This year, I found myself an unemployed mother. The basic tasks of child rearing are not a problem for me, though the sleep schedule and PTO suck. The most difficult things was adjusting to a feeling I couldn’t put my finger on. Something that grew as surely as she did. It was like a pulled muscle somewhere in my body. If moved a certain way it would send out an undeniable twinge of pain, but I couldn’t figure out what part of me was injured. All I knew was that there was a deep ache almost all the time. There are days that I can’t feel it at all; like when we are all together, and the boys have PJ in a fit of laughter.
Other times, it wracks my body with paralyzing power and I have to return to my breathing and wait for it to pass.
I have been having a difficult time adjusting to my new role as stay at home mom. In fact, I can say that our move cross county and my transition to stepmom was easier. The upside to my new schedule is that I have had time for friends, travel and free time. At the turn of the new year, I was gifted the opportunity to participate in an apprenticeship program run by an amazing herbalist friend of mine, Jessica La Brie. The three month intensive course was called Foundations of Sacred Gaian Herbalism. I thought it would be a great way to continue my education about plant medicine.
It became a lifeline, in a storm I hadn’t even realized I was in.
When we started, I looked at these gatherings as a nice way to get out of the house and even away from the baby a couple times! Our time together became so much more than that. The deluge of wisdom from these women was unexpected. I didn’t think I was ‘going through’ anything.
Often, at the start of class we would take turns sharing what each of us were dealing with that month. In this way; our interactions between one another can be more intentional, more informed. Lead by our wonderful teacher we began. From issues at home and work- to achievements and upcoming projects. It seemed like everyone else’s situations were more important, bigger and more valid than my ill-defined entitled angst.
When it was my turn, I was shocked to find tears streaming down my face. I started by making excuses, but soon stopped and just quietly wept. It was such a relief to be in a space with others waiting patiently for me to express what was going on in my soul. It would have done their attention disservice had I not been honest. Besides, tears are a pretty good sign something BIG is trying to get out. They waited patiently for me to get my sh*t together.
I said that I was really emotional, but that I didn’t have a reason why. Nothing should be wrong. I have the privilege to be able to stay home with our healthy, happy baby, money is really tight, but we are not destitute. My husband is a loving father and supportive partner. Her brothers make the sun rise and set the world spinning. Everything should be great.
Yet, there I was in a puddle of tears.
I said I felt useless, even though I know “this is the most important job I will ever have,” I don’t feel like I’m contributing. I felt guilty for making my husband bare the burden of supporting us alone. Even though I knew that this sentiment wasn’t truth I felt it more keenly than everything else. How can I feel like my daily process has no value? If I was a nanny for the someone else’s baby, I would feel validated in my routine. How messed up is that?! They listened as I ranted and gave me time to be heard. It was only after I was quite and mopped up, that they asked if I wanted advice.
“Yes, please god! Anything. Everything! I’m so lost.”
I felt so loved- to be listened to and tended in my distress. We talked about the concept of internalized capitalism. Someone pointed out our cultural tendency to emphasize monetary validation above all other forms of validation. We listened to each other and shared more stories. This led me to orate some more (in a flippant fashion) about my anger with the current human condition and how sometimes, I don’t even feel like a healthy humanhood is possible in this day and age. In response the tribe, comforted, corrected and reassured me. We have the tools to make a better environment for the whole, but that putting them to work can seem overwhelming. They reminded me that we cannot move forward from a place a despair. It is the practice of awareness and hope that make prosperity possible.
Like a seed feeling the light of the sun it couldn’t see. Still believing enough to keep growing anyway. Each person had felt the same despondence at one time or other, that feeling of being buried. Each person had experience in finding their way up to the source. I came to feel like my situation was a little more like a bulb, than a seed.
An onion, if you will.
Like ogres and onions, I felt there were a great many layers I had to address. There is the surface pragmatic skin of family finances. My income was substantial, but I can’t go back to my career since daycare hours do not line up with hospitality management hours. Neatly nestled in that level of hurt, is the reality of being physically removed from my family. If I was living back home, I would have a whole community and a VERY willing Memaw to make childcare possible. I also became aware that (subconsciously) I had always assumed I would raise my children, in my town.
The awareness of that reality was heartbreaking, but acknowledging it meant I could begin grieving loss of that expectation. I watch my friends’ children growing up and know that our kids will be little more that strangers to each other. When PJ was born I knew in my brain that she will be raised in Maine, but the daily reality of not being home is hard. Just like knowing your older family members will likely die before you- doesn’t make their passing less painful when it actually happens.
I don’t want to make it seem as if this onion is rotten, there are many advantages to my new role. We no longer have to balance busy work schedules with pickup and drop-offs for the boys. Wherever it is, whenever it is- PJ and I will be there. In that same vein, but a part all it’s own, is the one-on-one attention I am able to give our daughter. Even the best daycare couldn’t replace this time with her. I love teaching her and watching her blast through milestones. I get to be there for all of it. That is an important thing; perhaps, THE most important thing. It’s not all bad or all good.
It is hard.
Much harder than I thought it would be. I couldn’t figure out why. My classmates (a term which feels insufficient to describe these amazing women) helped me to unpack the rest of it. The apprenticeship put me in contact with people at all stages of womanhood, gathered for the common goal of making time to create healing things. I am very grateful for them. I was stuck. Their insight was the warmth of the returning sun. Giving me hope that these pains are that of a seed splitting open or an onion sprouting deep underground. A prerequisite state necessary for exponential growth.
We are so often isolated from one another, we become so caught up in the flow of commitments that we don’t take time for ritual and self care. We don’t notice the seasons and plants changing around us, silently offering us aid. We don’t tend to them or ourselves. In order to imbue the medicines with the properties were trying to invoke, we had to be in the right frame of mind.
We had to feel safe, present and participating of our own free will. We had to create this space for ourselves and maintain its spirit. Jessica was an amazing guide in this regard, a facilitator of peace and love. (I don’t really care how hippy-dippy that sounds- it is the truth.) It wasn’t situation where we could just show up at an appointed time, pay the fee, sit down, turn on the experience and take our bobbles home. You cannot buy magic, you much create it. It had to be done with our intention, our care for one another and a desire for healing.
Growth often means being mindful of our own delusions, bad habits and missteps. Our group was a safe place to be wrong, take instruction and be thankful for the correction. That can be a delicate state, but I’m better for having participated in it. I was cradled and corrected in equal measure, nurturing my own growth. Through their feedback, I realized that I had outgrown my old skin. The things I used to define myself could no longer contain my new life. I was reassured that it is ok to mourn that old state. It was a beautiful bulb but it will be a stronger plant, as long as I embrace and support the changes.
My feelings of loss and sadness are not gone, but I can better understand where they come from. Thanks to the course I also have many lovely tools, foods and lessons to help me sooth this new skin. Both literally and figuratively. To remind myself that this is a process, (and take further advantage of my free time) I started drawing a snake on my hand and up my arm with henna. A design on the palm is for things you want to receive. The snake represents renewal, protection and enlightenment (it can’t hurt, right?) I decorated my snake with vines and flowers for growth, joy, happiness and prosperity.
I am trying to manage my tendencies to obsess and worry but it is another thing all together. I am ever grateful to my friend who gave me the opportunity to meet so many other beautiful people. It was affirming to have a space to learn. With so many hands helping, it was easy to believe in the magic we were making. I know it has carried me through even though the beginners session is over, and many of my cohorts have continued on to the intermediate module. It has reinforced my efforts to make time in my life to look deeply, love openly and never stop learning.
Like Black Bird’s Daughter always says:
Be well, and thank you for reading!