As I write this my daughter is settling in for a nap for the first time ever at her daycare.
At first glance, it may sound odd to say that with such a dramatic tone. I mean, to use the precious beginning line of a post to tell you that she’s taking a nap at her school is perhaps a misuse of the real estate. But there’s more.
The more begins a long time ago when I was married to a different person. I had a different job then and a different house filled with belongings that were soaked in piles of debt that required me to work at a high-paying, high-stress job to pay off. All of it was pretty normal. And it all came tumbling down when I was trying to get pregnant.
Before the tower fell I thought that this is what a woman did. She worked at a job that required tremendous emotional and mental effort. On her way to work, she dropped the children at daycare. Here the people who knew how to care for children would do their job while I did mine. This belief was so ingrained in me that when my then-wife said she wanted to quit her job when we had children, I freaked out.
No one wants to have that level of responsibility, I told her. I was referring to both her, being the sole caretaker, and me, whose life would be reduced to breadwinning.
The divorce changed me. The wisdom of Ayurveda and yoga has changed me. Being pregnant changed me. Meeting my daughter changed me. So I’m certain that my ex would be quite surprised to hear me say what I’ve been saying since my daughter has been alive: I don’t want someone else raising her.
Which is why this nap at daycare is such a big deal.
Why Modern Mamas Feel Crazy
You’ve got to be a bit insane if you want to raise a child these days. We are caged in homes far away from each other, alone in our cooking and cleaning and working. Each of us is secretly crying from the misbelief that we are failing because we cannot do all this. We are not failing — the mainstream culture is.
The mainstream culture has asked us to put all our bets on what happens outside of our homes. The praise goes to external successes. The fancy new cars and vacations go to people who work hard. Meanwhile, our children are being raised by strangers. And we wonder why they grow up and forget to call.
My ex was right to want to quit her job. I’m far enough away from it now to say that I honor her desire to give up her career to give our would-be children a foundation. Yet I was right too — no one should take on these burdens alone.
Anxiety is a Healthy Response to an Unhealthy Request
I work with a lot of mothers who are trying to feel better. They’re seeking intuitive guidance to know where their anxiety is coming from. They’re seeking Ayurveda to understand why their digestion has been so bad since they had kids. They’re looking for yoga to give them something they feel they are missing. As I work with mamas in these areas I often end up reminding them that they are not broken; it’s that they have been taught to believe that the trap is what they should want, even when it feels so very binding.
A healthy response to an unhealthy request — generally deep, gut wrenching anxiety and swallowed screams — is what keeps most women up at night. Compliance with the trap, which I was about to do in my first attempt at being a mama, is far more damaging.
It is not easy no matter how you do it. I know because I have tried everything. I held my daughter in a sling for six months (her lullaby was my clicking keyboard). When I could no longer deny that I needed help at nine months, my husband and I scraped together the funds for a part-time nanny/surrogate grandmother. We did part-time schooling and I rearranged my days to be with my daughter in the afternoons or found trusted babysitters for the times my schedule could not shift. For five years I loved the sacrifice. I loved what I was giving her — my face, my attention. But I hated that I was always stealing time from everyone, especially myself.
I long for a network of grandmothers and aunties, or a chain of mamas to split up the caring. I long for it so deeply I can feel the fire warming the caves in which we used to do this so many lifetimes ago.
But it simply does not exist that way now. Most of us pay for our villages these days. We pay for childcare and surrogate grandmothers. We pay for daycare and ice skating lessons. Often we must accept that what we can do is do our best given the world in which we live. I did my best before by making her time my top priority in the earliest years. Doing my best now means embracing a longer school day.
She Started It
I don’t think we would have even considered the longer day if Leonie hadn’t brought it up first. She hounded me for months about how her friends got to stay. She told me with envy how they brought stuffed animals for nap time. And they got to do a second recess, she begged.
Then my business began to throttle up. Our afternoons were no longer easy trips to the park or baking cookies, but a four-hour negotiation between my needs and hers. It became clear that what I had once wanted had run its course.
I believe that listening to our deepest desires — the ones that won’t shut up — is one of the most important spiritual practices that exists. We should note them, stay with them, peel them back to see the even deeper desires lying beneath. While not all of them are possible, this kind of self-inquiry leads us down a windy path to a place that smells like home. Some of them become fulfilled, and some of them are cut off by an obstacle that reminds us that what we thought we wanted must at times make way for what is right. To give in to what is painfully obvious doesn’t make us weak, it makes us flexible.
The First Day
What I did that first day was a lot of decompressing. I cried. I took a long walk in the woods. I took a nap. I wrote and saw clients. I made love to my husband in the middle of the day. I ate lunch free from a gorgeous child hovering over me with her endless, unanswerable questions.
It felt right, and also strange.
When she got home we played with her dollhouse. We wrestled on the floor. We talked about her day. She couldn’t stop talking about how great it was to stay longer. She asked if she could do every day she’s there.
As we reset our bond that afternoon, I remembered the wise advice my midwife once told me: Every day they move farther away from your womb. It is this negotiation of closeness and separateness that defines the journey of a mama and her child.
In the five years that I was hers more than I was anyone else’s, I gave up countless opportunities to grow my business, work with renowned teachers, or spend more time in self-study and daily practices that fuel me. I cried sometimes about it. I raged at the inequity other times. But I surrendered all of my misery the moment she called my name in that sweet song. And I regret nothing.
My daughter has taught me more than any of these missed experiences could have. She taught me what kind of Ayurveda I want in my life, how I define health for me and my family. She taught me how to be efficient in my practice of yoga, to focus on what is meaningful to me rather than what the childless teachers say we should do. She taught me to be astute in my self-listening, to heed the warnings when I was giving too much away or holding too much back. And she has taught me how to let her go, tiny bits each day.
This is why I call her my tiny guru — because she has offered me far more awakening than anything I could have followed outside of her.
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