’s called simply “the Unicorn Rests in a Garden” and it’s from the Unicorn tapestries from the late Middle Ages. I have taped it into many journals throughout the years, and underneath I have written the Beloved Tamed and the Shining Barrier. It was a beautiful and comforting image to me unmarried, but full of marriage and childbirth symbolism, it is an especially good piece of art for the contemplation of mothers.
The fence in the tapestry is too low, as any gardener could tell you. It’s love that holds her there.
I wanted to share this piece again. I wrote it several years back, but I stand by it, which isn’t true of everything I’ve ever said. My life has changed so much, but I’m still here telling stories, and Mrs. Eva is still among the best of the earth.
February 26, 2019
I spoke to a young woman in a parking lot one day last week. She was there to have an abortion. How old is your baby? I asked. Eight weeks, she said.
Can I ask you.. why?
I don’t want it.
But is it alright to kill a person we don’t want?
She cursed me, sufficiently and repeatedly with a four letter word I don’t even know the meaning of.
I was still there when she came out again. She had taken a pill in the office and it was already working on her womb, changing the atmosphere into a hostile place. The slip of paper in her hand told her what to expect after Pill Number Two, told her not to look in the toilet. If she did, I knew what she would see.
Oh, would she look? Would she see?
She turned to me. Do you want my baby? she asked. I only nodded, because I did want her baby, but I sensed a lack of sincerity in her voice. Well, here you go, she said, and pulled down her pants to expose herself. She made the space between us inhospitable, because she didn’t want me either.
This parking lot belongs to a large brick building in a nice part of town, a prosperous old Southern town, home of one of the most prestigious golf tournaments in the world, and about thirty people, not guilty of any crime, are killed and put in a freezer here every day. I drive past it all the time, and did today, as I took an elderly friend to the doctor, where there was a new form for her to fill out, including the question, Have you been abused? I cringed at the sadness of the question, and wondered what she would say, how far back her mind might go.
Then she leaned in and whispered in that way old ladies have of informing half the room, “Why don’t they ask if I’ve been abusive? Nobody wants to ask thatone.”
Now, this woman has been hurt. Not a year out of eighty five has gone by without a personal injustice, and some held a good deal more than others. But somehow, at some point, she was given eyes to see the hurt she herself had done looking back at her. You are the man as Nathan said, and with those painful words the hard-hearted king became a shepherd boy again.
I have never been a mother, not even for a moment. But I’m glad to be a woman. I’m glad to be that part of creation made for the sake of man, and able to bear mankind. I’ve always believed it the greatest honor. Every month my body prepares itself for company, then cleans house only to prepare itself again. We biologically make welcome, and if we can’t for some reason, it concerns us. Unless we in our autonomy do it to ourselves. We fight to keep it legal, but no amount of legislation under the sun could make it right.
I was in a big house yesterday, all richly furnished and clean. I was keeping the people, an elderly couple and a baby. The old folks slept, laid flat back on recliners, snoring. I sat in a rocking chair with the little girl asleep in my arms. She had hold of my hair so I wouldn’t lay her down. The afternoon light was coming through the blinds all golden. It had been raining and was going to rain again, but now the sun had come to set fire to the little dust motes no one was there to watch but me. There is something here, I thought, no, something missing. Someone missing. It was the woman of the house. I was just the help, yet here I was in the magic hour, keeping peace, witnessing the stillness of the sun between rains shining on the dust motes. It wasn’t right that it should be me, but that’s okay, because they weren’t paying me enough. Nobody wants to keep house anymore. Nobody wants to rock the baby.
On the main road near the abortion mill, a beautiful woman stands with a sign most Saturdays. Her name is Mrs. Eva, and sometimes I stand with her. She usually tells me to go away, for the cold wind whips like nowhere else in the world around that building. You are too skinny to be out here! she’ll say, as if she wasn’t eighty-two. In Mrs. Eva’s presence, I often feel like my niece Adah, who wants always to be held just at dinnertime when my hands are busiest. Hold you, she’ll say. After hearing no a few times, she just valiantly climbs up my legs, and lo and behold, we find I can put dinner on the table and hold her at once, just as she suspected.
