Over the next few days, I’ll be sharing different stories of motherhood with you from writers, friends and online acquaintances–women I admire and love and women who’ve made me more aware of the many different paths life can take. I am inspired by each of these incredible woman’s stories, vulnerability, strength and kindness. While Mother’s Day advertising can often look so shiny and sweet on the outside, we know that the stories women are living and telling about motherhood are far more complex and compelling. These stories are beyond cookies in the oven and stacked laundry on the dryer. I’m thrilled to call so many of these women my friends, and I’m excited to share their stories with you.
I don’t remember how I found Saira, but I’ve been following her for about a year, and I’m so glad I found her. Saira is a Muslim mom who home schools her kids in this magical “life-is-our-textbook, curiosity-is-our-guide” way. She’s smart and thoughtful and uses her voice to promote truth, acceptance and kindness. Her words, on many occasion, have made me pause and examine my own stereotypes. One of my favorite things about social media is finding people who are different from me and following along to quickly realize, “Oh wait, we’re totally the same.” Mostly, I want to have waffles with Saira and watch our kids play and talk about education and motherhood and the things that matter to us. I’m honored to have her voice in my space today. You can read more of Saira’s words on her blog or at Confessions of a Muslim Mom on Instagram.
It’s 6:17 am and the house is so silent that if it were any other time of day I’d be panicked. The only sound I hear is literally air-the space heater blowing to my right, and the light breathing of my youngest as he pushes into my side. Even in his sleep his instincts pull him towards me. Mother. I am his comforter.
I’ve slept well. I notice this because it’s been weeks since I’ve had a decent night’s sleep. We recently moved overseas to Colombia, and when our house was ready, our furniture remained at sea. So we moved into our white marble castle, and lived without any form of cushioning, save tired air mattresses.
The first time I sat on our sofa yesterday, I humiliated my daughter. “Don’t you love the feeling of softness on your bottom?” She covered her face. But it was true. To go so long without softness, it felt as though my entire body fell into the sofa’s deep embrace. The softness entered my body, allowing it to keep its natural form. Like a womb. For so long my body had adjusted to hardness, but the cushioning released my stress.
Cushions. And then I remember my mother.
I don’t know why cushions remind me of motherhood. My own mother passed away not too long ago. Oh how my heart still aches for her comfort. She was my cushion.
We don’t need cushions. Indeed, many societies live without them. But, oh what a difference they make as we make our way through the hardness of this world.
I follow an unusual path with my never-been-schooled, unschooled children. We live, surrounded by hardness of truth. We must. Raising Muslim American children these days means that there are realities they must come to know early. So that they can protect themselves. With rising islamophobia, they understand all too well the harshness of this world.
Their eyes are not closed to the images of genocide, of apartheid, of occupation. Their ears are not closed to the harsh cries of refugees, or those without homes. Indeeds, how will they grow to have open hearts, ready to fight injustice, if their eyes and ears are shielded from hardness.
But with all that they do, all that they see and experience, I am here. A cushion. A comfort. I allow them to face the harshness of the world while providing them the support they need to be at peace. To be in their most natural state. A womb. A support.
Because in the end, those that are rested are ready to rise up and fight.
I met Molly when she came to one of my writing retreats in Ojai, California. Some friends had convinced her to sign up for it, and I loved her immediately when–during introductions–she looked at me and my friend Claire and admitted, “No offense, but I don’t know who either of you are; but someone told me this would be good for me.” She was tough as nails on the outside. Kind, funny, a good listener, but she held her emotions when often everyone else in the room was crying through a story. It wasn’t long before we knew why when she volunteered to read something she had written about her own story. This was a way of life–being strong, putting emotions aside to fight and support and take care of her family. Behind that tempered steel layer is pain, infinite wisdom and a gentle love that has gripped all who know and love her. I’ve been to her home, watched my kids play with her kids next to the creek and shared dinner at their kitchen table in a loving home that feels so normal…and yet it isn’t. I’m so honored to share my friend with you today. You can follow more of her journey on Instagram @mollymattocks.
