You are teats-tingling, hairy line from your pubis to your belly button, stretched skin that has spread and then shrunk to create ripples and dapples. You are bite and aching neck and an arm that always reaches out and will hold a child when they need to be held and will grab that child when they need to be held back. When children hit their heads on a rock or a table or the thinly carpeted floor, you will run to them and hold ice to the pulsing bruise, and in the back side of your left cheek a bulge of your own will burgeon. You are power, though you do not always know it. You are sparks and mirror neurons and a life force throbbing to reach the future.
But sometimes you forget this. Sometimes you lie in bed, or wish you were lying in bed, or wander through the rooms of a dark house, a dark cave. Sometimes you push your fingers deep into rocky clay soil, so deep you cut your finger on stone, and still the barb at the back of your chest is a barb, and still your mind is full of voices that conflict. Something pulls you elsewhere, and something holds you here, and you do not know which is the better choice, and so you stay.
Mothers have lost themselves in this space. Hands on children. Hands in the sink. Hands in water turning red and then clear and then frothy. Mothers have brushed their children's hair and seen their own selves spiraling upwards, like the strands of a spider web, filaments floating and breaking in a breeze. A snail crawls across red bricks on the sidewalk, grit on grit. A blue egg cracks in the gutter. Where are you now?
Once you were young, and like all of us, naïve, and this is how it always is, so don't beat yourself up. Once you thought motherhood wouldn't be bristle, the sharp knob on the back of your neck, the sharp throb of a nerve two inches right of your left armpit. Once you thought motherhood meant family-hood, or something like that, forgetting that it was you who was the mother—you alone, mouth open and then clenched on a dark and throbbing night.
Do not believe this is anyone else's story. Do not believe this is anyone else's choice. When you stare into the lake or the river or wipe the mist from the smoky mirror, you will only see yourself.
Oh, mother. You don't believe me. I see you caving in, like a carcass, so full of fear you've already made yourself dead. I see you eyeing the white cloth, the small sock, the twisted clasp of the bra. You don't believe me that the anger in you is part of being a mother. You don't believe you will remain a mother just the same. You don't believe that the eye-flash, hiccup, aching longing to be elsewhere, is one and the same with the hug so tight you feel your child's bones.
Oh, mother. The time will come when the belly will glisten and the sky will open and the mud will seep to your ankles. The time will come when the den is empty and the nearly grown daughter will stand at your side. The time will come when the leaves crackle a message and you will let go of the things you need to let go of, and your body will lighten so much you will fly.
But until then, lean close and listen. Hear the fervent scratch in my voice. In the deep folds of your pelvis, in the center of that hardened fist, you have always known the answer. You have always made the choices you needed to make. You are not stupid. And when the next choice comes, you will gather yourself—milk, bones, and bristle—and you will go.
I wrote this piece immediately after finishing Clarissa Pinkola Estés's Women Who Run with the Wolves, a book I wish I'd discovered much earlier in my life.