By PJ Holliday
“The mother is glass through which
You see, in excruciating detail, yourself.”
“The Mother” – Maggie Smith
Becoming a mother has divided my body in portions, passing out small pieces at a time to my child, husband and self. I’ve been stretched to a capacity I formerly did not think possible and from there, have to learn to surrender my control of the unknown. I don’t recognize myself, and when I catch a glimpse of what was familiar, it vanishes like pools of water on hot asphalt. When I try to write, I am torn between comforting my child whose eyes are fixated on whatever I am doing. I try to catch some work between naps, but who wants to work when there is a moment for quiet reflection made available for the first time in the morning. I feel the pull of many children, my creative explorations and my boy, who undoubtedly should take precedent.
I am seeking to discover a balance. I am seeking wisdom from those writing mothers who have done it best; Maggie Smith, Sharon Olds. They broke their creative lives open which included their lives as mothers. I don’t believe in this tearing of self, loss of identity motherhood. So, why I am struggling with it? I think because I don’t know how, and because my introduction to motherhood came with a surprising movie reel from my own childhood. Feeds of excruciating memories flood my head all day as I look at my son’s beautiful round head and fuzzy hair on the back. I see the possibility for heartache before his eyes open in the morning. How he’ll want me less and less as he grows, how I could say one wrong thing which derails years of a healthy mental life and how we will one day separate eternally, and he or I will be here without the other. Love is tragic, but we can’t avoid it. Even if we shut ourselves inside our homes forever to avoid it, somebody would be curious about us. In that curiosity, we would realize someone cares and love them for it. The bible says in 1 John 4:19 that “We love [God], because he first loved us.” Isn’t this the same viewpoint of love regarding people? We love those because they first love us. Love can be self-indulgent, but we respond to human need. I believe love, like food and shelter, are necessary for human survival. But it comes at such a price.
I control nothing in this life. I don’t control my son and I don’t control my next creative endeavor. I am here to discover and cultivate, to break apart and reimagine the fragments. Since having my son, I’ve had to become a person who lives totally in the moment and to be grateful for the victories, however small they may be. I am grateful for this moment, now, to connect with my inner voice and write about writing. I predominantly write poetry, and have found little honesty about motherhood in terms of it. I don’t necessarily want to wear the “mother-badge” at every chance, but I do feel I’m earning it. Motherhood feels wilder and more untamed than I could have ever imagined. Even the act of birth felt like a violent war scene. None of this experience is embodied in the stuffed fox attached to the crib. Poetry needs this honesty, and society (and social media) need to back off a minute. Each person who enters the world is an individual and individuality demands unique mothering. Poetry is the same. These verses we hear breathing into us are doing something. They’re helping us release the hardship so we can live with less weight on our shoulders.
As I sequester the moments when I am most at odds with motherhood, I find poetry at the center. I find good health hinging on a few, true lines. Most recently, the issue I’ve been wrestling with is controlling time. I am a list person and when I can’t abide by it, I feel pressured by time lost. This is all foolish, I know. And my son, his one precious life, is more valuable than my needing to put off writing a few hours. I’ve come to this conclusion and the mental practice of releasing toxic thoughts feel just as demanding as physical ones. I only need to keep repeating and releasing negativity as I know it is a false perspective and ultimately, not the type of person or mother I want to be. So, here is my sequestered mother poem, in all it’s self-centered glory.
You Don’t Get to Finish the Tea
Or eat the whole
Of an orange
Though its juice
Drips from your hand
There isn’t time
To wipe it away
In his simplest form
You satisfy him first.
PJ Holliday is a literary writer based out of Houston, TX. She graduated from the University of Houston in 2016 with a degree in poetry where her honors thesis won “Outstanding Honors Thesis Award” for 2014. She earned her MFA in creative writing at Regis University in January 2019. She is a reader and blog writer for the literary journal Inverted Syntax and her poetry manuscript, “To Clear a Static Field” is currently in submission.
Jen’s book ON BEING HUMAN is available for pre-order here.