The Motherhood Lobotomy

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!

A dancer…?

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.

The Little House & Me


Within the city of Brahman, which is the body, there is the heart, and within the heart there is a little house. The house has the shape of a lotus, and within it dwells that which is to be sought after, inquired about, and realized. Even so large as the universe outside is the universe within the lotus of the heart. Within it are heaven and earth, the sun, moon, the lightning and all the stars. Whatever is in the macrocosm is in this microcosm also.
~Chandogya Upanishad


Do you know the story of The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton?  It’s a book published in the forties with a sweet little house on the cover and a big contented sun on the back. It’s been a lifetime favorite of mine.  What more could a long-ago child want?

The story begins like this:  “Once upon a time there was a Little House way out in the country.  She was a pretty Little House and she was strong and well built.”

Her-story continues as the Little House watches the seasons pass from her hill in the country and is soon surrounded by a village, and then a town, and finally—by a city–where she is so crowded-in by buildings that she can no longer see the sun or the moon.  The Little House becomes shabby and misses the apple trees and daisies that once grew around her.  No one wants her anymore.

I pulled this thin paperback off my child’s crowded shelves with the others that he had grown too old to enjoy.  But rather than pack The Little House with the rest, I placed her on my writing table, sensing that her story and mine were somehow aligned.

Once upon a time, I was a little girl, pretty and strong, living in the country—of childhood.  There were daisies and apple trees and plenty of spaces to grow and imagine and thrive.  But as the seasons passed, thoughts moved in and troubles and worries crowded out the moon and the sun –and soon, I grew shabby too.

So shabby perhaps that my own father decides to travel during the week that I have planned to visit my family at their seaside home.  I sit on the porch of my own Little House in the mountains and sob, wondering how I have become so unworthy.  It’s true, that at 45, I am an old daughter, with chipped paint and crooked shutters, but so is my father, older and shabbier still.

My son finds me on the porch, and sits beside me in my grief, placing his hand on my shoulder.  After I finish crying, I tell him that he might be ready to have a girlfriend after all.   Just the day before, I read from a book on teens that young men aren’t comfortable enough with the intimacy required to be in a relationship.  In less than 24 hours, he’s proven that wrong.

At 14, this same son, leans over my bent neck at the dinner table and kisses me before heading to the sink with dishes.  It’s an act of tenderness that ripples through my heart and sorrow.  He hasn’t kissed me of his own accord in years—and never on the neck like a man might do.  I am both touched and shakened by his sweet and mature response to grief.  I begin to feel less shabby.

It is the great-great-granddaugher of the man who built the pretty Little House who comes to retrieve her from the crowded city.  She puts the Little House on wheels and takes her over the big roads and the little roads until they are back in the country.

So must I find my worth–not among my father’s crowded life–but in the wide open expanse of love that surrounds me when I move away from troubled thoughts.

My story and that of The Little House share a similar path of healing and love:

As the Little House settled down on her new foundation, she smiled happily. The stars twinkled above her…A new moon was coming up… Once again she was lived in and taken care of.”

Kelly Salasin

“That’s My Daddy” from 4 to 40

by Kelly Salasin

That’s my daddy! That’s my daddy!”
A four-year old girl stands with a tiny suitcase in hand as a passenger ferry pulls into dock. When she spies her father on the second-story deck, she jumps up and down, shouting, “That’s my daddy! That’s my daddy!”

Surprisingly, that little girl is me (almost forty years ago). I can still remember the smell of the docks warmed by the summer sun, and the sounds of gulls flanking the ship as her stern squeezed itself into the tight embrace of the piers.

That’s my daddy! That’s my daddy!” I hollered, tugging my Nana’s arm into the air with each leap. I had come to spend my first overnight at my Nana’s house in Rehoboth, Delaware, and we had a wonderful day. We picked berries, walked along the boardwalk, visited the beach. I plucked ripe tomatoes from her garden and met the frog who visited her there.

But when the call came late that afternoon to check in on me, it was all over. As soon as I heard my father’s voice over the phone, I fell to pieces, saying that I wanted to go home… right then.

His reply?

