Attempts at Motherhood

OP Mother’s day 2021

For the last many years, this has been a hard day for me, and the years passing haven’t made it easier to stomach. It isn’t a pain one becomes familiar with, or accustomed to, or can just “breathe into.” This year had a particular twist or six, when we had the fleeting thought that we would sell the Airstream, and the man who wanted to purchase it was hoping to gift it to his wife for Mother’s Day.

This is a tremendously generous gift, in my opinion, as owning an Airstream has been a goal of mine since 1987, but it sliced me in just the right way that someone who already got the thing I really wanted (motherhood) would also get my other dream. And not from the infinite well of possibility, but from me.


It was a punch and a lesson, in that order.

First, I sat in self pity, as I do. I’m not proud to report that I still get stuck in the rut of woe is me, but I am just here to share the truth of my own experience, and that rut is Amazonian. Deep, wide, and filled with piranhas and so much biologic diversity it pulls one in. In the same time, however, I realized something new and everlasting about motherhood, which is that it is not a zero sum game. There are not a limited number of mother tokens out there, and your winning leads to my loss, even though that would very much help me cast a villain in this adorable shit show of my self loathing.

I have so many friends and fellows who have earned Motherhood merit badges, and the thing that feels inequitable about it, is that not all of them are mothers in the traditional sense. Some don’t get observed or celebrated, because they keep drawing a token that cannot bragged about (or commiserate about) on social media.

Some of them have — at long last — birthed a healthy baby, or completed the intricate complexity of legal adoption, and these victories are here for us to share. Some (many? most in my circles) have managed to keep their brood warm, fed, and just this side of cannibalism during a global pandemic. This is a new level of motherhood I don’t get, but I witness and marvel and recognize.

Equally important are those who have danced through the process of surrender — those who aren’t able to mother. Those who have lost and lost and lost in ways that are so devastating they simply cannot be conveyed in words, or the words they can use describe the journalistic facts without the gravity of the devastation. They seem to find me, and send me their best attempts at words — their tearful epilogue or rough sketch of their own Amazonian loneliness. But just like the Amazon, or other wondrous places in the wild, the awe cannot be captured and relayed in words, or in two dimensions or three. It’s the realm of abstract art — Guernica meets Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings, but also with an influence of the feminine, and my meager library of cultural references all lean masculine.

Perhaps this is part of what is so hard.

Below is an amputated version of my experience. You might be compelled to say “being a dog mom isn’t the same!” To which my most skillful reply is, “yes, my love, we fucking know that.”

Attempts at motherhood:

Every day, Dakota watches me.

When I am in the bath, she paces outside the bathroom door, clicking the nails we got trimmed just last week, wondering.

When it’s chilly, and I add a layer, she jumps up and sits right by the door like A Very Good Girl.


Why now? It’s cold. I’m tired. I’m somewhere so far beyond tired that I simply cannot.

(I’m a bad mother.)

I find myself wondering why she must pace. Why she cannot take herself for a walk. Why she must sniff every insufferable thing.

I’d like to think that I would be different with a human, but I know I would not. My impatience would be met with words instead of a cocked head, and 20 or 30 years later, an amends process.

(Or worse.)

This week I facilitated a zoom call for a cluster of my mother’s college friends. They hired me to coordinate a 50th reunion last year, and even though I have taught them the simple magic of Zoom-meets-structure, they seem to like having me around. This week was about “downsizing” from a big Midwestern multi bedroom home to something with fewer demands, less storage, and no yard work. There was a lot of talk of who to give “the stuff” to — and the terrible feeling of losing or letting go of the trinkets from one’s own parent. The disparity in generations.

My mother asked a question about what to do when you and your spouse disagree on an item, which is the sort of back stage pass we are not supposed to get from our parents.


I yelled in my head.

Dakota heard me. She looked at me — a head snapping look. A knowing gut punch that is the beauty of the nonverbal parent/child relationship.

She’s right here.

Teaching me.

To take my time. And walk. And cry on the daily, like a puja of my godbox and the anxiety who feeds it.

Her love is eternal, if distant. Watchful, not warm. My welfare is her duty. She leans heavily into her work as her soulmate, my partner rests and heals and wills his biliary tree to bend in the breeze and flow.

On that front we are United. We walk our worry away as the sun sets, alone with our tears and sniffing, partners in grief.

This is my experience of motherhood.

And I am grateful.

A black and white photo of the author and her dog, making awkward attempts at loving faces.

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