The Gravity of Motherhood

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Years ago, when my middle son, Ben, was 8 years old, he spent two months at Children's Hospital undergoing numerous surgeries for a neurological condition. I was not the hospital parent (the bedside parent, the parent who can handle the issues that show up at night with beeping monitors and pee bottles). I was the parent who arrived every morning with a chocolate chip bagel for him and a coffee for my husband (the hospital parent). Every day of the forty he stayed there, I was by his side, hoping to cajole a smile or laugh out of him. Every day I was there to talk to doctors and nurses and to be present for the painful procedures. And every night I had to pull myself out of the orbit of my love, to go back to my mom's house a few minutes away, to sleep (that was the plan, anyways). I can still remember more than a decade later, the incredible gravitational pull I had to that boy in the hospital bed. I couldn't get up fast enough in the morning, morning after morning, to get back there. I could not stand to be away from him.

When he was going through numerous spinal surgeries in Philadelphia at Shriners Hospital a few years later, the distance was physically painful for me. Our orbit stretched beyond what seemed emotionally possible. I was still not the hospital parent, needing to stay at home with our two other sons. It was torture for all of us.

Today, twelve years later, I still feel the gravitational movement of my life around theirs, their lives around mine. As they get older, of course, the pull is still there, but the distance between us is somewhat greater. My children, their lives, their happiness, how they move in the world. This is all a part of my experience of the Universe.

I never knew it was going to be like this, motherhood.

And I never had thought of it in those terms until this art journal page emerged last fall. 

It started as they often do, with no particular plan. A collage of old book pages from an old physics textbook. A portrait of a woman, probably from the 1700's. Some paint. Some rubber stamps.

I cut out the background behind her and played with what wanted to be there. "What is she sitting in front of? What is being revealed by those curtains? Who is she?" I asked my intuition as I worked. But I had no idea. Always a good thing. I like to be open to what mystery needs to be revealed.

As I shuffled images behind her--different landscapes, interiors, abstract art, a cheering crowd--I checked with my heart and fingers and guts about what felt right, what was asking to come into this story. I landed on an image from an old book about astronomy. It showed the Earth and Mars in space. When that image was in her window, it felt juuuust right. Just like Goldilocks, I landed on my sweet spot.

But why? I still had no idea. I fingerpainted, I put the astronomical image in place. I stared into her face, a face looking away from me, lost in thought. There seemed to be some pain or sadness there. As there was in my heart that night. I played around with the concepts of "orbit" and "the Universe" and "science", but class ended that night with no resolution for me, as it often does, and I left the page to sort itself out in time.

You see, my unconscious mind is far wiser than my conscious mind. And in my art journal, more than any other place in my life, I give it a voice. I give it space to teach me, awaken me. I get out of my head, into my heart and onto the page. And invariably, it creates the most fascinating pages for me to learn about myself.

So that is when it came to me. Orbits, gravity, magnetism. 

When I got back to the studio a week later, I opened to this page and found the old physics textbook again. Of course that is where I'd started! (Thank you, wise intuitive mind.) I searched through it till I found pages with references to gravity, magnetism, and orbit. I pulled an old dictionary off the shelf and pulled out the page that had the word "orbit" defined. I read through these pages, glued them into my art journal, and then redefined the terms, from my mama perspective:

  • ORBIT: A path described by one body in its revolution about another (as by a mother about her child or by the earth about the sun)

  • GRAVITATION: a force manifested by acceleration toward each other as of a child and mother

  • MAGNETISM: a class of physical phenomena that include the attraction for a mother to her child and are believed to be inseparably associated with love and pain. 

When Ben's first ordeal in the hospital was finally all over, I sat on our loveseat with him and my younger son, Toby, reading a pile of picture books and there was nothing I wanted more than to feel their little bodies safely tucked in next to mine. As close as could be. As tightly connected as two magnets, pulling pulling together. 

These loves are truly visceral. These relationships are a part of my waking and sleeping existence. These mother stories of mine are inextricably intertwined with my understanding of the Universe.

Today, those boys are 20 and 17 and I still feel that pull. If we're in crisis of some sort, all the more.

Be with me. Trust me. Need me. Be free. Come close. Move away. Fly.

As I worked on this page about my relationship with my sons, I reflected on my relationship with my own mother too, as I so often do in my art journaling practice, and I felt all the more that tug and pull. The gravitational energy between a mother and child. The gravitational pull of motherhood, pulling on us all through the ages. 

How is your mother story entwined with your understanding of the Universe?

Let us know in the comments below.

Interested in exploring your mother stories through art journaling? Join us for Motherland: Healing Our Mother Stories through Art Journaling and the Expressive Arts, Mother's Day Weekend! Click here to find out more! Only 3 spots left! Registration closes May 5th.

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