Mrs. Eva stands for the unseen ones who enter the brick building and come out again in bags to be hauled away, sold for parts or burned, according to their usefulness. What happens here has all been made real to her. She sees them. I seldom have the eyes or strength to look, but I do see her.
Mrs. Eva is a holocaust survivor. She did survive, just barely. At the age of nine, she was ripped from her home, forced on a train and into an extermination camp in Yugoslavia, where she witnessed and suffered unspeakable things. These abusers didn’t want to actually put the knife to the unwanted throats. No, they would just remove all subsistence behind walls where no one could see for reasons that sounded excusable at the time. She says there comes a moment, in your helplessness, when you can no longer watch what is happening, when the anguish is so great it will drive you insane, and all you can do is cover your eyes and try to run or hide. But if you survive, you will grow up and in some ways, you will recover. You will put on strength, God helping you. And then… then what? Well, there are lots of options for victims available today with a whole menagerie of hashtags. Or you could be like Mrs. Eva, who moves her old feet to the cold floor of a Saturday morning only to stand on a busy road to be cursed and spit upon, who feels the bitter wind up her spine and tells me to go get warm, who would be first to say I’m sorry, please forgive me, and come on in, who has, with all her cares, held my hand in the winter rain and prayed for me.
I’m not a political activist. I don’t keep up with all the latest. Big things can happen in this world and I won’t know about it until I read the newspaper while mulching the garden six months later. I spend my days with the dying generation who remember as in a dream a place where men looked out for women and women looked out for children and children looked out for the stray cat, and that all sounds pretty good to me, and a long time gone. I’m just an American girl, a product of public schools, Disney and on a good day, Hank the Cowdog. But I’m also a storyteller. If there’s a tidy moral to these narratives, it isn’t yet obvious to me. I’m just here to tell you what I’ve seen lately in the parking lot, the waiting room, the big house and on the roadside.
I’m just here to tell you a story, like Matthew when he said, Jesus called a little child to his side and set him on his feet in the middle of them all. “Believe me,” he said, “unless you change your whole outlook and become like little children you will never enter the kingdom of Heaven. It is the man who can be as humble as this little child who is greatest in the kingdom of Heaven. Anyone who welcomes one child like this for my sake is welcoming me. (Matthew 18, JB Phillips)
Maybe I do have something to say, a conclusion, however unoriginal: If you are a woman, be a woman. If you have a home, keep it. Don’t think you’re too important to witness the dust motes in the afternoon sun. If your mind is turned to the ways you have been hurt, consider longer the ways you have hurt others. And if you are a mother be a mother. Make welcome.
I confess I am afraid to deliver these words, for the internet is like an over-grazed pasture, and I’ve always been one to step in it.
It is 6:15 and my husband just left for work. I love this time of day. Our house is at the edge of a thick forest, and through the windows of that side it still looks dark outside, but on the other side it’s as bright as day.
I am laying in bed again and our daughter is nursing, having slept through the night. As we roll over and switch to the other side, I can see her smile in the morning light.
Words come to my mind, words from worlds away now, so long has it been since I remembered them in this new life of mundane living—building a house, making a home, becoming a wife and mother so quickly…
“The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
You will sound so wise and well read if you keep this quote up your sleeve. Everyone will nod and look into the distance as if at a great vision, doubly impressed that you know how to pronounce his name (whether you really do or not). No one will admit how unhelpful it is to be handed a riddle as a definition, or that they have no earthly idea and just a sliver of a fool’s hope about their own journey toward this bright shining intersection: the well of God’s calling, bubbling forth some place they’ve never been, or perhaps in their own back yard.
I remember thinking years ago, down the rabbit trail of what Mr. Buechner was on about, that perhaps it’s like falling in love. Perhaps you know when you know. Shazam. Just like in the movies. Suddenly your eyes are open and your life is never the same, and you know in the deepest part of you that, yes, this is the place, that lovely place, rumored but doubted, now suddenly solid ground beneath your feet.
Well, dear reader, it is like that.
