A guest post to motivate, encourage, and inspire
Mothering, Writing and Life Passages Intertwined
I am standing, an auditorium full of my college students staring me down, breast milk leaking and spreading into two perfectly symmetrical targets there on the front of my lime green sweater. I clutch a stack of lecture notes against the damp chill. And keep talking. Twelve o’clock, straight up, and my firstborn, our baby Parker, who’s being cared for off-campus while I teach a survey course on the arts and letters, is apparently sending me a telepathic S.O.S.
Three months later: I’m slumped against the wall of a utility room in Hong Kong, in which Parker and I have accidentally been locked. My milk runs dry while sweat pours down me in the suffocating July heat. I pound on the door, howling for help. Nine desperate hours pass before my husband finally discovers us, heaped in a limp pile, stripped down to the skin, mother singing quietly to her flush-faced infant. If the scene weren’t so pathetic, my husband and I would laugh until we cry. Instead, we just cry.
Three years later: I’m in a park outside of Newark. In the spongy dome of my brain, I’m batting around my next lecture on some women poets while pumping with my free leg a teeter-totter on which Parker, now blonde-bobbed and two-and-a-half-rambunctious-years-old, is bucking on the far end of the plank, demanding, “Higher! Faster!” His hair reflects the sun. Newborn Claire nuzzles in my Baby Bjørn, the top of her flawless head tucked up near my chin, the smell of her skin sweet and muggy, the clean curve of her tiny, translucent fingernail a masterpiece. Her heart beats like a swaddled sparrow pressed against the booming thu-thunk within my breast.
Twenty years sail by: two more sons are born in Norway and France, two of the eight countries we end up living in. We learn five languages, we navigate the jagged and lush landscape known to globally nomadic families. I redefine myself, my mothering, and my writing over and over again, while publishing articles, poetry, and a book about mothering internationally.
Mothering and writing, writing and mothering – the two more than anything else, it seems, fill my life’s tally. What has defined me most, however, and what has in turn defined my writing/mothering more than any other single factor, hasn’t been what I’ve added to that tally. It's been what I’ve lost.
I was kneeling next to the big, muscular body of 18-year-old comatose Parker when we turned off life support. His sigh was no more perceptible than the breath of a newborn, and his head tipped gracefully to one side as it had when he’d been an infant and had nursed his fill. In that dying moment, I clutched something to my breast, but can’t tell you what it was. What I can say is that its enormity was seismic, and continues to send tremors–subtle but recognizable signals, like those I feel from my deceased son–through the landscape of my life as a writer and a mother.
Melissa is giving away one copy of Global Mom: Eight Countries, Sixteen Addresses, Five Languages, One Family. Read the entry details here; deadline is October 2nd.
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