MAYD to Birth: At Your Doorstep

Promoting gentle, empowering mother journies…

~To Be of Use~ by Marge Piercy

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    The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half-submerged balls.
I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience, 
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.
I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.
The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
the pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.
Tomorrow morning I will be heading back to the U.P. with my family until next Saturday.  I am, as always, eagerly anticipating my time there, looking forward to interacting anew within that context of primal familiarity that nevertheless enables me to be “Surprised by Joy”, as C. S. Lewis put it, by water, air, fire, starlight, open space and connection with people I know as well as I know myself and yet, still finding Mystery.  Every year, I arrive at the place, arrange our things in the same cottage, head down to the same beach and find the same chair and move it beneath the bluff.  As I set my overloaded bag down on the sand and look out at the water and sky, I always take a deep breath and release an almost inaudible sigh of tender and profound relaxation, not from any lingering tension in my life, but because the place is my touchstone. My arrival on the beach, ready to spend precious time looking, breathing, reading, thinking and writing and enjoying my family and friends, is not only the high-water mark of my year; it’s where my year starts. The cycle of my life, my sense of time passing, is marked by this yearly pilgrimage back to center; my center.   On every square inch of the property, my family and childhood are mixed into the sand and air, the paint and varnish, the kitchen cupboards, the wood floors.  I walk barefoot through the same grass and sand where I once followed my father to our boat in the cool, early morning to go fishing with him.  I listen to the wooden docks creak beneath my feet as they always have, yet now, I can smile with the knowledge that my two boys’ helped place these docks, participating in the yearly work that transforms a family home into a Resort for what are now several generations of families.   Work that is real…
 I learned long ago that in order for me to be complete; I have to do real work.  As predisposed as I am to doing not much more than sitting still, watching the world, lost in close observation of something, or someone; finding the questions, seeing the hidden beauty, or fear; the longing, or passion…nosing around in the dark corners and rooting through cluttered up closets…I am lost without putting my hands to something; I have to engage my senses; my body.  I have to knead bread, make soup, attend a laboring woman, love a person, sit with the dying, and the bereaved, plant and tend the garden, play my piano, sing, dance; mother my children.  Someone once said that “work is love made visible” and while I don’t like the slightly oozy sentimentality of the phrase, there is a simple truth in it; work is our Art.  Finding our work is finding our peace and our joy! 
It seems odd, then, I suppose, to be talking about work when I am about to head off on holiday!  I’m officially “on vacation” as of 6 hours from now; why talk about work? Well, because part of my work is making this trip each year, and using it as I do; to fuel the fire, to tend my soul, to stay in touch with, and to build up, my interior reality; to stay real.  To stay “close to the root”. 
Vincent Van Gogh once wrote to his brother, Theo, that “to know God, you must love many things”.  And so it is for me.  To know God, and the True Self that is God-in-us, I have to love many things and in repeating this yearly ritual of recollection and renewal; I stay true to form; I come back home to the Garden…
And in the homestead garden, the corn is almost knee high; it will surely make it there by the 4th of July!  My tomatoes and green peppers are healthy and thriving.  The squash is threatening to take over, as it always does; I didn’t plant any pumpkins this year; they’re too greedy for space.   The Kale and Broccoli are gorgeous and I have more Romaine than I know what to do with; I over-planted lettuce!  If you’re in the area and hankering for fresh salad greens, I have plenty!  We’ve taken down some mulberry trees and moved our raspberries from one side of the yard to another and transplanted some of our Rose of Sharon to my mother-in law’s yard; we’ve been busy and having a great time!  
I hope those of you who read here regularly will come back and sit with this poem a couple of times this week; it’s one I’ll be working with in my own writing during this week away.  
Words connected to Place and Spirit…Work that is Real.
Traveling Mercies!
Michelle
 

All Will Be Well and All Will Be Well and All Manner of Things Shall Be Well…~ Age Brings Perspective and Peace