When I look down at my daughters smile, her silly morning satisfaction in being fed and having her desires met, my heart leaps up in limitless gladness. Maybe it’s not the world’s hunger, but in a way, it is. She is like us all, every human, just wanting to be taken seriously, slowed down for, given the chance to be small, waited on, not taken for granted, treasured just as much eleven months and two days into the relationship as she was on day one…
to be so very precious to someone who, feeding you, amazed, knows she will do nothing more important in her life than this, nothing more important in her day than this moment, and considering this, knows herself forever blessed.
If this seems like an emotional tribute to a fleeting season, you are right. I am painfully mindful that once she is weaned I will never be able to comfort my baby as easily or quickly as I can today. She is in a way being weaned from me, and will reckon with this world more and more on her own, and my heart breaks with how quickly this time has come.
But not to leave us all wiping our noses with our nightgowns, here are a few happy things:
If you like this place, you will also like Still Traveling, and I thought this post was especially good: Go on, and be specific – tell us who we should marry. Maybe you’ve been married for fifty years or maybe you’re a fledgling; maybe you have a friend that you love like a sister or a brother. Whoever they are, I bet you know the secret to loving them. I bet, even, that if they have the audacity not to wake you each morning with a Michelin Star omelet, you’ll suffer to keep them around.
I would say, marry a man who could kiss you and your baby so many times in a row that you literally have to run away just to get anything accomplished that day. Marry a man who gets so caught up in planing a shelf to make it perfectly level that he forgets you are on the same planet as him. Marry a man who is as kind and respectful to the dumpy rambling stranger, as to the beautiful and powerful. Marry a man who will laugh with you when you both remember how you snapped at him in the middle of the night and said something shockingly selfish in your sleep, who will bring you a cup of coffee just the way you love it while he laughs at you for being such an obvious little sinner. Marry that man.
My husband is a woodworker who often finds himself working with boards that were trees grown wild for many years. As soon as they are laid on the sawmill, you can see how they have grown wrong. Still he will work over them and for them, turning their bent crooked bodies into something good.
I love trees. There are some I would strap myself to and die for, but I have also learned that they are a good gift for making useful, treasured things. I learned this as I watched my husband take little over-crowded cedars and turn them into a beautiful crib for our daughter. This is just the sort of thing Jesus would do. He used no screws or nails, but worked patiently with the stubborn curves and grains, bending them gently, changing them gracefully, making them work together, redeeming them. As he scraped away the rough exterior, the sweet smell of the heart of the wood filled the room, and still does.
I’ve spent much of my young life with different old people, as they end theirs. I’ve come to realize that there is a final shaping at the end of a life. Regardless of what they have been before, a wife and mother, perhaps, now they are something new: someone old. And whether that comes with loss of health or memory or mental capacity or familiar companions and surroundings, or all of these things, it is most assuredly a hard new work. It seems like I have seen it come so much harder for some than others, as if the way they have grown, like a stubborn tree, just won’t accept this new thing the carpenter is making in them.
They may say things like I want to stay in my home forever, even if that means being alone and vulnerable, and perhaps unclean and uncared for. Although this is their right, I suppose, it is a sad choice, and perhaps a result of not realizing how often God used painful, unwanted circumstances for their good and that they have a duty as long as they breathe, not only to go on loving and being needed, but to go on being loved and cared for. For the one that fights willing dependence and necessary humility, I have come to see this as a life pattern, and although in one way this gives me hope, it also gives me pause. Everything I do now will make for the person I become, and that woman, that old woman, is mostly how I will be remembered.
When I got up at five o’clock this morning to put a hungry baby in bed with me her little feet were cold. She hates socks and kicks them off in the night. I wedged them between my warm thighs and remembered my mama doing this same thing for me.
Today is Mama’s birthday. She is one of my best and closest friends. I think you are lucky indeed if you can say that about your mother. Despite how much she is loved and preferred by our baby Helen, I know this has still been one of the hardest, saddest years of her life so far, and I don’t have much to give her today, but this piece below and a prayer that she will walk over her beloved bit of earth today and take a little joy.
My mother is an avid gardener and when my sister and I were teenagers she started the Weed and Read Program, in which one of us would read to the other two while they weeded. We loved it so much that we would look for places to weed just to finish a chapter, and would carry it into other work, like folding laundry and shelling peas. We read so many books together this way, but among our favorites were David Copperfield and The Dean’s Watch, by Elizabeth Goudge.
