The Evolution of a Mama

Turns out, I miss this place. I went on for many months quite happily without the computer. Working on my farm projects. Summer was banner this year, and my plate was manically full. But somewhere around July, I started to itch for writing. A place and a way to express my thoughts, to communicate all the stuff that crowds my head. Ears who care to listen.

Now, don’t go creaming yer panties, I’m not coming back here on a regular basis. But, maybe just a quickie now and then, in the laundry room.

Besides, I have some important addendums to the inherent subject matter of Apron Stringz. My life as a ‘mama who likes to get shit done’ continues to evolve, and it seems wrong to leave off when new discoveries are being made.

Not that I have come to any conclusions. As usual the farther I get into it, the more confusled I become. Certainly nothing has become clear to me, in my absence from blogging. I have not come back to share brilliant epiphanies. But that’s why you love me right? For laying bare the absolute bewilderment of life and loving?

I do have one particular thing to say, the thing that has made me come back, an admission.

For the record– it didn’t work.

This whole ‘yielding to motherhood and the inglorious work of housewifery’ thing, it didn’t work. I mean, I guess it worked for a while, gave me some peace when I needed it most. Allowed me to survive a period of intensity that otherwise might have destroyed me. I still recommend it, wholeheartedly. If you can manage it, submitting to the humble task of motherhood is a strangely liberating experience.

I just want to make sure you understand the further evolution of that story. Although I cultivated it successfully for a few years, as soon as the life-or-death necessity for submission had worn off, I abandoned it like a leaky rubber boot. I went straight back to my old ways– taking on way too much for someone with small children, trying to do it all, wanting it all with an almost debilitating lust, then beating myself up for failing on all accounts.

Part of that is just summer in Alaska. It all happens so fast. It’s winter and winter and winter, and then all of a sudden– BAM. It’s summer and it’s going to be over before you can finish even half the projects on your list, so hurry the fuck up!

But I can’t just blame summer. There’s more to the story.

Six years ago now, we had our first baby. I slowly and painfully began to set aside my own projects and passions for the all-encompassing work of motherhood. Two years into it, we moved to New Orleans, My Man went to law school, and we had our second baby. Enter the Submission Phase, blah, blah, blah. I gave up on accomplishing anything of consequence, outside of raising up two beautiful new souls. I didn’t submit easily, in fact it was emotionally akin to amputating both legs. But I did it– I put my own, separate, non-mama path on hold for a few years. I relegated my passions and what I consider my real work to ‘charming hobby’ status.

Then My Man finished school. Moving back to Alaska was something of an anti-climax because even though I was back in my own home turf, surrounded by my previous years’ work on our little property, My Man was studying harder than ever for the Bar. Time and energy were still too tight for me to take back up those passions in any meaningful capacity. So, I squelched them back down and screwed the lid on once again.

Our little backyard homestead lay in a state of dormancy, fertile soil covered in a dense blanket of weeds. It would have to wait.

My mind lay similarly neglected. After years of fighting for each little scrap, I had acquired a resident apathy. I could hardly remember what I might care to do with myself, should I ever have time to do anything in. As someone who had been vehemently motivated to do cool stuff, before I had kids, the apathy was perhaps the most disturbing thing of all.

But, here we were– back home in my chosen context, with all the things I claimed to care about around me. And that is when my greatest fear of all surfaced. What if I had just changed? What if I didn’t care about homesteading and wilderness and harvesting anymore? What then? What would I care about if not that?

This is the identity crisis which I alluded to in my few posts last summer, but never had the guts to write about. I was terrified. I had built my entire life around this homesteader dream, the possibility of it’s loss was haunting.

Our girl started kindergarten that fall. Suddenly I had just one kid again, for half of every day. The desperation of mothering two littles began to ease. I had finally settled back into Alaska. My Man passed the Bar, and started working. At long last, the 3YO began to sleep through the night and into the morning, allowing me a good night’s sleep and an hour or two of quiet solitude at the beginning of each day. I took a deep, wonderful breath.

My mind opened tentatively into that extra space, like a hermit crab poking out of it’s shell. Is it safe? Is there really room for me again?

It was at that moment in time, serendipitously, that I discovered permaculture. I was ripe and ready, it was exactly what I needed. Knowledge! Learning! Permaculture was the next step to everything I had done before I had kids– an advanced course in gardening and homesteading. I was consumed, like a hot, teenage crush. It was so exciting to be excited again. Even now, when I hear the intro song to Thomas the Train (which allowed me many an hour to sit around learning) I feel a wave of giddy joy.

