Mamas in the Wild

They sat at the table near us at dinner most nights of our cruise. A mama, a dad, a grandma and a baby. The baby was oblivious to semi-formal and formal nights and not at all impressed with the concept of a lengthy, leisurely meal, and so she cried sometimes. She cried like she meant it, full of gusto and heartbreak at being offered peas while she was tired or substandard potatoes when clearly only apples would do, because 11 months old is a hard age to understand your family’s on vacation and it’s time for fine dining. 

I wanted to go over to their table every time. To say, “She’s precious” and, “You’re doing a great job” as they cajoled and consoled her. To say, “You’re sitting next to a sympathetic crowd, friends.” And to say, as they looked around furtively, “It’s OK. Really. I swear it gets easier.”

Instead, we studiously ignored them because we wanted them to think we didn’t always hear the baby’s squawks of frustration, her hungry demands or her exhaustion. To maintain the illusion for them that no one noticed, and therefore no one was judging them harshly. And when they’d pass our table on their way out, leaving sooner than the rest of us, we’d only say, enthusiastically, “she’s so cute,” hoping, even though we knew it was inadequate, to send a You’re OK message with those words. An It Gets Better message. A We’re Here for You message.

I’m certain we failed, but there’s a fine line between acknowledging a common experience between parents and projecting all my new mama feelings on others. I wanted neither to disrupt their vacation nor their attempt at calm with my suppositions about what they must be feeling.

photo 2 (76)And then we saw them one day off the ship, as we stood at the perimeter of a grassy meadow, at the base of a wide hill covered with evergreens, at the side of stream where eagle pairs circled and a mama bear and her twin cubs sauntered toward the trees and back again. 

We saw the mama and the dad and the grandma and the baby, and we smiled again and said our She’s So Cutes, followed by We’ve Seen You Near Us at Dinner. 

The mama looked struck. Surprised and a little bit guarded in the way the vulnerable are; not wary, necessarily, but a little unsure of her welcome. She blurted, “She cries at dinner. I’m so sorry.”

And I said, “No worries. We have 5 kids. We get it; I promise. They’ve cried all over the world, and especially in restaurants. Babies cry; it’s one of their best things.”

She said, “Five kids? FIVE? How do you do it? I only have one, and it’s taking all I’ve got.”

So I poured it all out, floodgates style. I was incapable anymore of holding myself at bay.

I told her it doesn’t matter how many kids we have; any number of kids is a lot of kids.

I told her that parenting my first kid undid me.

I told her she’s dying to herself right now and she’s also being reborn and that birthing a new self is as messy and beautiful, as terrible and triumphant, as birthing a baby. “You’re giving birth to new life,” I said, “but you don’t know it yet because you’re still trying to gasp for that first breath. It’s coming, though, the oxygen you need. It’s coming.” 

I told her we’re weak and we’re strong in equal measure, and that’s how it should be, because there’s no other way to build strength except to begin from a weaker place. 

I told her we’re lost, sometimes, even while we’re being found, and that there’s grace in that place.

And I told her this life is more Both/And than I ever suspected. Both better and worse. Both bigger and smaller. Both higher and lower. So much wilder and far, far freer.

She kept saying, over and over, “You have no idea how much I needed to hear this. No idea.” But I think I do, because I am her. We all are.

I’ve thought a lot about that mama ever since, and the difference between when we met in civilization and when we met in the wild. 

We couldn’t meet in the formal dining room, I think. Not in any sense that’s real, anyway. There’s no room for the truth or our whole selves while we still have perfect manners. We don’t want to butt in. To intrude. To disrupt. To assume. But out there in the wild with the mama bear and her cubs? Out there in the beauty and the splendor and the rawness of the wilderness? It’s the place to take chances. To risk. To be bold. To be wholly ourselves. Because our survival can depend on it. And on each other.

So here’s what I’d say to us… let’s go to the wild with each other, friends. 

Which brings me to this:
How ARE you?

……….

photo 1 (70)And, P.S…. because I’ll always show you mine when I ask you to show me yours, I’ll tell you: I’m OK today. I’m away from home, at camp, getting ready to teach a series of classes to 200 high schoolers on questing for truth, forging faith, and living Love out loud, and I gotta say, I’m equal parts excited and anxious. Excited because I get to be a mouthpiece of Love and Grace this week, and there is no task in this world that makes me happier than telling people they are deeply worthy of unfathomable Love. And I’m anxious because I’m afraid I won’t do Love justice. 