But the first in the The Wingfeather Saga by Andrew Peterson was the beginning of these Weed and Read books, and as we waited eagerly for each new book to be written, my sister and I grew up alongside Andrew’s storytelling, as they became more deep and meaningful, coming to our hearts at the perfect most tender time for the telling.
In this series, there is a character named Podo Helmer, the lovable ex-pirate grandfather. In book two his grandchildren learn that when he was younger he murdered innocent lives for profit, something he had ashamedly kept secret from them. There is a hard consequence for Podo in the story, but then there is this simple, beautiful line
“He moved through the days in peace and wonder, for his whole story had been told for the first time, and he found that he was still loved. ”
It was around this time that my mama came to my sister and me while we were in the greenhouse one day. We sat down on the stone steps, and she told us something very wrong that she had done many years ago. We cried together. She was in pain remembering. It had been burdening her heart to tell us, not because she still carried the guilt, but because she wanted us to know her truly and to know what God had saved her from.
Have you ever considered how much easier it is to confess the ways we have been hurt and wronged by others, than it is to confess the ways we have hurt others and been wrong? But looking back now I can see that, as a mother, but really as any sort of friend, that last confession is the best. Grace is given to the humble, and like Podo, Mama moves through her days in peace and wonder, too.
Of course, this isn’t an unbroken state. Life is as hard as it gets right now. I remember that quote from The Horse and His Boy (a book she read to me as a child) about sometimes the reward of one good deed is to do another and harder and better one. And so I suppose perhaps this means sometimes our biggest giants are fought when we are old and tired and worn out.
But today, dear Mama, when you laugh at Helen’s raspberries or as you piece together the puzzle with your own mama, as you feed your chickens and sweep your floor, as the weight comes down and tightens on your chest and as you wrestle with Christ’s words about his yoke being easy and light, believing it to be true regardless of how you feel, know you are known and loved even by your friends on earth and “be at peace now and let the tide carry you into calm water. That is all you have to do for the moment. God bless you.” ― Elizabeth Goudge, The Dean’s Watch
My sister has four children, six and under. That’s a lot. but she looks at my little girl and laughs and says, Goodness, Sarie! You’ve got your hands full! And my mama says, I don’t feel sorry for you one bit! You were just that sort of kid yourself!
But mother, do pity me. Life has worn me down already, and after Helen is raised I will be the softest smoothest most worked of all the rocks in God’s big river.
I was in a miserable mood. I always feel that way after comparing myself with another woman. This particular woman had an even tan and nice calves and a big paycheck. I could walk to Idaho and not have calves of significance. All I had on this woman was being more of a full-time mother, and so I started saying how hard this job can be, because if you can’t be better than someone, being a martyr is the next best thing.
We were planting in the garden, and Mama shouted to me over the kale and roses, “We all think we’re doing the right thing, and yet we all spend way too much time trying to justify ourselves. Why is that?”
And although I did move several garden beds away from her, I know it is God’s mercy to give me a friend like this. There is no one better able, on God’s green earth, to shut me up.
I got off facebook when my daughter was born because I was struck by the solemnity of my calling as her mother, and how my choices would affect her. I don’t want her to be on social media herself as a young adult, because I believe strongly in the damaging impact this has been shown, time and again, to have on the soul, the self-image and the capacity for contentment and joy.
I know life goes by fast, and so quickly she will be watching me scroll and copying me. So quickly she will understand how things work and how we get our joy of living. I don’t want to tell her to be different from me, a strength few children have. I want to walk this particular road ahead of her, see the pitfalls and put her down at a better place. I know she will see my sins as she walks with me, but I want those sins to be the old ones, the ones that Sarah and Rachel and Rebekah had—wrong, but familiar—we disrespect our husbands, we tell easy lies, we laugh at God, we regret it.
But the struggle of social media, from what I’ve seen and experienced, is something else, something new, something that shrinks the heart two sizes too small, like plants grown without soil, under artificial light. It is a life less than life.
Sometimes I wonder how writing is different, though. What is the praise of man? A snare and deception. (Words shared and valued.) But would we write unless we thought there was someone out there who would care to read and value our words? Probably not. We can’t speak into the void like God does, we never have and we never will— He didn’t make us capable of this, but I have come to believe with all my heart that neither did he make us fit for an instant visual audience, for likes and loves and notifications.