And that is when I realized that I had not changed at all. I had not lost my love for all things which grow from the soil, and a life which relates to wild nature. Rather, my lust for learning had just been squashed by too many loads of laundry, I had had too many attempts to try something new crushed into the ground by a screaming toddler. I had given up.

I had tried for graceful submission, but in the end had settled into apathetic resignation. Not towards my life as a whole, but certainly towards my personal passions and ambitions.

I still believe that graceful submission would be a beautiful thing. I did hit it for small moments, and they were good and sweet. I don’t begrudge the resignation either, it is acceptable to me on a short term basis. It served me well when I needed it.

I was so thrilled to find my own spark still alive, so relieved that it was (conveniently) still flaring in the same general direction, that I hardly cared whether it had been submission or resignation or what. I flung my painstakingly acquired good mom habits out the window and set right into ignoring my kids in the name of backyard homesteading.

I weeded out three years’ worth of creeping buttercups and planted all my old garden beds. I started teaching classes, something I had always wanted to, in bread making, gardening and wild plants. I butchered, packaged and froze two black bears given me by a local guide. I started making herbal medicine. I picked gallons of wild blueberries. But, most significantly, before summer had even begun, I ordered fifty chicks and ducklings thereby turning my nice little gardens into a full fledged small farm.

I ordered the birds while there was still snow on the ground. I had spent the winter drawing up a totally awesome permaculture design for our property, and had convinced myself on paper that I could build an addition to my coop which would quadruple it’s size, before the chicks grew out of their brooder.

I had forgotten that I was in fact still a mama! You can throw the ole’ submission idea out the window, but the kids don’t seem to notice. Well, I’m sure they noticed something. Like the fact that I had stopped taking them to kid activities around town, stopped doing crafts with them, stopped reading stories in the middle of the day, and started a hell of a lot more yelling.

It wasn’t all bad. There were some absolutely amazing days, the kind of days I imagined motherhood would be– working outside building the coop, or digging in the garden; a little pack of kids ranging around between our yard and our neighbors, happily playing in the sunshine with sticks. Brilliant days, which I did have the good sense to stop and appreciate, recognizing these moments as the best of the best, what I had always hoped my life would be like.

I don’t regret my regression back into project-land. Mamas busy with projects are a good thing. But there’s busy and then there’s too busy. I do regret ordering fifty birds. What the fuck was I thinking? I could have simply doubled my flock, like a normal person, just dabbled in raising meat birds; but no, I needed to quintuple my flock so that I could put a year’s worth of birds in the freezer, and still have several different laying breeds left to trial.

The stress of all those animals under my care, inadequately housed (barely better off than factory farmed birds for a while there) gave me actual belly cramps during the month of June. I just couldn’t build fast enough. It seemed like I managed to nail up about two boards/day.

At any rate, here I am now, at the end of it. A nice big pack of roasters in my freezer, and a beautiful flock of laying hens and ducks. I am learning new things, evolving my homesteading skills, moving forward on my path again.

Occasionally I miss those days when I just let taking the kids on an outing, doing laundry and making dinner be enough. I am still often jealous of the mamas who can sustain that kind of devotion. But I am not that mama. For me, submission was a temporary helpmate.

And for you other mamas out there who used to like to get shit done, who now feel your own passions numbed by motherhood, understand that you can submit for a few years and still resurface intact at the end of it. It might take some time to wake your mind and passions back up, but don’t be frightened by a little apathy. When the time comes, your spark will reignite.

29 thoughts on “The Evolution of a Mama

  1. I had to give this a faster read that I would have liked, because I am in the middle of getting some serious shit (law school application odds and ends) done by hiding out in my office after hours, and need to get home to feed my husband and first grader! (Yes, they can feed themselves, but I DO IT BETTER.)

    It is just a lucky coincidence that I had my reader open when your post popped up a few minutes ago, but I was elated to see you back in this space. I don’t care if it is a quarterly occurrence, I’m just happy you’re still around.