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I’ve settled down with Facebook; I was enabled to reestablish ties with an old friend from High School to our mutual joy and benefit and while Facebook doesn’t get all the credit, the timing was perfect!  Through a sad set of circumstances ( a family death ) my old friend had to come into town and we were able to spend a long evening getting caught up on 30 years of life and living.  It was a wonderful visit and I’ve spent not a little time thinking about both our conversation and it’s intersection with several of my ongoing trains of thought of recent months.  At one point in the conversation, we were both commenting on the fact that we have a fair number of friends who are considerably younger than we are; most in their 30′s but some in their mid-late 20′s.  We made small talk about the more typical misalignments between our younger friends and ourselves in the form of popular culture; music, the embrace of and comfort level with technology, changes in communication style etc.  What we didn’t discuss at length, but I thought about a lot, was evident only as a current that ran through our mutually guided tour through the landscape of one another’s lives.  We spoke of death, divorce, losses large and small.  Horrible situations and tragic circumstances.  He has lost both parents’ and a very close friend.  My father and two sons have died plus a few friends, most recently one I’ve known for 30 years and whose death was both a shock and a heartbreak to me personally on several levels.  I have a child with a disability and young adult kids, plus a teenager!  I have a few health problems that are growing steadily more apparent and require more planning in my day to day life.  We’ve both seen the ups and downs of marriage, family and parenting over many years.  To most people under 40, say, this sounds like a perfect storm of impossible losses; very few younger people have seen much of death, disability, or tragedy.  Some have, to be sure, and some have been through far worse than anything I’ve experienced, but on the average, most younger people have little aquaintance with real tragedy, loss or grief.  It just hasn’t happened to them yet!  What they have experienced may seem overwhelming in the present moment, may seem insurmountable, even,  but I’m always surprised at how rapidly perspective is gained once a truly irrevocable tragedy occurs, or they finally come face to face with death and the thunderous quiet it brings in it’s wake; the disruption that occurs when someone beloved and cared for is really gone…gone to the other side; vanished from sight; lost to us.  Our early losses are preparation for those more devastating manifestations that will surely come; we get some practice sessions with sorrow to be sure.  I can only smile ruefully as I  remember being absolutely out of my head when my cat was hit by a car when I was 22!  I cried for days and couldn’t eat or sleep.  I had dark and frightening dreams and a very difficult time working, thinking or doing much of anything beyond sitting in my room, thinking about my poor little orange tabby and his sad fate!  It was a tragedy for me, at the time.  Someone I had been personally invested in, had cared for, fed, and watched grow from infancy, had died, but I responded with far more melodrama when that cat died than I did when either of my sons’ died, for instance, by then, I had been through a few more passages with grief;  I knew the drill.  I knew what would help and what wouldn’t but I was also just plain older; I was more accepting that life is like that; bad things happen and we go on the best we can.

 What I noticed most about my conversation with my friend from long ago was the sense of peace we both have with life–with the good and bad, horrific and beautiful, tragic and sublime–by 50, you know that life is going to do with you what it will so it’s best to just point yourself into the wind and cruise along with it; the dark days will come, and they will go and the sun will shine before the darkness settles in once again…by 50, you know that “all will be well” and you can relax;  you can smile into the tragedies and difficult days with some equanimity because you know the transience of it; “this too shall pass”.  So often, when I am confronted with the dark days of younger friends, I want so much to be able to convince them that it will get better; that time does heal and that sometimes, there is meaning in what we’re going through that can only be viewed from down the pike a bit.  So often, I get the sense that my seeming unwillingness to get my own knickers in a twist about someone’s present situation is viewed as not caring, or not “getting it” as I’ve so often heard.  