Invisible Astronomy


When I sit down to write about parenting, I find I don’t want to do it. It’s not just resistance, I don’t think, as much as frustration at a feeling of invisibility right on the heels of the exhaustion from the work of dealing with the emotional needs and battles of my kids.

When children are little, everyone recognizes that as a mother you’re the center of their universe. Their needs are simple and visible: food, elimination, sleep, touch. As they get older, their needs become more complex and by nature, more internal. This is both our path and theirs – our orbits become erratic and peculiar, and what determines them much harder to see. As a mother, it seems mere gravity is no longer enough. Now you need magic, which is what really holds the world together. But the world doesn’t see, understand, or value, this magic.

My daughter today is angry, mean, striking out like a sea serpent choking on its own brine. She storms off, flinging the evil eye and slamming doors. Everyone ignores her because, in the story of our culture, she’s hormonal, cranky, or just being a bitch. Female emotion is kind of like magic, except the scary kind, which means it’s much better not seen.

Partly she is angry at me for telling her she didn’t finish cleaning something. She is a perfectionist, and doesn’t like to be told she didn’t do something right, that she fell short. Partly she is upset at the inevitable injustice that comes from having two brothers. Partly there is something else. There is always something else, some wobble that threatens to make her spin away.

This time I do not follow her. I do not try to manage her, or cajole. That never fails to make her angrier or push her away. I wait and try my best to trust that everything will be ok, that she needs to experience her own free range of motion and correct it herself. I know she’s old enough now that she’s her own little planet, that she knows where I am, and the center will hold.

And yes, she comes back to me, crying, needing warmth and recognition, wanting my gravity again. She is hurt – her body aches from growing pains, all over, and her soul is heavy from misunderstandings and little griefs that have added up to too much. She wants to be held, understood, and loved.

All of this has been invisible to everyone but the two of us. This is not a bumper sticker on a car proclaiming honor student status, or an award won or an A on a test. It’s nothing simple enough to brag about, even if I had the energy or inclination to. This is huge, and wonderful, this work of mothers and daughters (sons, I believe, tend to be more regular and predictable little planets) and yet here I am sitting alone, edgy and exhausted. Space is lonely.

I believe as mothers we need to call into the void to remind ourselves that we’re all out here and these things matter. That the work of the heart is as important as money earned or bridges built. Our culture doesn’t value of gifts and because of that, little by little, we begin to see only what is dimly lit by our daytime lives and forget our true power. Gustav Holst wrote a symphony about the planets, and it’s beautiful. Maybe if we listen to ourselves we’d hear the same thing.