    From another mama who tries to get way too much shit done (and has mastered the art of falling on her ass and picking herself back up), welcome back. :)

  2. Fantastic post and story update CJ. And oh, how I can relate.

    I don’t think I ever needed to get into the submission side to the extent that you did – didn’t have a partner studying his arse off at any point, and in fact my husband has worked part time ever since our first kid was 12 months old (except when I was on maternity leave with the others). So for a period after each birth when I had newborns, for sure. But once they were about 6 months old I gradually had more time for my own passions.

    BUT, now baby number three is three – oh, and also I took a redundancy from my job earlier this year, giving me eight months worth of income to work on my own thing three days/week – well, have I ever rediscovered my passions and it’s like I’m in heaven. Or, you know, hell, sometimes, but mostly heaven.

    Mind you, I still have those days when I think, if I would just give this all up, and Chris went back to working full time (which he could with no problem, though admittedly he doesn’t actually want to), I could have five days a week to manage the household, do stuff with the kids, catch up with friends, even plant out my vegie garden (it’s Spring here and so far – nothing. I’m getting to it though! The frosts aren’t over yet anyway.). And, we could have two day weekends back, which would be bliss.

    Instead of which, I am working Sunday-Wednesday (though school holidays are about to put an end to Tuesdays), plus several evenings, because I have a book due to be launched as an ebook mid November, which means if I want the print copy available then I have to have it ready by mid October in order to have proofs approved etc, which mean… help! It means I should be working now while Doc McStuffins is on, not writing to you.

    But, I love it. I am having the absolute time of my life. And I agree, it’s good for the kids to see their mum engaged in projects and work they are passionate about. Only, I am quite looking forward to taking some time off over Christmas. Summer holidays start mid December, so I’m *hoping* to be able to take a month on minimal work hours from then. And that is going to be bliss too!

    So glad to have you back CJ! :)

  3. Thanks for this post! I’m standing smack dab in the middle of mothering a toddler and an infant with zero time for the things I desire to do and not enough time to do the mothering things I feel I must do. So spun up in a tizzy most of the time that I don’t see the bigger picture …”this too shall pass”. I’ll look forward to your next post, as always.

  4. Ahh, I love reading what’s going through your brain..thanks for sharing! Just wanted to let you know that you have inspired me to submit during the last few months if only for brief periods. There comes a time though when mamas must pick up their hat and go forth in the seeking of personal fulfillment..otherwise what is the alternative?

    Best wishes for happy travels down your new found path of giddy joy. :)

    1. small freezer actually, by alaska standards. spring black bear are small. one of them was not much meatier than me. plus, i canned a load too.

  5. “And for you other mamas out there who used to like to get shit done, who now feel your own passions numbed by motherhood, understand that you can submit for a few years and still resurface intact at the end of it. It might take some time to wake your mind and passions back up, but don’t be frightened by a little apathy. When the time comes, your spark will reignite.”

    Thanks for this. It comes timely. With one 3.5 year old and a 1-month-old I’m *longing* for the toddler years to arrive. Not much music, not much sewing happening around here these days. Cheers!

  6. Perfectly written and perfectly timed, as I myself am wrestling with the balancing act of submission and rebellion. Glad to see your name pop up in my reader again.

  7. I am sitting here on a rainy Saturday waiting for my labour to being in earnest on my second baby, hubby is home waiting and watching the 2 1/2 year old, my first few moments to tuck my head out of my shell in ages – so happy to find a post from you – exactly what I needed. I still have a few years of submission ahead of me and have been woken in the night by overwhelming pangs of panic that I’ll never come out the other side, or if I do, I won’t know that woman anymore.

  8. I don’t why I didn’t get this delivered into my email. Humph. Some sort of technological hiccup. Anyways, I was just finding something on my old blog, and happened to notice this down in the corner of the blogroll. Well, I’ll be, there she is, at it again, and she didn’t tell me! Ha, ha, ha (that is the grown up version of LOL, by the way, much classier).

    Anyways, fuck graceful submission, you found permaculture, which is much more exciting.

    I am in the midst of a ‘took-too-much-on-feeling-burnt-out-didn’t-I-learn-my-lesson-yet’ kind of phase. I stopped blogging, promptly threw myself into writing my urban homesteading journey book, suddenly diverted to a one-in-a-lifetime-opportunity to promote a business I had started with my business partner, and then found myself spiralling into a fucking mess of a thing (someone else’s mess, not mine, let me tell you) which sees me volunteering a lot of my time, neglecting my kids, ignoring the housework more than usual, stubbornly still prepping for Spring/ Summer, and cursing everyone for getting in my road as I stomp towards the finish line. When I will be free to go back to just being a mum and wife, who happens to urban homestead in amongst working part-time, and doesn’t kill herself trying to do it friggin all. Let’s see how that works out for me.

