Truth from a Mama’s Heart

This post is inspired by three people today. First, Susannah Conway (and I should say, my brave fellow bloggers in class who’ve been blowing me away with their writing this past week) and her style of personal blogging. This week she proclaimed to those of us currently taking Blogging From The Heart, that she belongs to the “Blog When I Have Something To Say” camp and I felt like shouting with joy. I feel like someone took the shackles off of my blogging brain. I’m inspired to find someone who makes a living writing about her life, because that’s all I’ve ever wanted to do in the first place.

Second, Christina Rosalie who writes My Topography. Her book to be published in September is titled, fittingly, A Field Guide to Now. I was surprised, but then again, not at all surprised, to find Christina featured the first week of Blogging From the Heart.  I have been reading Christina’s blog for at least five years, if not more, and that is what she excels at: the here and now. She directly inspired the very last paragraph of this piece.

And finally, Christine Mason Miller. I’ve long admired her short snippets of emotional genius. Her art and her phrases inspire so many of us. But I was surprised when I first began reading her blog, which wasn’t even that long ago, to read about how vulnerable her current moving situation makes her. That vulnerability instantly ripped the cloak of stranger off and made her another soul sister, one who I could even impart words of wisdom to without fear or nerves (having moved oh, once or twice in my life :) ). I’ve really enjoyed her new category of posts, which are writings about the very present tense as she lives it. And this post in particular seemed like a beautiful place to be. 

Dear Little Boy of Mine. I hardly know where or how to start this letter to you. You are two months shy of your third birthday. I don’t know how old you were the last time I wrote you one of these, and I don’t want to look. It disappoints me and saddens me that I let these letters go. Here’s the thing. As you became more of a little boy, less of a baby, and I began exploring my “self” as a person again, it brought up a lot of questions. With limited time, which projects on my list should get cut? How driven should I be in trying to sell my art? What kind of day to day life would make me the happiest? Or the healthiest? Ironically, when you were a baby and so very demanding and needy, I never had to answer these questions!  I never even had to ASK these questions. You dictated my days and I simply followed along. Now, left to my own adult ways again? I’m a bit lost.

In the first two years of your life, as happens to many parents, I was highly  motivated to capture you in photos and I rarely, rarely missed a monthly milestone of writing you a letter full of updates on your growth and the emotions I had tied to it. You turned two last July, began you third year, and the inevitable happened: photo taking grew frustrating, as you were too frequently a blurry mess jetting across the screen. I couldn’t capture your face anymore, or the exquisitely adorable details that I wanted to memorialize. More often than not, if you saw me with camera in hand, you scooted right out of the viewfinder’s frame and up to my side, informing me that you wanted to take a picture of Liam!  This is of course a treat, to watch my son finagling my camera at such a tender age, and to think of what creative pursuits you might venture into each year you grow. I indulge you and let you photograph dark corners of the couch, blurry blinds, the increasingly dusty floor. It’s a precious activity to share with you, but it does leave the archives of your third year a bit barren.

Another reason that the act of recording your life diminished, besides how infrequently you stop moving, is that you’ve passed the tender, fragile stages of babydom and entered this “little boy” stage. And in doing so, you’ve brought me through two years of identifying myself really only as a mother, into a new place where your self sufficiency allows my own personal identity to resurface. And when it began to, some of my personal-to-me projects began to take precedence over other projects, like these monthly letters. Or my yearly scrapbook project. I realize that these both sound like “personal” projects, but in fact, they were about documenting our lives. What I craved was to do work that was just about ME. And so I put those projects on the shelf and focused on taking an online business class, and painting, and trying to make web presences for all of my small money making endeavors.

A funny thing happened though.  I tried running with the “I am business woman” mentality, and found I lacked an incredible amount of motivation.I wasn’t motivated to learn about Facebook Business Pages, or Book-Keeping. Or even putting together an online portfolio of my paintings. It all felt like tedious, soulless WORK. So guess what? I treated it like work! I found ways to procrastinate and do various OTHER projects so that at the end of the day, nothing had been really accomplished!  I also found that people around me complained a lot that I wasn’t giving quality time. You yourself can’t yet ellicit such complex thoughts, so instead you acted out by completley ignoring me and getting into things you know you shouldn’t because you’d learned quickly  that I was going to be on the computer another four rounds of “I’ll be right there.”So where did that get me, nearly a year later? Right here, not having really done any of the “me” projects and also having dropped the documenting and tending to the memories of our family life and your childhood.

And I am not happy about this.

But here’s the thing. I am constantly battling the voice in my head that says: “Writing letters to your son and creating yearbooks of his photos does not make money!” I hear that voice and that’s the very voice that convinced me to stop doing these activities, and to try and promote my different endeavors. My money-making endeavors feel like the only ones justifiable now that I’m split from your father. I need to speak that truth: that when we were married and I had “permission” to not make money because I was staying home with you, I made your books, had the pride of holding them in my hands once completed, and felt thankful that I had this collection of letters. But I didn’t do anything to grow myself, and I felt dull and pointless in ways, even while I mothered you. But now, now that we are split and I “make a living” by living rent free with my mother and taking in alimony and rounding it out with small checks for my portrait photography and custom collages, I feel full of passion and ideas and creativity, but I don’t feel I have permission to sit back and “be lazy,” making time-consuming scrapbooks or writing letters to you at 3p.m. on a Tuesday afternoon.

I don’t know what the answer to those dueling voices is yet. And yet, here I am, writing you this letter. You are my number one priority.  The joy I feel when I know I’m going to see you. The pride I feel when I think of you, and how you are mine and no one else has a Liam. Even when meeting men, who might potentially become dates, and they ask me if I have a son. I never get wounded or even bothered by those that say “oh” or tell me they don’t want to date someone with kids. I think, man, you don’t even know how good I have it. You’re the real catch, baby boy, not me.