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ABOUT BETH WOOLSEY I'm a writer. And a mess. And mouthy, brave, and strong. I believe we all belong to each other. I believe in the long way 'round. And I believe, always, in grace in the grime and wonder in the wild of a life lived off course from what was, once, a perfectly good plan.
58 comments
  1. My son is 10, and I wish someone had said that to me when he was a baby…Single mom, still trying to figure it, and honestly that just made me “ugly cry” in relief. Thank you.

  2. Beautiful

  3. Beth, I found your blog a couple months ago and am so glad I did. Your posts speak so much of my truth. Like this one. Especially this one. I have a 4 year old and a 1 year old and I crave giving and receiving support like you gave the poor sweet struggling wonderful mama in the wild. Keep doing what you do…you are cheering on more of us than you know.

  4. […] the last two days, you opened up your hearts to your fellow mamas in the wild. You were honest. Transparent. Sweet and sad. Lovely and lonely. Hurting and hopeful. You wrote […]

  5. I am thankful I found your blog Beth. You make me smile, laugh, cry and nod my head in agreement. My husband was out of full time work from the week before our son was born until last week (3.5 months). I’ve felt the weight of our whole family on me- breast feeding a little guy who for the first 8 weeks nursed every hour when awake; a 3 year old who is just starting to get potty-training & won’t let her daddy tuck her in at night if I’m home; a 12 year old dog who’s resorted to peeing in the house because I can’t figure out how to balance simultaneous bedtimes/dog potty time; and a husband who felt like a failure because he stretched out to try something new & it didn’t work out. I’m on my second week of antidepressants/anti anxiety and am starting to feel better about things/life. My loves make my world go round & they fill my heart with joy. Thank you for making this safe place for us mommas to vent and relax!!

  6. I’m sad today because my seven-month-old son doesn’t want to nurse anymore. I never had enough milk for him anyway, but we were still nursing at least once a day until the last few weeks. I’ve been sick for two months with a bad cold and a sinus infection and a ruptured eardrum and the baby was sick too and our sleep schedule got so mixed up and my husband had to get him up and feed him a bottle so many times that we got out of the habit of nursing and now all he wants is bottles.

    He is a miracle baby we weren’t supposed to get, and I’m just grateful that he’s alive, but sometimes I still mourn the birth experience I didn’t get (he was a c-section) and the exclusive nursing I still believe in but was never able to provide. I just have to remember that this isn’t as bad as the grief when I thought I would never have my husband’s baby.

    1. We, too, had biological babies we didn’t know we’d be able to have. I nursed my twins for 5 months and then I had to give it up because I wasn’t able to nurse them and parent the rest of my children. It was hard, that loss. I had to grieve it, and grief always takes longer than we’d like. Love to you, Tara.

      1. Thank you, Beth. And thank you for writing this post to begin with. 🙂

  7. How am I, you ask? I am on vacation with an 11 month old, struggling to not feel guilty for his screaming, crying, dirty diapers everywhere, baby gates blocking all the doorways. I’m mostly succeeding, nevertheless, this post was remarkably timely. Thank you.

  8. I am okay today. I am brave. I am a better person because you all are a part of my life.

    You have made it okay for me to look after myself, that sometimes its okay to ask for what I need, before I give others what they want.

    You have made me brave enough to ask not for a pay rise, but for 2 extra vacation weeks per year, just to spend time replenishing who I am. (And the boss agreed to it.)

    You have made it okay for me to still be on anti-depressants. To see that they’re a life-preserver holding my head above my the waves, to keep me afloat until I can make it back to shore.

    Yes, I am doing okay today. I am blessed to be a mum, a wife, and a person who can finally see her own value. I am blessed to be me. I am blessed to be a part of you.

    1. This is beautiful. Thank you.

  9. I’m frustrated. Our case worker for our adoption told us yesterday that we are officially the longest waiting couple with their agency, which means the next time they get a hospital call, they will call us. That should make me happy because it means finally a baby is at least in the nearish future. But really it sorta just pisses me off because that’s almost three years of being passed over by birth mothers because they didn’t like something about us. A something I can’t seem to figure out because even though I’m sure I’m biased I think our little family is awesome. It reminds me of American idol where they have the really bad singers that think they are awesome, and their family loves them to much to tell them they aren’t good so they go on stage with all this confidence and it takes strangers to tell them how awful they actually are. That’s how I feel about adoption today.