No…I do get it.  I get it far more deeply than they could ever realize but I also “get” something they don’t~~It will pass.   Whether you do anything “about it”, whether you put your whole heart, soul and all the family finances into fixing it, whether you decide to “suffer” with it, or just ride it out~~it will pass.  There is no good way to give that gift of peace and contentment in the moment to another person unless they are very, very open to receiving it, unless they want it, until they know themselves that life is not just some absurd endurance test, something to “get through”; it’s all something to embrace, it’s all gift, even, perhaps especially, the really hard stuff.  The gift is in our willingness to embrace the Mystery.  I’ve been rebuffed, more than once, for telling people that peace and contentment, yes, even a happy and functional family life, are an inside job; it’s from deep within that the external reality takes it’s shape.  We can’t force it to happen from outside ourselves. The urge to flee, to escape, to not notice, to have someone “fix” it, or us, is powerful, especially in our culture.  We don’t accept the notion that most of what is wrong in our lives and with our families or marriages or any of the myriad areas of endeavor we find ourselves in is a lack of simple patience and a willingness to learn from what’s happening, to accept ourselves and our circumstances as something to learn about, and from….then, only then, does changing what we find needs changing become possible and in my experience, it becomes easy, fairly effortless. We have to learn to sit still….sit in the dark, live with the pain, persevere and be patient with ourselves and others.  
My friend and I have now raised children to young adulthood; we are happy with our children and the lives they’re creating for themselves but I think we both see how little we had to do with it all, in the end.  People are born with the ability to forge their own path, make their own way; children need love, freedom, privacy, respect and parents’ who trust themselves, and life.  As so many parents’ are discovering, too much worry, anxiety and effort towards organizing and managing kids’ lives is hurting the children, destroying marriages neglected by over-focus on parenting and creating a generation of kids who view themselves as their parents’ “projects” and not as people in their own right.  I’ve been very, very happy to read all the new articles and book reviews about this backlash against “over parenting” or “helicopter parenting” as it’s sometimes called.  In the world of childbirth that I inhabited for so long, I can only hope that the moment is now ripe to challenge the culture of “competitive childbirth” that has set so many women up for perceived failure when they aren’t able to have, or don’t care about, a particular type of childbirth experience so that women and families can truly take back childbirth, reminding the larger culture that all birth is sacred and that creating a market on the backs of vulnerable pregnant and new mothers that tells them that there is a “right way” and a “wrong way” to grow, birth and raise a child is what will truly allow “choice” to be a meaningful word for the the majority of women; I can’t wait.
So, to all my young friends, even though I know you don’t believe me, won’t listen, and think I’m daft:  We who are entering the second half of our hoped for century of living can tell you that whatever it is that is shaking you now, whatever it is that is causing you pain and suffering right now, whatever you’ve read, or been told is the new panacea for all your ills and problems~~ here’s the Truth:  Everything will be O.K.  Everything will be fine; just wait.  Just live it out.  One step at a time.  One day at a time.  As the medieval mystic, Julian of Norwich said after her one nights’ showing of spiritual reality~~”All will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”
I’ll have a short post by Friday before heading up to the UP for vacation; my books and journals are packed and I am very ready to go sit on my beach.  In the meantime, the garden is thriving, we’re eating lettuce and I have tiny green peppers and little tomatoes coming along.  My friend and I had a marvelous visit and have remained in regular contact on…yup…Facebook ( ha! ) and I’m having a very, very good, fruitful and peace-filled summer so far; a few speed bumps, some things having to be permanently laid to rest but all of that goes towards a larger sense of that deep and abiding peace that is truly our hearts’ desire.
Later in the week then…
Michelle.