“Yes.”

Decades later this response seems a minor miracle–given my father’s lifetime indifference to the emotional aspects of parenting; and the increasingly challenging relationship we shared as I aged.

Even more amazing is the fact that I wasn’t down the street or across town, I was in another state–and a couple hours away–including a ferry trip across the Delaware Bay.  

The story grows even more climatic, as my penny-wise, pragmatic father, forgoes his plans to have my Nana board me (so that he doesn’t have to pay for the return trip)–and crosses the ramp himself to lift me into his arms, unable to resist my excitement.

That’s my daddy! That’s my daddy!”

This phrase has taken on mythical qualities in the legacy of family, but you’d have to hear like I do with the twang of my Nana’s Delaware accent. She retold that story on each visit we made to her beachside town so that by the time that I was in my twenties, I no longer knew if I recalled any of it from experience, or if it was simply her telling that I knew so well.

But it doesn’t matter, because it served the same purpose: it anchored the affection between my father and me–for a lifetime. Perhaps, Nana, in her grandmotherly wisdom, knew that we would need to draw upon this for many years to come.

As I grew up, it was my mother whom I found easier to love. She and I had more in common and easily became friends as I entered adulthood. With my father, things grew increasingly difficult, particularly as I began to spread my wings, and even more so after my parents divorced and my father remarried.

My dad had been the one prone to anger and erratic discipline, and increasingly absent from our lives. He had always provided for our family, and we were proud of his work as a surgeon, but what we really wanted was his time and affection–something he never seemed able or comfortable enough to give in any large doses.

And yet, strangely enough, it is his shining moments of devotion that are strung along in my mind’s history of our dance together. At eight years old, I remember the day when I discovered that my mother had disposed of my beloved “blankies,” telling me once and for all that I had grown too old for them. This triggered an episode of hysteria that typically my father would dismiss with a fury, but instead it was he who listened to my tears when he arrived home from the hospital. Like a knight in shining armor, he rescued my blankies and returned them to me– pleasantly amused at my passion–and the simplicity with which he could be my hero.

In looking back, perhaps it was my father who was the more tender-hearted one of my parents after all. He certainly was more prone to the range of emotions that accompany one who lives from the heart. Or maybe it was simply that his moments of grace were so few and far apart that they took on larger-than-life proportions. Whatever it was that possessed him to sudden strokes of fatherly greatness, the memory of his heroic acts last to this day.

My favorite story is not the “That’s my Daddy” tale that my great-grandmother loved to retell, but another precious moment that occurred just between the two of us. It is a moment that has been forever etched into my heart because of the unforgettable intimacy that it held.

It was a snowy day in downtown Philadelphia, 1969. I had just turned five and was waiting outside in the cold for my daddy to pick me up from kindergarten. He was in his third year of medical school at Jefferson. He forgot me.

Schools were different in those days. They didn’t keep track of every child and there wasn’t someone “on duty” who sent me inside to wait. In fact, when I trudged through the unexpected snow back to the school entrance, I found the janitor locking the doors, and learned that my only option was to re-enter this imposing stone building from around the back–which seemed frighteningly far away to a little girl who was certain that her father would not find her there and that she’d be left forever.

Because I was told to wait out front, I did, shivering as the snow fell upon me.

My father never did remember me until he arrived home that afternoon an hour late and my mother asked “Where’s Kelly Ann!?” By the time he sped up to the curb, my teeth were chattering uncontrollably and tears were frozen on my cheeks. My young father quickly lifted me into his arms, turned the heat all the way up in his car, took my hands in his and warmed them with his breath. Then he removed my socks and shoes and placed my frozen feet– and this is the best part–under his shirt, snug against his belly.   We rode home like that, our bodies touching, his warming mine.

To this day, that act stands out as one of the most loving moments of my life. In fact, I repeatedly challenge my husband’s devotion by insisting he warm my cold feet against his belly each winter night.

Sometimes, when I find myself filled with resentment for my father’s failure to strive for any of the “Hallmark” standards of parenting, I see that little girl with the suitcase in hand,

And I decide to give this love story another chance…

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