    1. Jenny

      If it helps at all just under nine years ago I was at the point of saying no more, no more waiting, no more calls from potential birth, no more advertising, no more dreaming of my life with a child and then the phone rang and my social worker asked what are you doing for labor weekend and I replied the usual working on the getting another school year started and she replied I don’t think so I think you are going to Philly you were chosen for a baby girl who was born this past Sunday. Even after tonight’s major meltdown which lasted at least a half hour as we drove home from OT I can tell you every single minute of the wait was worth it for when the child God had chosen for me was born I became a mom and life will never be the same. So hang in there yell at the moon, ask God why you have to wait so long do whatever you need to do to get through this horrible waiting period for your day will come too and your life with never be the same but your dream will be fulfilled just as mine was.

    2. I so understand. I couldn’t bare it a moment longer. We quit. We booked a long vacation and started packing. My hearts was the heaviest thing in the bag and I was contemplating staying gone forever. Then at the last moment a miracle. Not one baby but three little amazing people and life will never be boring again. It is incredibly painful to wait to give love. No one tells you that part of adopting. I can’t make it better but you are not alone.
      Jenniffer

      1. Thank you both. You made me feel better. You are so right it is incredibly painful to wait to give love and I feel like nobody gets that. Also it’s ironic that you got triplets, we just got passed up for triplets last week and that was really hard on me because I truly though they were meant to be ours. Anyway congratulations and thanks for sympathizing with me.

        1. Oh Jenny, I so feel you. We waited 6 years for our first and 2 years for our newest addition. With number one, she literally fell into our laps as a newborn while we were pursuing adoption out of foster care. And with number two, well we’d given up. We sold the minivan, wrote letters to our friends about the end of our journey, and then got the call. He came home three days later at a few months old. Both are truly worth every agonizing second of the wait. And seriously, the being passed over repeatedly by prospective birth moms – holy hell, that was so tough for us while waiting for our son. Hang in there, the child who is meant to share your life will come into it.

  10. I am caught strangely suspended between two anniversaries: August 4, 2004, the day I met my beloved; August 6, 2012, the day we found out he had a “mass, malignant in appearance” in his esophagus. On August 7, 2012 we would learn it was indeed malignant and within a week we would also learn it had spread to lymph nodes and was Stage IV. There is a blog post in this and there is also much that is beyond all words. For now all I know is that I am inexorably changed by it all, by both of these things, and I am simply grateful for this day and that he is yet beside me each night, softly breathing, warm and stirred by dreams. We have scans and fears to contend with these years ahead, but for now we have today, each other, senses to know this world and each bird and storm and sweet scent of sage in it.

    I run a girls’ wilderness camp where we teach tracking, survival skills, self defense, fire making, archery, nature awareness, medicinal and edible plants and simply the joy of being in the wild, but wisely and with respect and gratitude for what it gives and what it can take. I have run this camp for 18 of its 19 years, missing only last year due to my husband’s major cancer surgery. This means I have been in those wilds pregnant, nursing, with a toddler and an infant… this year my first baby, now 7 and Asperger, pulled the bow and hit the target all by herself for the first time. The look on her face made all the crazy nights of babies wailing in a tent during thunderstorms melt away. I have watched little girls in our camp become young women who now lead new girls in the teachings, a beautiful thing, especially to see them just be themselves, making fire, dancing, learning martial arts, squealing in delight during a thunderstorm at nightfall, singing by the fire. This year was especially sweet, as I was able to kiss my beloved goodbye for a week and could know that my girls would return home to their well daddy at the end, that we were not without him.

    We are enough, my people, we are. This day we have done our best, no matter how much milk we have or no, no matter how well we told the kids to knock it off or cuddled them or shut a door and wept, no matter how much money we have or how little. And I tell you and myself, we are magnificent, all curves and looking more like goddesses and less like waifs, we are mighty as we curl up on dark nights and wait for the light of another dawn that somehow always comes. We have carried so much, have lost so much, have been stripped and have died over and over, have drowned and somehow found new lungs. We are a force, all of us.

    1. Gorgeous, G Arrow. Thank you for this.

      1. And thank you, Beth. Tag team inspiration. You’re it! We all win! Yeah us!

  11. I am ok, and wishing I lived in Portland so I could go to one of the meet-ups. I am very lucky, have a job I love, a great son (even if he is the very definition of three right now), and a pretty supportive husband.
    But….

    No village. Moved the town we are in when he was 9 months old, the only mom’s group around is for SAHM, which I am not. Feeling guilty that my kid doesn’t have playdates on the weekends and the only kiddos I can think of to invite to his birthday party are from his daycare. I’ve reached out to co-workers with kids, only to be turned down, or never have an invitation returned.

    Thing is, I am usually pretty good at making a village, and I have some- but no parents.

    1. Sending love, Katie. And, if I could, a real, live Village. Since I can’t mail one, I’ll wish and hope and dream and pray for one with you. xo

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