Thursday, June 29, 2006

The body...beautiful? (and sneaky Poetry Thursday)

Who doesn't want to be Aphrodite? From

Motherhood has come to me in a torrent of words, but most of them have little or nothing to do with actual motherhood. Instead, all of my thoughts and words are imbued with urgency...a desire to cling to their liferaft even as emotions sweep me along. The curve of her cheek as she sleeps, pressed against the pillow as her mouth falls open—to quote William Carlos Williams "nothing matters more." Her changes are like a challenge—"keep up, mother!"—she’s a clarion call. If I lag behind, grow weary and vague, I might miss something. I might fail in my task to be her female role model.

I might fail, period.

I am surprised by the fierceness of my maternal love. It wasn’t always this way, sadly. I loved her from the beginning, but my love was tentative, even somewhat grudging. I needed to go through those late hours with her, needed to give space to my grief for my old life, for the self that was surely pooling at my feet, dress pants I no longer need for a job I no longer have. I needed to fantasize about selling her to gypsies (in spite of their absence from my California suburb). I needed to rage and shake and molt and cry and feel utterly, completely, nakedly inept.

I still do, sometimes. But the spaces between are growing green again. This must be what everyone talks about when they mention the virtues of commitment.

My daughter is the first task I can’t escape, can’t run away from.

One of the surprises of motherhood is how physical it is—the tending to her physical body, sure, with its dirty diapers and washcloths and dresses...but also how much I linger on her beauty. It is what touches me most about her. I went to a feminist Name School; I should be extolling the virtues of her humor, her curiosity, her persistence. And I do. But the adjective that comes most spontaneously, most often, is "beautiful." I drink her in greedily, take nibbles when I should be satisfied with kisses, watch her play with the kind of one-point focus that would make any Buddhist proud. Watching Madam is my meditation. She pulls me out of myself.

Why is her beauty so important to me? It satisfies a lack I never really felt was important. My way of creating beauty has always been through words. I learned early on that I could not draw (as children do when they are as self-critical as I was and still am). But if I could describe what I saw precisely, clearly...then others could see it too.

But she is wholly physical, biting and pulling and scratching at the world as she tries to understand it. She pulls me down to the ground with her as she plays, tongue poking outside of her mouth, as she crawls and grunts and stands, wobbly, the baby fat on her legs growing sinewy with the effort.

And inevitably, she makes me face my own body, something I usually manage to avoid. Oh, sure, I have a certain perfunctory gratitude for it, for bringing my Madam into being, but that’s as far as I go. Madam feels like a creation of my own mind, and my body gets scant credit.

My body tells a story about me that doesn’t feel true. My mind grows heated, electric with connection and excitement, twirling perpetually under a disco ball. My body sits, sullen, in a corner, doing its algebra homework.

We’ve not been in good terms since the pregnancy. Oh, I loved being pregnant...loved that for once, my body was signaling a change within me, marking me as part of a special tribe. I’d never been able to do that before—instead, I smiled conspiratorially at those who looked like artists, and cringed as they looked through me.

There’s a fleshy roundness to me now—overt and earthy. I try to hide it—try not to take up too much space, but whenever I see myself in a mirror, there I am. Larger than I can handle. Dowdier than I want to be. How do I learn to inhabit this new body? Megg’s words come back to me—about her journey into womanhood. I gave birth—a uniquely female experience. And yet, I don’t want to go where my body seems to take me. I want to go back to that untouched envelope of a body I once had.

Growing up, I thought my mother the most beautiful woman in the world—so much so that I relegated all matters on beauty and femininity to her. I chose to live inside my head, inside that place where I could pretend no one is ever judged on their appearance, but only on the contents of their souls. The home of the perfect books, the ones where words never darken the pristine page. The land of no mistakes, because nothing is ever embodied.

I want to be embodied. I want Madam to think me beautiful. I want my outside to match my inside. I think I finally really want to be seen.

How do I make the "it" of my body feel like "me?"

This week's Poetry Thursday prompt was to try and incorporate a phrase we use everyday into a poem. Well, I wanted to try one of those fancy new fibonnaci haikus which are all the rage, so here is my mom-fib.

