Dreams and Motherhood

Cimorene Elizabeth Cooley
Born Aug. 6th, 4:24 a.m.
7 lbs. 2 oz.

I check on her ten times during her nap just to make sure she’s still breathing. I hold her and just stare at her, amazed that I could have played a role in helping to create this moving, grunting, slurping, beautiful creature. I love her. Why can’t that make it easy?

I made cinnamon rolls last night, because I wanted proof that I could accomplish something. There’s not a lot of satisfaction in changing diapers when I know my little girl will likely poop again within five minutes.

I needed that sense of accomplishment to balance the panic I sometimes feel over moving into a stage of life which is unquantifiable. Always before, I could measure my progress against something. I could win a piano competition. I could master a dance lift. I could get an A, keep my scholarship, etc. But now I’m a mom. I want to be a “good mom,” but what does that even mean, and how will I know if I’m accomplishing it?

I’ve watched moms for a long time. It’s always been my goal to become one, so I thought I ought to know something about them. I marveled at the strength and selflessness of these unsung heroes. But now I wonder if I’m strong enough to go unsung.

The transition from “Shannon” into “Mommy” scares me. I feel that I’m covering up all my old masks with a giant new one, a mask which doesn’t get rid of the things I previously used to define myself, but which smothers them and tells me they’re not allowed anymore. But this new mask is not me either, and part of me is crying at adding one more layer to an already overly-masked soul.

The first week I was home from the hospital, my mom, knowing me all too well, looked at me with worry lines across her forehead and said, “You can’t stop dreaming. You just have to find new dreams.” But where do I find those dreams?

There’s a book my mom told me about years ago. I’ve never read it, but it’s called “A Lantern in her Hand.” Apparently it’s about a woman who is young and full of dreams, but she gives them up to raise a family, and her children go on to do all the things she hoped to do.

My daughter got her daddy’s long fingers. Though she’s only two weeks old, they’re already over a third the length of mine. Everyone who has seen her hands has held them up and commented that she’ll play the piano. Those who knew me when I was younger add, “just like her mom.” Everyone also talks about how she’ll “have” to be musical, because there’s so much musical talent coming from both her parents. I had dreams relating to piano once. I tried to give them up years ago, but it would be so easy to let them slide onto my daughter.

She has long limbs also, again from her father, not from me. She’ll likely have the tall, slender build that I always envied in dancers like Kami, my friend and former coach. My daughter will have lines which would be gorgeous for dancing, but I can’t push that dream onto her either. If she wants to dance, I’ll be thrilled, but only if she’s doing it for herself.

I can’t transfer my dreams onto my children. I don’t want to put that kind of expectation on them, because I’ve known people who had to choose between their own dreams and their parents’, and that’s a situation I never want my children to face.

So where do I look for new dreams? And how do I let go of the old ones? I have dreams I’ve been trying to give up for years, but they still lurk, coming out whenever I get too tired to fight them. I’ve attained Mommyhood, which was always the “big dream,” my career plan, but now I find that all the little dreams, which were just meant to fill time until I reached this one, have somehow become a part of me, and beyond not knowing how to amputate them, I don’t want to.

Does that make me a bad mom?

I love my daughter. I wouldn’t give her up for anything. I still can’t believe God trusts me enough to lend her to me.

Maybe that’s the real problem. I don’t trust myself nearly as much as God seems to trust me. My old dreams bother me because they remind me of how I don’t feel unselfish enough, or prepared enough, or just enough. Back to quantifying things again. I seem to have a fixation with that.


Shani said...

I apologize for copping out at the end. I hate writing conclusions, even for academic papers. I think I've only written one satifactory ending, ever. I should probably work on that.

Sky said...

What a doll. And, hey, you can't write a conclusion because there isn't one, nor will there ever be. You now have another life attached to yours--forever. Sounds overwhelming? It is. But, it gets better . . . then worse . . . then better. I promise. Don't long for things to be good and well--a trap we all fall into. Earth life never reaches plateaus of pure happiness and peace. It keeps moving. But, you learn to adore every good day or moment and set your teeth tight against the bad. And, we keep walking. Only now lucky you have more company. The more your family grows, the more you have great spirits around you to comfort and heal you throughout all eternity. After, you have children you are never alone again (literally, in the first years). It's a wonderful feeling.
But, Shannon, I so relate to the physical agony of setting dreams aside for a while. That can even seem like the physical tearing of muscle. One time when I was having trouble with this, I got an interesting answer to prayer. It's sacred, but I'm going to tell you anyway, since I never see you anymore.
I was teaching full time while raising six kids and a "husband." Between lesson plans, grocery shopping, potty training, etc. plus dealing with an energy sucking illness, I often felt like I couldn't breathe because I had no time for myself. But, you have to treasure your own dreams, no matter how you squeeze them in. Figure out a plan because the dreams feed you. Me? After Jim fell asleep, I’d often sneak out the window and sit on the roof to write--small moments of pure flashlight delight. Yet, this stopped also after the kids became teenagers because they came home around midnight and took away even that small amount of space. I felt like pieces of me were flying out to everyone else leaving me shredded, with nothing of Me. Does that make sense? But, in prayer one night, a soft answer came. The Spirit said, "You will be compensated; you will not lose any good desire of your heart. This is what eternity is for." I was amazed and thrilled as that vision opened up, But, then horror set in as I saw what kind of patience this would take to wait, maybe even until the next life, for some dreams to unfold-- especially since "patience is not a strong suit of mine (or yours). Yet, think of it: To be a goddess, we HAVE to have patience even as great as Heavenly Father’s. What a plan. What a way to let us practice patience until it’s really a part of our character. I think the Lord is brilliant (ha, obviously). This path we walk is bigger than we can imagine. I love you. You’re strong. And whatever you can’t do, Heavenly Father can. (I feel like I should say Amen, and I remember promising never to give advice again. Ha. Sure.)

