Making a Mess

The world is not enough for me without you in it, M, and now that you are here, there's so much more to do and so much more at stake!

Since becoming a mother, I carry a feeling that everything I do (or don't do) has greater depth and implications. Whether or not this is true (and it may well not be because motherhood gives both a real and romanticized sense of purpose in our culture), it has focused my energies significantly on writing. Since M, I've written more poems in a single year. Since M, I've sought publication more. Since M, I've tried new forms and/or voices, new subject matter, and generally allowed inspiration to come from anywhere really. Since M, I've even given up a bit on perfectionism as just a few hours with M will quickly demonstrate its futility.

But what happens when the world is a mess.  Who will clean it up? 

Being a mother means you have this little self out in the world (and someday she will be doing gods-know-what living god-knows-where and you can't always protect her). This part has always been true for mothers. BUT the world is drastically being altered in our current moment at an alarming rate and I have no idea how to prepare her for it. 

Hodler, Ferdinand. Mother and Child. Public Domain

Although it's hard to say for certain, this time feels different. It's simply not enough to raise a good natured, empathetic human being - although this certainly helps. From climate change to nuclear war, the eradication of our natural resources and parks, the increased amplification of racism, sexism, and homophobia... somedays it's hard not to despair. 

Am I alone out here?

Corot, Camille. Hagar in the Wilderness. 1835. Metropolitan Museum of Art

So what does a parent do in this age? I don't pretend to have the answer, but I keep asking myself this question. Everyone has their way to make sense of the world and make change. Everyone has a part and far, far too many are complacent or afraid or just plain distracted.

For me, it begins with writing. Words have power. A man or woman can literally fall to their knees when they hear the words "I love you" or its opposite. It can alter the course of his or her life.

The expectation to do more and be more, of course, has downsides. It's exhausting and endless. But I look at M, and I think how can I not? It's very similar to my writing. How can I not write? So out of the mess and the distractions and the despair that is our news cycle, I write to make sense and I hope to make some change from it too.

Do I set my standards too high? I would never tell my daughter to aim for less. But I'd also tell her it's ok to make a mess. Don't expect it to be perfect.

The writer Anne Lamott has said “it’s such a gift for someone to tell you the truth, and it’s such a gift for someone to create art with the mess and the chaos and the despair of life, to have turned it into a song, a poem, a novel. It’s the hugest gift we have to offer one another.”

If for nothing else, I leave her these small gifts.