Come now
Words swallowed
Wait to be set free
By inspiration’s fickle breath.



Blogger Becca said...

I love your post, and especially your fib. In those few short words you managed to take me back more than 25 years to the blessed relief that came at nap time, when I could actually attempt to do something for myself! Very nicely done!

7:04 PM, June 29, 2006  
Anonymous tinker said...

What a beautiful post - I think your daughter will find you as beautiful as you found your mother to be: Because the innocent heart sees the real beauty is in the soul - you've laid your beauty out here, for all to see, in your words.

7:48 PM, June 29, 2006  
Blogger wendylou who? said...

I liked both the post and poem. i have shared the same thoughts as you..though my two daughters are grown to 16 and 13 this year. i find my self looking at their beauty, each different, yet, oddly remenecent. I wonder how they happened at all. I try to be beautiful in action and intention, but often fail miserably. Then I model beauty in humbleness and regret. no matter what I do, they will see my face in theirs, and hear my voice in their words.

As for the naps..they never did much...which explains why I'm still tired, to this day..

Beautiful post, dear. Bravo.

11:34 PM, June 29, 2006  
Blogger deirdre said...

Your words are so eloquent. I didn't get to be a mommy, haven't ever been pregnant, but I understood everything you've written. My body changes now with age, not old yet, but facing a transistion, and I want to feel pretty for a long time before I feel invisible. This mature body doesn't feel like me, and yet I've learned to cherish it.

12:15 AM, June 30, 2006  
Blogger Left-handed Trees... said...

The sentiments you share here are ones I can relate to so deeply. The ferocity and ambivalence of motherhood are just flip-sides of the same coin. I appreciated reading how you are finding such depth and life in raising your child--this isn't what people usually hear about is usually what is being missed, or how motherhood makes you silly or trivial somehow. Thank you for your openness here.

7:35 AM, June 30, 2006  
Blogger Cate said...


This is a gift that you are giving us--the promise that, as mothers (and as women), we are not alone in our feelings. Thank you for that.

I'm gonna say it again: your writing is beautiful and brilliant and evocative and genuine.

You could not write a sentence that I wouldn't love.

9:50 AM, June 30, 2006  
Blogger Jessie said...

I'm tempted to leave a really long comment about the similar body thoughts that I too have been having (minus motherhood--although that raises another important issue!) ....but instead I think I'll save it for one of the long conversations that we might have in person.

10:19 AM, June 30, 2006  
Blogger M said...

As someone yet to become a mother, I appreciate your honesty and your questioning of motherhood. You are already giving her so much, just be being you. Her beauty isin you as well- maybe you've just forgotten. Hang in and enjoy the nap times!!

12:18 PM, June 30, 2006  
Blogger fern_leaf said...

I'm not a mom yet, but I hope one day I can be as giving as you are to your daughter. I loved this entry. Thank you for your honesty about this experience, it's really given me insight into what it's like to me a mom...I think I'll start resting up years in advance! LOL.

4:36 PM, June 30, 2006  
Blogger la vie en rose said...

wonderful faiku but i especially all your musings beforehand. being ready to be seen. inhabiting your body. yes, Yes, YES! wonderful words. words i want to eat up and then live!

4:50 PM, June 30, 2006  
Blogger paris parfait said...

Beautiful, evocative post, spilling so many secrets of being a woman; of being a mother. And I love the fib! Well done.

6:44 PM, June 30, 2006  
Blogger Susannah said...

How do I make the "it" of my body feel like "me?" - i feel this too. sometimes i feel like the little person inside a big lumbering vehicle and i'm peeking through the windows (my eyes). 'my body' does things, when actually it's 'me' that does things... difficult to know how to marry the two together. a very thought-provoking post - thank you x

4:41 AM, July 01, 2006  
Blogger Nea said...

a story to which a mother can definitely relate.

"I am surprised by the fierceness of my maternal love."

as was I, it never occured to me that I would ever feel so protective over another person. Yet, I would jump in front of a truck for one of my kids.

7:46 PM, July 08, 2006  

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