I can’t go back and recap all the ways that you’ve changed and grown in the last year. I can’t and I won’t. I’ll just start with this month. In fact, I’ll start with the here and now.

I had much trouble sleeping in my room last night due to allergies, and so I moved down to Mema’s bed. Oddly, you woke up just after I did, crying for me.   Three years later and I still feel my irritation at having to rouse myself subside within seconds at the thought of you. Not the thought of helping you, or maybe pulling you into bed with me, but just the  mere thought of seeing you: a tiny boy, in unbearably adorable PJs, curled up among stuffed friends in the dark. I told myself, climbing the stairs, “He doesn’t need to sleep with you, it’s a bad habit to start!” And then I pulled you out of your bed and into mine. We talked about how great we were both going to sleep. You picked up my hand, placed it on your back and said “Do you want to rub my back?” I did until we both fell asleep, who knows who first. When I woke up, you were sideways in the bed, your head heavy on my belly. You were taking long, deep breaths, sucking on your thumb, which you still do when only in your deep sleep. I saw the bright blue tee-shirt that says boyhood to me. I saw the pale white skin that just will not tan, that speaks to me, everyday, of your Swiss roots. I saw my father in your brown locks and wide forehead. And I laid and stared at you, left arm painfully asleep underneath you, bladder bursting, in awe.


  1. I used to write letters to my daughter, and let the practice fade away as well – and I think for many of the same reasons. beautiful post!

  2. I am not sure that living a sense of purposeful life ever gets easy. Because as life goes on and we age and things happen, priorities are in constant flux. It is a matter of constant readjustment and tolerance while remaining centered and while committed to a given goal. So much for those abstractions. But the REAL joy, the real purpose, at least for me was precisely you and your brother——there was/is no other Jessica, no other Evan. My love for you as children was boundless–you see it in all those photos I took (yes, I know how it lets up, but still, there’s a ton of them). The joy is there, the love is there, and in your eyes and Evan’s —-such happiness. I am so pleased for you that you are feeling that with Liam. He is amazing. Truly amazing. I feel in love with him at day 8. And our last two months together this past spring were increasingly dear and tender and fun and loving. In my present moment, I am about to leave for my “Exit Interview” with the Provost of Notre Dame. All this is very hard. Cleaning out my office of 26 years is killing me—–so much of my life/mind in those books and the many, many teaching files. I loved my work. Loved it. Especially the teaching. The people. I am so glad I had it and was good at it. It is hard, hard to say goodby. And I loved your dad, as you know, with all my heart. But beyond either of those, I loved and love you and Evan and think you are miracles. I think we women today (and really since before you were born) are NOT supposed to say that our children are this important. I think we are supposed to denigrate motherhood and celebrate ourselves as paramount. I never forgot myself as a young mother. I kept going with my career, exercise, friends, etc. My own poetry. Whatever. But being your mother—–well, it was everything. Happy “Mothers’ Day” again! Love , Mom Off to the Provost. sigh. (crying a little)

  3. I should add———-those moments/years of feeling the miracles of Jessica and Evan, well those moments are/were the moments I also felt God’s love the most and loved God the most. This culture seems BENT to killing the sense of the divine. It becomes harder and harder to recall it from within ourselves. (Painting helps, poetry helps, dancing, singing–all creative arts recall Creation and so help). But the miracle of seeing the unique spirit that is, say–a Liam, and no one else–then something other than the random collection of material particles has to be going on here. This is spirit, in the flesh. Love again, Mom

  4. I hope, one day, I will be able to write letters to my 3 year old. Yours so honest, so pure, filled with love. Absolutely beautiful written Jess. You’re such a good mother. :)

  5. I hear you! And yes, your last paragraph is the heart of it all. I try not to think of it as dividing my time between this or that, but simply doing what I’m drawn to at the moment. It’s always changing! And also I’ve let go of maintaining the bar I set so high. Even fifty percent is better than none. :)

    Your Mother’s comments here are priceless and have me all choked up. What a treasure you ave in her and your son!

  6. I can really relate with you on how being a mom is amazing and I am happy to devote my time and attention to my kids (obviously, as I continue to choose to stay home with them)… yet they cannot be my whole world, I need *something* for *me.* Right now, it’s very small things, whatever snatches of time I can steal away to be alone, to write, to read, etc. And I think that’s ok. It seems there’s often little room for nuance in discussions about parenthood, and especially motherhood, but it’s ok and probably pretty darn normal for our children to be our favorite people in the whole world, and to also need to keep and nurture our own selves apart from being Mom.

    Every so often I look back on letters and pictures and blog posts from when Donovan was younger, and I’m shocked at how many things I just don’t remember. This is why I let things like cleaning and organizing fall aside in favor of taking pictures and blogging (as sporadic as even that has become), because I realize that these memories are worth recording, and will matter so much more in the long run. I have the luxury of not having to worry about making an income… but I think you should definitely give yourself permission (or perhaps take it from Liam) to devote some amount of time each week or month to recording those memories of him and you as a family.

    You’re doing an amazing job, lady. As a mom, as an artist, as a person. Yay you. =)

  7. I’ve really enjoyed your openness in sharing this with us … and interested in the echoes it has for me. Not because I have little ones (mine are long since big!) but because I am working on finding a new way of being for this part of my life where I am looking after my elderly and unwell parents in my own home. The challenge to be there when needed, fully and willingly, and yet the desire – no, need – to find some life of my own are very parallel …

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