Monday, March 14, 2005

the great silence

I’ve finally finished my umpteenth reading of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. On Saturday, I returned all the books I had out from the library and picked up Anita Diamant’s The Red Tent for my second time through it. After experiencing an unexpected prickling and tearing in my eyes after the third page, I realized something was different. The first time I read it, back in May of 2003 (I remember because I brought it to the LEAF that year), I did indeed bawl my eyes out – but at the end of the book, not at the beginning. This time I wasn’t halfway through the prologue before the tears started.

Something is different. I’m different. I’m a mother. I’m not just the motherless child anymore. Over the last 17 months I’ve had to mine my soul for strength that I didn’t know existed in me. Some of the tunnels I’ve dug have been deep and dark, and there have been times when I wasn’t sure I would ever see daylight again. That process of prospecting – for lack of a better word – has changed me, forced me to grow in ways and directions that I don’t think I would have chosen, had it been just me to worry about. Motherhood has not been the whole change – but it was certainly the catalyst.

What really defines the change, I wonder? A sense of responsibility, maybe. Or, to be more specific, a more realistic sense of responsibility. I know that taking breaks from adulthood and duty isn’t just a matter of wanting to have fun and “be free.” If it were, I guess I’d be feeling guilty about leaving town this weekend – and I don’t (check back next week and see how long that lasts.) But it can be the difference between being a functional mom – and a good one – and being the kind of mom who collapses, weeping, when her child throws spinach on a newly-mopped kitchen floor. I’ve been both – and I prefer the former kind, thank you very much.

That sense of responsibility is what drives me to walk almost every day. It’s what helped me quit smoking (for the most part). It’s the reason I find comfort in a fully-stocked pantry, an empty laundry hamper, and a clean house. It means I’m doing the best I can to create a healthy environment for my family and me. And it means that if I’m just too sick or tired to manage, it’s ok. I know I’ll get back into the groove after some down time (see above.)

Something else struck me about The Red Tent early on. The narrator, Dinah, gives us a glimpse of what life in Jacob’s tents could have been like when she describes her childhood, and what it was like to have four mothers. I’m not arguing for polygamy, but when I was reading it, I sighed heavily and thought, I miss that.

I miss that? WTF? Maybe it was an echo of a previous life – maybe just a yearning for one where maternal duties and the hard labor of day-to-day existence are shared among women. Where isolation is something that you choose, temporarily, when you walk down to the well to get water.

That feeling of isolation is one of the reasons I started walking around downtown Hendersonville instead of going every day to the Lake. It’s easy to feel like you’re the only person trying to exercise when that’s all you see.

That feeling of isolation is something I hate – and at the same time, I treasure it. I feel lucky not to be judged all the time by a gaggle of other women, and lucky that I can choose the women I want to hang out with (who don’t judge me – and that is, of course, one of the main reasons I hang out with them). I feel bereft because I can’t live in a longhouse or a big tent with those special women and take advantage of their stories and wisdom and strength all the time. It’s just not the way we live anymore. I mourn that loss. (*sniffle* damn this PMS anyway.)

Two of my friends are about to have babies. I can’t tell you how much I would like to be involved in those birthings – and in the lives of the mothers and the children as they grow. Because moms grow, too, along with the kids. We have to, if we’re going to keep up. There’s not really another option. Not for me, anyway.


"And now you have come to me - women with hands and feet as soft as a queen's, with more cooking pots than you need, so safe in childbed and so free with your tongues. You come hungry for the story that was lost. You crave words to fill the great silence that swallowed me, and my mothers, and my grandmothers before them." ~Anita Diamant, The Red Tent

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