My daughter is growing up so quickly. Who loves her? A handful of people. Who keeps this child from eating rocks and bark and snails? Who gives her roses to pull apart and to smell? Who scrubs the avocado out of her neck? Who loves to take her picture and capture all the fleeting moments? Who prays wonderful things for her, and some days, just for her to survive? Who desperately wants her to be free from the self-ridden and confused spirit of her age? It’s me, her mother.
There is a story I’ve often heard about our great aunt Ola Mae. One day my mother was sitting at the kitchen table with her, and Ola Mae had just finished mopping the floor, when Uncle Tom, her husband, came walking right through the house wearing his dirty boots, leaving a trail behind him. Mama waited for Ola Mae to say something, but she didn’t.
“Doesn’t that make you mad?” she finally asked and Ola Mae said:
“Those same boots that bring the dirt in, they bring him in too.”
It is a special memory because we don’t exactly have a long line of sweet-tongued women in our family. I remember it this morning, as I look around my little house, at the many trails left behind. The baby is asleep on the couch, laying in the filtered sunlight coming through the window. She has been sick and I’m glad to see her sleeping so well, little arms raised over her head. The puppy is asleep in front of the fire, content, having finally chewed the laces off a boot he’s been after for some time. It was my idea to get the puppy. My husband could remind me of this everyday, but mercifully, he does not. He himself is full of wild ideas, and at the moment he is trapping beavers.
I had the ambition to write more, and to commit myself so that I’d have to do it, but the month has gone by, and more pressing work has come and found me every day. I thought of closing this part of my life entirely, but I imagine words and stories will come again to me, and it’s good to have some place to put them.
I remember that last year, in the newborn days, I said to Mama, comforting myself, that motherhood would get easier in time.
“No, it’ll get easier as you do it,” she said, “and sometimes, not even then.”
Mothering and writing are alike, I’ve found, and they are both like gardening… and gardening, well, it’s like all of life, isn’t it? With gardening, the essential thing is not so much to accumulate expertise, as to continue on in doing it. We do not become better and better gardeners. We are gardeners, and that is enough, for to keep the earth is to reckon every day with being yet so far away from heaven, and so the most important thing is to not lose heart.
“I begin to think there are better things than being comfortable.” -George MacDonald (At the Back of the North Wind)
For months I’ve guarded her night’s sleep, careful in our little one room house not to disturb her, always thankful to lay down myself, but it wasn’t yet 3:00 AM as I stood over the bassinet by our bed and scooped her up. She stretched as I carried her out into the cold, across the walkway we share with the guest house and into the fire lit room where my sister lay on the bed with her own baby, just an hour old.
I’ve seen many babies come now, in all kinds of ways, but always they come indignant, and always from those gathered around come the same questions— we lose our heads a little— How could someone so little belong here with us? How could someone so big come out of a woman? To the first we say she’ll grow so fast, and to the second, you’ll need to take it easy, knowing full well we haven’t answered a thing.
As I came and held my confused little bundle up to her cousin, everyone laughed because she smiled like it was Christmas morning, and it was, in a way– It was the morning of the advent of Evangeline, and what a very good bit of news she was, all red and hungry.
But it was an impulsive and nonsensical thing to do, for it took Helen awhile to get back to sleep. I did it because I’ve found that children, maybe especially little girls, love nothing more than to hear their birth stories…
“…and then you looked around, Sally, and tried to hold your head up from the start. You were a marvelous baby, that’s what everyone said.” She knows this by heart and loves to retell it herself.
“I wasn’t there yet,“ Adah will add. “I asked Mama where I was and she said I was in God’s plan.”
I guess I woke Helen up that night so that she could be there in Eva’s story, an important character on the scene, as the first of the children to meet her and the one closest to her age, only just arrived three months before, a sort of John the Baptist preparing the way, reminding us all of the disruptive gospel of every human child, a very costly grace.
But I also woke her up, in my sleep deprived foolishness, just because I wanted her to see what I was seeing and share my joy, and she did. She’ll remember it too, by the telling of the story, which is how we all remember the crucial things, now I come to think of it.