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Seeking the Mother’s Psalm

Well the sun is surely sinking down
But the moon is slowly rising
And this old world must still be spinning ’round
And I still love you

 So close your eyes
You can close your eyes, it’s all right
I don’t know no love songs
And I can’t sing the blues anymore
But I can sing this song
And you can sing this song
When I’m gone 

Well it won’t be long before another day
We’re gonna have a good time
And no one’s gonna take that time away
You can stay as long as you like

I find myself humming this lullaby throughout my days now. I use it to calm my son, who seems to respond to the intimate truths in James Taylor’s lyrics. For me, the sweet sadness of “you can stay as long as you like” is a reminder that one day Arlo will decide he does not need me as much anymore. Taylor intended the ballad for Joni Mitchell, so of course it is deeply romantic. But these days I hear it with new ears. I find myself turning many popular tunes into lullabies. Some deeply rooted themselves inside my spirit as the psalms of early parenthood.

…the psalms of early parenthood: love, struggle, lamentation, and gratitude. The life experience of being a parent needs more psalm writers. We have days that direct hymns of gratitude, cries of lament, and songs of thanksgiving. I recall that I never felt so many emotions until these days watching my son grow.

I intensely feel the contradictory nature of caring for a child while attempting to form a sense of individuality. I am becoming more aware of the sources of my identity.

As a professional who sometimes studies the cultivation of identity, I have come to think that identity stems from broad social structures. I never needed to confront my personal identity in such a momentous way before now. Even as I contemplated the decision of changing my last name for marriage, there was not the ground shaking, identity-making experience that I find in motherhood.

I am a writer. I am an academic, a professional, and an educated woman.

The problem with these labels is that they fail to live up to reality. They are bulky words that take up space when we speak them out loud, but they ultimately fall short. It is because they are not substantial or proactive – or essential. They exist conceptually, but do not move me forward. Though perfectly fine labels, they do not function as identity parameters. Except, maybe, “writer.” But even this, I believe, is a shifting designation that is more spiritual than practical, more intimate than open.

I am a writer, but these days the majority of my writing remains in my head as I rock my baby to sleep, attempt a five-minute shower, or witness a beautiful developmental milestone. The weight of this title gives me pause as I place heavy importance on it that I cannot move my hand to pick up a pen. It is jealousy of the writer who spends hours at her desk, mulling over the perfect word and expounding on past participles that paralyzes me. I also, for some ridiculous reason, imagine that creative writing becomes less creative when executed on a word processor. So I cumbersomely labor away at longhand in one of the numerous journals that find their way tucked in the drawer near the rocker, by the bedside table, or stacked on the kitchen countertop. I worry too much about the lurking hand cramp and then forget what I wanted to say in the first place. I have so many ideas about what a writer does, looks like, and thinks about that I suppress my words before they have a chance to live.

The anxieties over writing derive from personal questions of identity. I seem to be in a crisis. I remember the feeling of previous crises, surprisingly. There was the crisis of identity after high school as friends moved away, the mini calamities that attended the breakup of a romantic relationship, and the devastation of rejecting the legalistic religion of my childhood that left me in a state of emotional panic. It has been a while since I had a good, old-fashioned crisis. All of the previous have been resolved, and the resolutions flourish in their maturity. The current crisis hits hard because it was so unexpected.

A “crisis” is feared because we are expected to maintain a façade of perfection. We lightly call these “transitions,” though this gives the experience a watered-down effect. We dismiss the individual going through a “mid life crisis” with a wave of the hand. No, I am talking about a real-deal crisis – one that stops you in your tracks and forces a re-evaluation of your surroundings. It is uncomfortable. It is difficult. It is often ignored.

And then if it is ignored, you never have to change.

Motherhood, in particular, is a radical physical change. Why would we not expect the same for the emotional, mental, and spiritual experiences of a woman who goes through childbirth? Feminism asked us to reject these latter experiences so that we do not come across as weak or incapable of maintaining a public life like men. To be important, we must produce, produce, produce! Be productive, they say. Do not stall. Do not take moments to gather yourself. Do not nurture. Produce!

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The author and her son, Arlo, May 2016

As the tide of daily life pulls me through a current that seems to run faster and faster, I grab on to the essentials. This is a process of identity reformation that will not be bound by previous requirements for the labels. I am a mother who writes, a wife who thinks, and an academic who has a family. I am a creator who lingers in the space of the day to day.

Selah, mamas and papas. Selah.

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