In a fit of organization, I’ve been going through my old scrapbook pages and putting them into albums. My previous “organization” has consisted of putting the pages into random albums. The order depended on when they went out and came back from publication, or whether there was space, and sometimes I just stuck the pages inside the front cover and washed my hands of it. Pretty sad, right? This is what happens when scrapbooking transitions from a hobby into a job.
But I’ve been sorting through pages I made when I first started (July 2004), and returning to all my memories. Tasting my life again as I read and view, sort and savor. I remember a few snippets of my “working days” when I showered and got dressed and went to a job and sat in a cube, but not much. But sorting through these pages - even pages created partly as a job - I’m humbled by watching two simultaneous growing periods - one is, of course, that my kids have gotten bigger and I’ve recorded the stories along the way. The other is the skill I’ve developed as a designer and a scrapbooker and a storyteller - and as a mama. Some of these pages bring back feelings I remember, and I’m even more grateful for the place I am at in my life. The struggle of earlier times feels purposeful now.
For example, this one created in the fall of 2005.
This is a page I created for the 2006 Creating Keepsakes Hall of Fame contest. It has a really nifty page flap (yay me!), and a photograph of myself and my two sweet ones taken in the fall of 2005 (Elliott is 3 months old and completely baffled. Rowen is 18 mos old and - as usual - leaping all over me). And it’s also brutally honest. As I reread the essay I wrote on this page, part of me shrank from sharing this, feeling a little vulnerable even eight years later. But I feel like I ought to. More discussion and thinking and honesty about being Mama is a good thing. So here it is.
I became a mother on February 4, 2004, when Rowen entered the world 5 1/2 weeks early. It was traumatic for everyone. She spent a week in the hospital, and was small and sick for a time. I was afraid of her, and she was foreign to me. I hadn’t spent much time around babies, and was totally unprepared for the experience. For weeks afterward I felt like she didn’t really belong to me. I missed my old life terribly, even blamed her for its demise. I was a mother, but I hadn’t become Mama. Little did I know what that process of becoming would entail.
I went back to work when Rowen was 8 weeks old. When Jared started working again, she was 6 months old, and went to daycare. I was feeling a pretty good balance in my life at 28, working in my chosen field, feeling the power that comes with corporate responsibility, wielding influence and making decisions. I loved my work. But something always tugged at me - this voice that said, “You have this responsibility, this girl, and only one chance to do this right.” And I thought that, for me, maybe doing this right means I should quit my job, and be home with her. But my heart wasn’t in it, and I muffled the voice.
Rowen was 8 months old when I found out I was pregnant again. Heart trouble and bed rest kept Rowen in daycare for the next months. I quit my job for good in March of 2005, and Elliott arrived 3 1/2 weeks early in June. And despite having been a mother for almost 18 months, I had little experience taking care of even one child (except evenings and weekends), let alone two. But I was starting to listen to the voice.
Elliott’s arrival in June stripped my life back to its barest essentials: feeding, changing, rocking, snuggling. Dinner didn’t make the cut some days, and neither did showering. It was a busy, fuzzy time. But I was less traumatized by his arrival. I had already grieved for my old life. Like a plant cut back to ground level, I still had my roots. I could grow into this.
As the weeks passed, I found that growth was not so easy, or so fast. I remember the afternoons at 3:30 when both kids were screaming and I was exhausted and hopeless, and frankly feeling a little cheated out of my former life (okay, so I guess the grieving wasn’t quite done). I had been a burgeoning oak, after all! And now, what was I? Crab grass. Surrounded by two small, prickly thistles.
But then Jared would come home. He took the kids, and I escaped to the office to read email, to scrap, to let the day wash away. And I tried not to think about tomorrow. Tried not to dread it. My bouyant nature kicked in, and I knew it wouldn’t always be bad. And I was right. The voice was right.
There have been great days since. And you know what? The great days are beginning to outnumber the nightmarish ones. And that says to me that I’m getting better. My well of mama-hood is filling, and I’m learning how to do this.
Perhaps what I thought was crab grass could be - maybe not an oak as I once thought - but a very fine pine. Still totally not what I had planned for my life. Still at times totally foreign to me, but also, now, beginning to fit. My heart, nearly two years slow, is beginning to catch up.
I realized last week just how far I’ve come, when I took both kids to Burger King for lunch. By myself. Several of the women there with their own (older and further spaced) kids, looked at me with a little bit of awe in their faces, as I cared for my two tiny ones. I was Mama then. We managed to get in, Rowen walking, Elliott in the carseat, get to our table, eat, clean up, and get back out the door nearly incident-free. I loved US. I was proud of us, out among other people, being mama and kids. Perhaps there was a little a lot more ketchup on shirts, but it was a good experience, and I see that I’m learning to let some things go.
It’s experiences like this that give me the confidence to keep going, even when I’m overwhelmed by my own process of becoming. Mama, after all is much more paitent than regular Jessica. Kinder, and wiser, and gentler. Clearly I’m not all the way there yet. Probably not ever. And I’m sure that as soon as I feel like I have a baby and a toddler figured out, things will change and this small scraggly pine will have more growing to do.
Stepping back, I see what a very great deal of courage it takes to become Mama. But it’s not the “I’m going to die gloriously and victoriously in battle” kind of courage - which I think might be easier. It’s the kind that involves small daily sacrifices and constant backbreaking, soul-refining work. I’m not a brave woman, and I’ll be the first to admit that I’m daunted by days upon days of this challenging life I never could have dreamed of. But I am discovering that I have, in this well, in these roots, in this growing tree, more courage than I ever imagined. More hidden strength. And much, much more love.
This is me, becoming Mama.