I like the skins on sweet potatoes. I enjoy their texture and I like knowing that there are nutrients in them. I also don’t particularly like peeling them. It adds an extra step that is not necessary, which makes a difference in the limited time I have to cook us a meal. But she doesn’t like them. If I leave the skins on anything — sweet potatoes, carrots, grapes, even chickpeas — she sticks out her tongue and spits until the offending characters out of her mouth. Perhaps the texture is too much for her smooth baby tongue. Or maybe she doesn’t have the right technique to adequately grind the skins down with these new teeth of hers. My job is to smooth the rough road ahead of her, so I peel the sweet potatoes before I put them in the food we will share.
A million things like this happen each day. Even when I am exhausted or checked out or just ready to not be a mom for a few minutes, I have no other choice. Peel the skins, wipe a poopy bum, pick up the flecks of rice she has tossed to the ground during lunch. I wish I could say that I never complain, but this is a path of practice. If I had figured out a way to eliminate all my attachments, I wouldn’t need her in my life.
Yet when I do complain, or rage silently as she declares that she actually doesn’t need a nap, I can see through the thin gossamer of my behavior. All that time I spent asking for her to join me on this path and now I find a reason to question this experience.
What other purpose would I serve right now if not for her? What other aim would I be trying to reach besides responding to her need to be held, to nurse, to put on and take off her shoes a hundred times an hour simply because it amuses her? None as worthwhile as this.
It’s not to say that I don’t get tired. Or bored. Or frustrated. But those feelings, like all feelings, are fleeting. She and I may enter an epic battle of which leggings to wear, and I will inevitably give up, throwing her unworn clothes on the bed and storm out of the room to find my breath. Then, as the inhale fills me back up, I pause. I remember: she is becoming her own version of life. It is not my version, something she and I are realizing more each day. So I go back to her. I sit on the floor where she is, both of us confused and a little scared. I pull her to me and talk in a soft voice. I explain my shortcomings. I tell her I am human. I tell her how she triggered a response in me, but that my love does not go away no matter what feelings overtake me.
This is karma yoga, the path of service that all mothers are on. It is why I wake up early in the morning to give myself time to myself. It is why I read the same book (again!) each night. The path of motherhood, like all spiritual pursuits, is not an easy one. It asks us to do what we might never have chosen otherwise. But as it takes the parts of us that are not really us, it gives in much greater ways. And that is why I peel the sweet potatoes.