My mother once wrote me a letter. She told me, “You have donned the cloak of motherhood with ease and grace.”
Those were not words I would forget.
At the time, I wept with humility. The words gave me strength to feign confidence I did not feel.
They were with me when I stepped on a plane with my newborn son to begin a chapter of life that would slice me open.
They were with me when I cradled my five-year-old's limp body as his eyes rolled back and his face gushed blood.
They were with me night after night after night with no daddy-came-home! reprieve.
I may have donned the cloak of motherhood with ease and grace, but there was little easy or graceful about motherhood. So I gripped those words, squeezed them for one last ounce of strength, day in and day out. They never ran dry, though I often did.
Her words come back to me now, nine years after their writing, with a new layer of meaning. I wonder at her use of the word “cloak.”
She used to advise me: “Once you have kids, you always have kids." "Wait as long as you can before you have kids." "Once you have kids, you don’t exist anymore.”
Her words look harsh and jaded on the page, but they weren’t delivered that way. She truly meant them as nothing but a service to me.
As a new mother, I was determined to prove them false. As a mother of two I thought I had. When I hit rock bottom as a mother of four, I slumped my shoulders and admitted defeat.
She is almost always right, after all.
I didn’t exist anymore.
And yet, employing this cloak imagery, she contradicted herself. Because a cloak is something you can put on and take off at will.
Surely that couldn’t be the case with motherhood. Could it?
When I became a mother, I well understood and expected the sacrifice it would demand, and I paid it willingly. What I was not the least bit prepared for, however, was how it would change my awareness of my identity.
When a child is born, so is a mother. Like a child, she follows her instincts, graceful and stumbling. Like a child, she may cover her ears, but she’s always listening.
Like a child, she cries.
Like a child, she grows hour by hour, as some unknown hand distils her life-grappling into fuel.
Like a child, she is beautiful without knowing. And she came into this world with a self that belongs to her and her alone.
With each child I bear, I shed a skin of selfishness. What’s underneath is new and pink and raw. It will toughen over time. But into what?
Am I my skin? Or my raw, pink underside?
Or something deeper down than that?
I am my core, unchangeable. A girl who finds God in the rustle of leaves. A girl who sees the one. A girl who is lifted by lifting, who doesn’t know when to quit.
That’s always been me. That will always exist.
Everything else is just skin.