    Love ya, baby. Write some more, hey.

    1. love the “cursing everyone for getting in my road as i stomp toward the finish line.” me to a tee. sadly or not, you and i will never be “free” to be just a mum and wife, because we don’t want to be just a mum and wife. we will always ride the waves between these phases. might as well accept our lot and bless the things we get done in our manic modes.
      glad you found the new post! wonder why it didn’t go to your inbox?

      1. I think I had a WordPress subscription issue, is all, but you can’t keep a good woman down… I re-subscribed. That that, technological glitch.

        You are very true. The reason I don’t learn the lesson, is because I am crazy. And passionate. And determined. And crazy.

        So are you, you maniacal chicken raiser. I can’t get the vision out of my head of you crazily hammering more and more chicken houses together, the chickens growing before your eyes, as you make a chook house, the chooks have grown and you need to make another one all ready.

      2. yup, you nailed it. but, if you think that’s funny, you should have seen me chasing my roosters around the yard when butchering time came! it took me three days, and there’s still one last M*&%%#@F$%&#&# i can’t catch. them are fast!

  9. Welcome back, my long-lost beloved voice of the internet. So happy to hear you again and glad so many interesting things have been happening.

    Quentin Bryce, our kick-arse female Governer-General her in Australia, (we’re so colonial) said once ‘of course women can have it all. Just not all at once.’

    Seasons and roles shift and change. Small children ask so much of us. More in fact than we have to give, usually. They ask most of us to submit and disappear into the void for a while. It only makes sense that at some point they will start to step away, and release us a little to see our own needs again.

    I love your take on motherhood and life.

    More please,

    xxxxRach

  10. Ive just reread this post, and all the wonderful comments, for a third time. Tonights re-read came after sitting buy the NINE year olds bed so he would be able to go to sleep. NINE! AHHHHHHHHHH!!! I even swore at him to go to friggin sleep (by the way, that tactic didn’t work). How long does this bloomin’ submission thing keep pecking away at us? I’m pretty much done really. A friend once said to me, before I birthed my three, that being a mum is like being pecked to death by a duck. A duck I asked her? Yeh, she replied, each little peck is harmless, annoying, but harmless. But when they just keep on pecking, and then their sibblings join in, well… you get the picture. I didn’t then, get the picture I mean, but daamn I do get it now. So, I re-read your post, soaked up all the commentary, and felt a little less alone. More thanks, good woman, more thanks to you.

    With desperate gratitude – Katja

    1. i still dress our 6yo, and take her into the bathroom when she has to go (she claims to be afraid of monsters). recently she had a crying fit because i wouldn’t pull her pants down for her. “my hands are full of toys! you need to do it!” she balled.
      yeah, life with kids is still totally crazy-making, even after the underwater drowning stage passes. but you have three! my lord, how do you mothers of three stay alive?

  11. Please keep writing. You are an oasis of honesty in the sea of petty and guilt-laden mommy blogs.

  12. Oh my goodness, I didn’t realise you’d stopped (ish) blogging!! I’ve been away too – pushing the projects vs kids boundaries myself and finding that gives me no time for blogging or keeping up with anyone elses. Anyhow, thank goodness for you and your blog. You always seem to be going through things very similarly to me, but manage to give it a comedy spin. And boy do I need a comedy spin right now! It’s really reassuring to know you get some headspace back once they go to school. I’ve got 10 months and counting.. I love that you bought 50 birds! Great article on the Permaculture Institute website by the way.

  13. Wow, I could not have read this at a more perfect moment. I am just entering this motherhood thing (with a not-quite four month old baby girl) and I’m definitely wrestling with being at peace with doing less/doing more than I’ve ever done/feeling the need to do more than just laundry and put food on the table/being bored out of my mind/being content with just staring at my baby/being exhausted and exhilarated at the same time. Thanks for saying its okay to live in all of those places. It’s amazing to hear/read your feelings and thoughts spoken in someone else’s words. Thank you.

    1. Welcome friend, so glad you found this space. I hope you click around a little, you’ll find lots more solidarity, especially in the Readers’ Favorites links in the sidebar.
      Good luck on your journey!

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