Aristotle once said, "He who is friend to all, is friend to none"…thoughts on Facebook and what Friendship means.

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Earlier this week, I fell prey to exactly the kind of foolishness I ordinarily eschew, that being increased interaction with technology.  I signed up for Facebook….yeah, I know.

I did it for one simple and indefensible reason:  people I love asked me to.  Friends and family members have been encouraging me for some months to sign on so that I could better “keep in touch” and see their pictures ( I almost never show any of mine, I don’t know how to put them up and I have too little interest in learning ) and share the day to day happenings and all that.  The problem is, I absolutely never do “all that”.  I share almost nothing of my day to day life and I’m very happy with the privacy such self-imposed obscurity allows me.  I don’t like to talk about myself with strangers; I have a hard time writing blog posts that contain any personal content because I am suspicious of the notion that anyone can write “the truth” about themselves.  The “truth” that most people write is actually only their immediate, emotional reaction or response to something; how they “feel” about it in the present moment.  My understanding of “truth” is that it’s something that requires a lot of reflection, a lot of thought and time and even then, I’m not sure it can be called “truth” in any objective way.  I find myself cringing inwardly when someone says, or writes, “I’m just speaking my truth; sorry if it bothers you” primarily because I don’t believe anyone who tells me that; what truth might be in that statement is found somewhere in it’s secondary clause: they aren’t actually “sorry” if it bothers you; they hope it does.  They’re counting on it.  And therein we have the “lie” of telling the “truth”.  So….so.
The Facebook thing is very strange, I think.  I signed up and within the hour, people I don’t know personally were arriving in my email in-box asking to be my “friends”.  Now, my 50 year old sense of propriety and etiquette doesn’t allow me to do what I guess everyone else does; just say “no”.  That would be rude, wouldn’t it?  That would be artless and cold and very definately not “friendly”.   I don’t know how to do that.  So I said “yes”….to everyone.  I also suffered through the embarassed confusion of misunderstanding what it means when you get the “suggestion” of someone to be your friend; I thought that meant that they wanted me to be their friend, so I sent out “invitations” to folks’ I am dead sure do NOT want to be my friend, on Facebook or anywhere else.   My long-suffering husband and children have taken mercy on my abject ignorance and have now given me sufficient tutorial to avoid the worst faux pas’ but I really have grave reservations about the whole thing.
Friendship as I have known, practiced and desired it means deep connection and a certain emotional, spiritual and yes, whenever possible, physical proximity; I like to see my friends, actually sit in a room looking at them, taking them in, listening to all that they’re saying through words, yes, and through their eyes and body language.  I like to share a meal and a bottle of wine, or a few dark and wonderful beers, and really be “with” them.  The idea of someone on a computer being my “friend” in any way I can inhabit the word is on some other order of existence for me.  I can appreciate email and Facebook and blogs as mechanisms to share oneself, or one’s thoughts, ideas and interests with others, even those unknown, and to keep in touch with true friends who are far away but there is something wrong, something isolating and very false about the whole “Facebook” world.  I don’t think I’ve ever felt more lonely, or set apart, or lost then I did yesterday evening as I sat down and looked at my Facebook page and all the people and comments and “wall” writing and so forth and realized that I knew almost none of the people involved.  I haven’t yet had a chance to let most of my own friends and family know that I’m on Facebook; just one friend from High School, to whom I am very grateful because he responded to my request so quickly and with such welcoming warmth and hospitality; I felt a little more at home on my own Facebook page seeing him there!
I’m just too old for this stuff.  I also take it too seriously, I know.  I really get that most people just do this and have whatever fun they have with it but I don’t do that about almost anything.  Another friend of mine told me that he really likes that he can look up old friends from school, even Grammar School, and know where they are and what they’re doing.  How strange is it, though, and how perhaps again, false, that we would know more about someone 30 years on, about the fact that they are traveling away on vacation tonight, or having steak for dinner, when we didn’t, and wouldn’t, know either of those things, necessarily, when we lived up the street from them as children?  There’s something voyeuristic about it that makes me vaguely dizzy and squirmy and it begs the question I’ve asked often in my writing here: what is happening to our sense of privacy and mystery?  From birth videos on YouTube ( an interesting article on that topic in the NYT’s yesterday ) to people sharing the most intimate personal, even bodily, details and telling things about their children, or spouses or parents or friends, often by name…what does that mean to us?  What do we lose, as a culture, as people, when we no longer maintain our local ties and relationships to the extent that we share more of ourselves with strangers in a virtual reality while increasingly avoiding the real risks, pleasures and depth of true, one-on-one connection and friendship?  How many people imprison themselves in their homes, sitting at the computer for hours and hours and losing the very human skills of conversation and loving and devoted friendship?  There is a lot of peace and security that comes of sticking it out with people, a real sense of accomplishment that comes from staying in the conversation and the relationship and working together to resolve the inevitable quarrels and conflicts of relationship in real time and face to face.  Just as people so often never know the satisfaction of living in one community for a lifetime, becoming truly local to a place, culture and time, so too, many people never experience genuine, life long friendship and lose the perspective that historicity gives to anyone; staying connected to real people is important work.  
So I don’t think I like all this “virtual” stuff.  I most certainly don’t trust it.
I don’t know what I’m going to do about Facebook.  I’m hoping the current flurry of activity dies down some and that perhaps once I actually get people I know showing up I’ll develop a better comfort level with it but I don’t know; it may not be for me.  I try to keep up, I really do.  But that feeling of isolation and disconnection that I experienced while staring at my Facebook page cannot be my reaction alone; I think a lot of people feel this way, experience it in similar fashion.  I know only that I want the term “friendship” to mean something far more valuable and hard won than simply signing on to a computerized social network that, from my scant observation, seems to take up an enormous amount of time and energy for the people most involved in it and that time, then, is not going to real relationships and connection with real people and I’m not sure we need more of that in the world….
Facebook……funny term isn’t it?  Facebook.
So…there.   A little something extra from me this week!
Enjoy the weekend everyone.
Michelle.

The Weekly Round: Commentary on Lisa Belkin’s Article in the New York Times Magazine, "The Collapse of the Perfect Parent."