Our oncologist told me early on that I would have to find a way to live knowing that my daughter may not live– “probably won’t” is what he meant but wouldn’t say. I signed up for the type of motherhood that looked like driving carpool and braiding hair, so you can imagine my surprise when I listened to his words and stared at my daughter’s shiny bald head and bright blue eyes. For nearly seven years now Izzy has fought cancer, this merciless beast that has stolen her innocence and tried to take her childhood. Our doctor didn’t know it then, but those words; that “finding a way to live”‘ that he suggested, would become the hardest thing I have ever done.
Being the mother of a child fighting cancer is so many things. It is all the things about being any kind of a mother but on steroids. It’s almost like watching your child fall off a bike every single day and accepting that your kisses and a band-aid can’t make it better. It’s not turning your head when they throw up, but actually leaning closer to wipe the blood from their lips with a cold cloth. It’s looking at winter coats at the end of the season and not thinking, “I don’t know what size she’ll be next year,” but instead realizing, “I don’t even know if she’ll be alive next year.”
A lot of times I think I want another life, any life but this one. I think: how the hell did I get this life? Because it sucks and it’s painful and it just isn’t fair. But then Izzy looks at me and smiles. Then she asks me to snuggle with her because when she is afraid or sad I’m the only person in the entire world she wants. And then I think: how the hell did I get so lucky to be the one entrusted with her care? It’s a beautiful contradiction, to hate the life you are so in love with.
I wish I could tie a bow around those last two sentences and say that wraps up what motherhood is for me. But the truth is, it’s just part of the mother I am. Because over the years while I have poured into my daughter’s survival, there has been a little boy sitting at home watching it all. With few tears and even fewer words, he has sat back with great strength and selflessness. He, too, has been thrown into a world that children shouldn’t be exposed to. At times I’ve felt like I was losing one child in an attempt to save the other. Just because he isn’t the one with cancer doesn’t mean he isn’t also fighting this disease. And learning to see his fight and his pain has been one of the most challenging pieces of this journey.
Motherhood is a delicate balance of so many things. For me, the balance lies in learning to live while knowing that Izzy may not. But the tension comes when I remember that while I’m trying to figure out ‘how to live’ through this, there’s still a kid in the other room that’s just doing it. Raising these two children through this crazy hell we call our life has been both the hardest thing I have ever done — and the greatest privilege I have ever known.
I met Claire right after I had Dash at an awards ceremony in New York City. Our books were both up for a Books for a Better Life award, and she wasted no time in seeking me out and introducing herself. She is the great connector. I’ve met countless people who share the fact that half their friends were introduced through Claire. Over cocktails in the lobby of some fancy NYC event space, Claire and I became friends instantly. We’ve since hosted writing retreats together, traded all our deepest secrets, fallen off beds laughing so hard at each others’ stories and share a deep love for family photos, flattering skinny jeans, mountain biker bars and skimming off meaningless small talk to get to vulnerable wholehearted conversation with everyone we meet. I’m thrilled to share the words of my friend here today.
I’ve been through some hard things in my life – losing both of my parents at an early age propelled me into the work I do today as a grief counselor – but I was wholly unprepared for the deep grief and loss that came with my divorce. My ex-husband and I separated when my daughters were ages 1 and 4 and even though I had been the one to push for the divorce, it was utterly startling and completely devastating to find myself as a single mom with two young kids to take care of on my own.I think I cried every single day for that entire first year. I felt like a failure, both personally and societally. I could hardly bear to be around other married moms and I worried that I had irrevocably ruined my children’s lives. These feelings were confusing in contrast to the conviction I still felt that my marriage had not been the right one, and for many months I simply felt lost. I struggled financially, barely making ends meet most months and I relied heavily on a few close girlfriends for support.
Each day I put one foot in front of the other though, determined to show up for my daughters no matter how much pain I was in. And it was this determination — and all the hardship — that actually helped me strive to create all the wonderful things that are in my life today. Out of necessity I grew my business, I learned about money, I took better care of myself physically, and I showed up over and over and over for my little girls. Eventually one day I realized that I wasn’t sad anymore and I even found gratitude in all the hard work this painful life change had forced me to do.
Today I am happily remarried to a wonderful man and we have another baby on the way to add to our big, blended family of soon-to-be 8! However, I know that I will forever look back on my five years as a single mom with a sweet nostalgia for all the ways that hardship shaped me and for the bond it created that drew me and my girls even closer.