Jami said...

I liked this honest piece. You made me imagine in a realistic way what it may feel like to transition from having no children into being a "Mom."

While I know some dreams need to be laid aside for a while, I think keeping those dreams close by are exactly what will make you a "good mom." Setting aside all dreams to "sacrifice" only leaves people crusty and dry, which is not good for children in the end.

This is exactly what has horrified me about being a mom, but I've met a lot of people who help me realize that becoming a mom doesn't have to mean the end of all dreams. Some people choose that route, and that's unfortunate. But the mothers I admire the most are the ones who play tennis in the morning, get a babysitter and go on a date with their hubby, go jogging with the stroller, play the piano with their toddler on their lap, read wonderful stories out loud to the child even though the plot is going completely over his/her head, and sing them to sleep.

This change of thinking has placed me on an interesting path; I'm not ready to be a Mom yet, but I don't think it will be awful anymore. I will still make time for me, with the complete support of Travis, and that will keep me sane, healthy, and content. (With, of course, moments of insanity, disgruntlement--is that a word--and frustration.)

Shani said...

Jami, I completely agree; the martyr mentality is something I've really been afraid of falling into, and something I think I WAS falling into for the first few sleepless weeks. One of the hard things now is trying to figure out which dreams I can reasonably pursue. Competing in dance is pretty much out, but I've started going to Capoeira (a Brazilian martial art/dance) with my husband (he's the teacher, so we can takethe baby), so I'm at least using my body again. I'm also focusing more on writing, which I can do in little snippets of time. I'll get the hang of this thing yet.
It's also good to hear you're feeling a little better about future motherhood.

meghan & jason said...

I'm really grateful for what you have all said. Shannon, I read "A Lantern in Her Hand" when I was young (like 6th grade), and I loved it. I don't remember anything about it except that it was about a good mother, and that's all I ever wanted to be. Sounds pretty ridiculous that that's what I wanted in middle school, doesn't it? I know you are going through a tough transition right now, and you are one of those women Jami talked about. You'll find a way to make life brighter and more interesting than ever before. It will take time, I guess. I'm learning that everyone has challenges that all sort of even out eventually.

Sister Morgan, thanks for sharing your thoughts on patience. It seems Heavenly Father knows just what we think we can't live without, and he lets us learn patience by having us live without it anyway. I really had to force myself to say "lets" instead of "makes." Really he's making us though. It's not in my control to be a mom or not to be. It's all in His. I don't understand Him. I trust Him more than ever after all this, but it's partly out of desperation. If I don't trust him, I'm giving up. And I won't ever give up. Sometimes I feel so stupid. Why do I have to care so much about being a mom. Could I have hidden it and pretended to be completely fascinated by painting or something that wouldn't ache so much when it was taken away? Obviously you can't hide that from Heavenly Father. Sometimes I wish I could have. I know He knows what is best and when the time is right. I know he knows what we need to learn and how. This is the first time I've ever asked "why me" in my life. (I used to pride myself on never doing that. Ha.) I guess everyone has to do that sometime, just to learn to accept tough stuff. Some weeks it's easy and I am as trusting as a baby. Some weeks, like this one, it's harder. I had a dream the other night. I haven't told anyone about this but Jason, who I really couldn't help but tell since he wouldn't accept my sobbing "nothing" for an answer--even at 4:30 in the morning. You'd think he'd be glad to go back to sleep. I had my baby girl in my dream; it was wonderful. It wasn't even a great baby dream, but the problem was it was a dream. I woke up. I tried to go back to sleep, but I felt so empty handed. I don't know where my babies are. That's what I sobbed to Jason. It sounds funny, maybe. It's not. Where are these children I'm supposed to watch over? Why am I empty?

That's it. My fingers stopped moving, so I guess I'm done. I just had to type it all out. I read what you said again, Sister Morgan. Thanks.

Jami, if you got this far, I really wanted to tell you how happy I am that you are feeling better about being a mom. You have great insights about not letting yourself disappear, which must be harder than it looks. I'm sitting in my dark apartment (sun went down while I read), and I feel as if it's just us four in a room and I just spilled my guts. Thanks for listening.

meghan & jason said...

Okay, I really messed up this post. I tried to put that comment on, but the computer said it was too long, and apparently it did it anyway....every time I tried.