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As I sat drinking my coffee on the porch Sunday afternoon, working my way through the New York Times, I finally picked up the weekly Magazine section, noted the cover photo/story of former President, Bill Clinton, promising to get back to it as I still love Bill, and began flipping through the pages.  On page 19,  my eyes landed on the title: “Let the Kid Be–could the era of overparenting be over?” by Lisa Belkin in which she also riffs on a new book being published currently in the UK called ‘The Idle Parent: Why Less Means More When Raising Kids’.  I almost wept with gratitude at the very existance of both; it’s so heartening when the truth is finally revealed!  The article goes on to discuss a fairly recent trend away from the “helicopter” or “hovering” parenting style that has been, in my view, the undoing of sane and good people who happen to have kids for most of the last 20 years!  I couldn’t help smiling inwardly as I recalled my own writing on this topic, and the confusion mixed with a blend of skeptical desire expressed to me as folks’ have tried to make sense of my forthright declaration of myself as the quintessential “lazy parent” ~ an unschooling, relaxed, free, happy and eccentric mum who often didn’t exactly know what my children were doing at any given moment because they were outside somewhere being kids.  A few resolutely questioned the depth of my maternal commitment given that I confess to having prioritized my own needs, desires and even a few whims because I truly believe that self-care is the only honest way to care deeply and passionately for others; I cannot give from a depleted sense of my own life and living.  I also truly believed that my job as a parent was not to ensure that my children had a “perfect”childhood, and every possible advantage in life, but to give them a safe and loving space in which to explore themselves and the world around them in freedom; to embrace their liberty and find their own truth.  They weren’t allowed to do “anything they wanted”, in fact, we kept a pretty tight ship, organizationally speaking, and we have a quite strict code of discipline in terms of behavior but it was organized around our definition of “loving” behavior and peacemaking.   I have always felt that children needed to assimilate fairly communitarian values so that they could understand,  from a very early age, as soon as it’s developmentally appropriate, that all behavior and decisions impact others, for good or ill, and that no one in a family–parent or child–has a right to behave in any way that negatively impacts other family members.  Behavior or decisions that are hurtful, destructive or selfish require apology, amends and a genuine attempt to restore equity, and peace, to the relationships and thus, to the “community”.  Once that basic understanding is internalized–and that process takes time, patience and unrelenting repetition to become a truly interior value–creating an atmosphere of peace, cooperation and loving care and attention within the family, becomes fairly automatic. 

Reading this article was interesting to me on several levels, not the least of which was the sense of relief I had that someone out there was actually thinking sensibly about these issues, and, of course, reaching conclusions in line with my own thinking ( and who doesn’t like that? ) but more than that, I honestly believe that the emotional, physical, spiritual and financial cartwheels and torture that I have watched in utter bemusement over the last decade is wholly dysfunctional and unhealthy, as well as unsustainable.  As women and parents devote enormous life energy into worrying about everything from how and where they give birth, breast or bottle, demand feeding or schedule, to day-care or not,  homeschooling or not, or how to homeschool, or which private or public school, or how to ensure that their kid(s) makes the Ivy Leagues’,  they erode those precious years of parenting–of loving and living with the children of their hearts–waking up one day finally realizing that the time, and the children, have gone on. They’re too often left with the sad realization that after pouring everything they’ve had into doing all of it “right”, with being so over-focused on “outcome”, they are left empty, sad, depressed and with a lot of life left to live and having to recreate something ‘whole’ out of a “self” that has no personal meaning to them.  It’s a very hard, uphill climb at that point and too often, it results in attempts to continue being over-involved with young adult children to everyone’s dismay and unhappiness.
Children need to be children and adults need to be adults!  There is nothing novel about that concept and it has, in fact, been the organizing principle of family life through most of human history.  It’s only been in the very recent past that the very term “parenting” has become a subject distinct from the idea of having a family; it has become an endeavor, and something that too many women, in particular, are building an entire identity and life around and then struggling with much the same question posed by women in the late 1950′s– “What is the problem that has no name?”  Anyone out there ever read “The Feminine Mystique” back in the day?  The problem is one of submerging all one’s energies into one’s reproductive and parenting roles and then not knowing how to reclaim a solid sense of self apart from that.  Children suffer, as they always have, when parents use their children as their sole source of self-esteem and worth.  Children then lack sufficient freedom and privacy to develop their own sense of these same, very necessary attributes of being whole and complete persons.  It becomes a silent, but disabling, disorder or dysfunction that becomes a multi-generational reality.
So, yeah….Let the kids Be.  Send them outside to play.  Make yourself a cup of coffee and go sit and read for awhile.  Spend time on your marriage/partnership and friendships.  Be an example to your children of interdependence, community-building and peacemaking out in the world.  Allow your children the freedom to become who they are; who they were created to be.  
Beyond my musings about the State of Parenting in the Post-Modern World…nothing much.  I had dinner last night with a friend I haven’t seen in more than 13 years and had a wonderful time.  The garden is growing although my lettuce is looking a bit brownish here and there.  The weather continues to be a bit on the cold side for June but the intermittent rain is good for growing things.  My interior world is experiencing the renewed inner healing I’ve needed and I’m having a great time overall.
Have a good week.
Michelle.