by Kelly Salasin
Circling the grocery store parking lot for the third time, I see a bumper sticker that sums it all up:
“Did you ever stop to think, and forget to start again? “
Though my husband threatened lobotomy for years, it wasn’t until the birth of our first child that I knew what it was not to think. Days and nights passed postpartumly without any occupation for my mind. And although it continued to operate on auto pilot, there were moments when it shut down altogether.
This wasn’t an easy transformation for me. I desperately clung to my previous life of thoughts. But what are plans and lists and goals to hours filled with diaper changing and dishes?
I remember the end of one particularly long– uneventful day. I cleaned the kitchen, picked up the floor, put the baby to bed and climbed to the top of the stairs, sat down, and cried. “I don’t remember the last time I had a paycheck,” I wept to my husband who had just arrived home, 12 hours after he had left us in the morning.
Endlessly exhausted from the deprivation of identity, I became a sleep junkie. I waded through the thick hours of each morning and afternoon to my next “fix”– the baby’s nap. There, in the countless moments spent on the edge of consciousness, I rediscovered my dream self.
Though I couldn’t have claimed it at the time, I had begun to relearn what it was to define myself from the inside out. Motherhood threw me a buoy in my doing obsessed life, and I began to float. Out of this was born my need to write– to reconnect myself with the world.
I had to learn how to work in bits and pieces. No longer could I, obsessed, spend an entire day driven toward a singular goal. The needs of the baby and my needs as a nursing mother forced me into balance. Perfection volleyed for its usual attention, but I had to let her go too.
This new found freedom from perfection gave me permission to try all things new– and old, exploring the visual arts for the first time since college. When my son was four, I took him to the studio to sign up for a class, only to discover that he was too young. He squeezed my hand and said, “Why don’t you sign up for a class then, Mommy?”
Terror seized my heart and soared through my mind with these thoughts, I can’t! I’m too afraid. I’m not good enough. I’m too old. I can’t afford it. I don’t have time. But with the promise of my little boy’s face and faith before me, I responded to deeper call.
The artist’s canvass presented a new venue for my expression of self, this time compounded with the pregnancy of my second child. Though I had deeply desired the changes that another round at mothering would bring, I found myself unable to manage the tremendous shifts that were already taking place.
I spent evenings in the studio isolated from my classmates, painting wildly on long strips of paper with my hands. My first piece was entitled, “First Trimester Hell”; the next, “Opening to Pregnancy”; and then “Migraine”; and finally, “Integration.”
Sharing my body with this second child was a bit like being out at sea in the eye of a storm. I felt completely out of control but all the while the baby inside was quiet and calm. He came into the world in the same way, and with blue eyes like the ocean and blonde hair like the sand.
My mother died five weeks later, and together we traveled 300 miles to be at her side. I nursed him in my arms as she passed, singing a lullaby to both of them. It was the same song my midwife sang on the day of his birth. Through this weaving of lives, I came to know that birth and death were petals of the same flower.
This experience gave birth to another expression of self– a gathering of women who came together to sing— of our connections, our dreams and our tears. My son grew up in my arms as we sang.
My work as a healer began to take shape within the circles of life. More and more, I sought to create, and in doing so, to serve. It had been a long way home to my creative self. She was buried in so much that didn’t matter, consumed with reaching a finish line that didn’t exist. Before the motherhood lobotomy, the fire in me that was artist was smothered by my need for perfection, for destination, for speed. Obsessed with “doing”, I lost any knowing of self as creator; but in the “beingness” of mothering, I’ve found a softer place from which to orient my life. A fluidity. A grace. And I’ve come to know it and to trust in it, not through effort or accomplishment, but through experience and surrender, over and over again.
In the spiral dance of motherhood, I have learned what it is to proceed without understanding, what it is to initiate action from the heart, and what it is to allow a challenge to be teacher rather than obstacle.
Motherhood has shown me what it truly means to be an artist– to live creatively in each moment– to be playfully present– and to follow my heart and spirit from which my creative self flows.
What once felt like an “ending of self” has created an opening from which to truly know myself. The path has unrolled before me, as it was when I was a child. I see my life as an unending canvass and I, its beloved artist, called upon to fill it with color and light, over and over again.
Am I writer? Yes .
An artist, a singer? Yes, yes!
A healer? Yes!
Dancing is the fire into which I am presently called— to be the dancer of my life, the dancer of my dreams! As I approach my fortieth birthday, I find an inexplicable desire to take a ballet class. This is truly the voice of my soul– for my mind is raging protests: Beginning ballet at forty years old! Do you have the body? The clothes? The aptitude?? You can hardly touch your toes! Didn’t your mom pull you out of ballet at age of four because you were so bad?
Navigating my life at this moment without my mind in the driver’s seat is terrifying, but I’ve been down this road before. My children have taken me, each holding a hand. I know I will be safe if I can just allow another layer of ego to be burned. I must dance!
The “Yes” lies in that soft place, the one created by my children, uncovered by them, allowing me a slow decent to my soul. For once upon a time, I stopped to think… and never started again–and for that motherhood lobotomy–and I am forever thankful.