I read something once that has been stuck in my head like a bird batting around inside a summer cottage ever since. It keeps trying to get out, bonking into itself in mirrors, frantically skittering across the ledge of a closed window, when the adjacent one is flung wide open. For years, my mind has kept this little bird of a thought captive for some reason, tossed it around and gnawed on it, refused to let it go.
It was this simple portion of a line, eavesdropped in a letter my mother had written to a friend when I was young and never sent: “….and this little girl, who I love, but who so restricts my freedom….”
I don’t even recall the language that preceded or followed it. Just an overall tone of discomfort with life, a dissatisfaction, a yearning for more. When I first read it, and for many years after, I understood those words as indicators that I was a hindrance to my mother, that she didn’t want me, that I anchored her otherwise wanderlustful heart. While there were other things that made me harbor those thoughts as well, the words in that letter felt to me like hard evidence.
But I am thinking of those words again today, rain pouring down outside my window, finally a mother myself, and I understand them so differently. Tucked into those fourteen syllables is the great dichotomy of motherhood. We hold within us the greatest love, right alongside the greatest loss. The truth of the love doesn’t negate or devalue the truth of the loss, and vice versa. They just exist, side by side.
It wasn’t that my mother didn’t want me; it was just that she also wanted something else. And she was reckoning with that, as we all do at times.
One of the many gifts of motherhood later in life is the perspective to understand that things are rarely black and white, especially when it comes to human emotion. We are multifaceted, complex, contradictory beings. And that’s ok. Grace lies in giving one another, ourselves, our children, the space to exist in our wholeness, without judgement.
I crack the window a bit to hear the rain, to get some fresh air, and to give that old, restrictive thought a way out.