Reflections on Motherhood
Karen Pruitt Fowler
by Karen Pruitt Fowler
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Fowler, Karen Pruitt
Reflections on Motherhood/Karen Pruitt Fowler.-1st ed
Designed by Karen Pruitt Fowler
Cover Photo and Design by Karen Fowler Photography
United States of America
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
Being a mother is, by far and large the hardest thing that I've ever had to do. There are no instructions handed over to you upon the birth of a child. Which is a little daunting in itself. Think about it-- even a thirty-dollar DVD player comes with instructions and at least a cryptic warning or two-- because heaven-forbid you should damage or ruin it. The absurdity!
Let's assume that said new-parent has the basics of common sense, say, enough to know how to feed, shelter and protect their offspring from the various dangers that lurk in every shadow. But what about the tricky stuff, the emotional complicated testing points? Handle a situation even sort-of the wrong way, and you're child could end up years later on the FBI's most wanted list. That's enough to make a woman's ovaries shriek and run for cover.
Assuming you survive raising one child, all bets are off if you decide to press your luck and have another one. This is because experience with one child does not ensure successful raising of a second. Each child is different, unique in a way that allows for almost no prior experience to be useful. While a quick hug and a pep-talk might have been enough to comfort one child, when used on another may fester emotional dependency. Yikes!
So what's a parent to do? The only thing they can; try their best and talk things over from time to time with other parents who are facing the same trials and tribulations associated with Parenthood. And pray. Then pray again.
In this book, I've attempted to share my frustrations, my introspection, my pleasures and my humility. I've collected essays, poetry, short fiction and even a novella, all from a decade's worth of being a mother. Sprinkled throughout, like seasonings, are quotes from others that just felt like they belonged here, so well did they capture what I was feeling as I compiled this book.
I hope you enjoy this glimpse into my life, and find method to my mommy-madness. And I hope that I've done this topic justice.
This book has been several years in the making, just as my children have been. Without them, this book would not exist, and neither would the strong, creative woman that I've become.
So, I dedicate this book to my children, Owen and Emma, with sincere gratitude and reverence. Each day with them teaches me something new and reminds me that the life we've all been given is a gift, one that should be nurtured and embraced.
Karen Pruitt Fowler
Preconceived: A Poem
From the smallest of matter
an incandescent thought
seeking the light,
a life charged with
the current of affection
I wait. I want. I need.
grasping at air,
a fallow garden
And so our mothers and grandmothers have, more often than not anonymously, handed on the creative spark, the seed of the flower they themselves never hoped to see -- or like a sealed letter they could not plainly read.
The decision to have a child is to accept that your heart will forever walk about outside of your body.
Watermarked Dreams: Essay
There is a water-stain on the ceiling above my bed, created one night when the roof decided to leak. I stare at it often, early in the morning, when the only thing stirring is my mind. While the sun is rekindled from blackened ash, thoughts of escape creep into my head. This stain, this black mark upon my dawn, has become an omen. How else could it haunt me so?
Somehow, whether a fluke of nature or the twisted device of the Gods, this puddle of water has dried into the shape of the contiguous United States. It is the color of my morning coffee– café au latte– sweet with cream. And it is driving me mad.
This stain is there to remind me, morning after morning, that I am going nowhere. Not to the next state, not across the country, and certainly not around the world as I once dreamed. I am stuck in this muddy rut of my life with no vehicle of motion in sight. Somehow, while I wasn't paying attention, I became a rusted-out jalopy, with wires hanging from my undercarriage and two flat tires. Obviously, I am going nowhere.
When I was a child, I dreamt of far off, exotic places. Ancient temples, Pavilions, and Cathedrals were my destiny. I would walk along the Roman Aqueducts. I would spit from the Eiffel Tower. I would stare at the same churches that Monet painted ad nauseam. I was going places. I was so sure of my future back then. Life was going to be one big, never-ending discovery. I was hopeful and excited.
And now, I spend my days circling the wagons about the camp, trying to keep my two children from doing harm to one another, while changing out the laundry and fighting the constant derivation of dirty dishes.
This watermark has shown me my limitations in life. It shows me just how far that I will never go. It is darker around Texas, my birthplace. I haven't been there since I was an infant, and realistically, I will never go back. My ceiling holds no Europe, no Far East, no island archipelago. Distant lands are so far out of reach for me that they are not even on my freak-of-nature map.
I glare above me, wiping my bleary eyes, while dreaming of places close by, but still out of my limited reach. New York, where life is vibrant and mobile. Louisiana, where the bayou nestles each looming, moss-draped plantation. Wyoming, where horses gallop into the pastel horizon. There are places I long to witness with my own fallible eyes, to capture the moments that no camera can.
I dream of little towns, sprinkled across the country. Places just like the Eastern Shore where I have lived most of my life. Given my meager existence, I'd like to think that it is possible for some other woman, trapped by the circumstances of her life and cursed by a leaky roof, to look up at her stained ceiling in cadence with me each and every morning. Maybe she misplaced her dreams as well. Or better yet, maybe she lost them and then found them again. I need to talk to that woman.
That comforts me, to know that I am not alone in longing for what I will never have. It has to be possible, it just has to. I can't be the only woman in America, the Land of the Free, to feel jailed by her responsibilities.
Not to say that I regret having a family. I suppose sacrificing my life, the life that I once yearned to have, is but a small down-payment on the possibilities of my children's futures. I am the one that suffers for the good of the masses. My son could develop a cure for Cancer. My daughter might bring about world peace. My children may impact the world as we know it in a very large and positive way.
Maybe the whole Equal Right's movement has duped women in a major way. In gaining equality for all, we were led to believe that we could, in fact, have it all. Women's Lib gave us the right to dream big, but the reality of motherhood does not allow for the fruition of those dreams.
A woman may become a groundbreaking archeologist unearthing treasures in Egypt, but a dutiful mother may not. A woman may find a cure for Cancer in some ant-built dung-heap in Africa, but what mother would drag her children to the perilous plains? A woman could become the next Shakespeare, penning literary gold that will be read for generations to come– but not as long as she's birthin' babies and chasin' rugrats.
Women now have the right to vote, attend prestigious schools, and shatter the glass ceiling– if they are willing to forego motherhood, or at least postpone it. A woman can be anything that she wants to, but most of what she wants is not compatible with having small children underfoot.
In my mind, we are no better off than the women of Jacob– who wove textiles, nursed babes and dreamt of the illusive golden palace where servants would attend to their every whim. In thousands of years, women have gotten nowhere.
So what is the difference between today's women and the Jacobite women? They knew not to waste time longing for the unattainable, their roles in society were well defined and thus, abided by. Whereas, we do our motherly duties begrudgingly and stare at the water-stained images emblazoned on the ceiling at the start of each day, trying to decide whether it is acceptable to want more than what we already have.
The only solace seems to be this: I accept my lot in life and immerse myself in its daily tasks. After a full day of mothering the children and the house, I am too tired to covet a life that I don't have. I fall asleep abruptly and without dreams, for there is no room for dreams here.
The night will pass quickly, and I will be fine– until I awake in the morning to face my watermarked reverie. Thankfully, my gaze then falls to an angel baby, fast asleep in her bassinet. She is real. She is my heart. And she is definitely within my reach.
I just pray that she, along with my rambunctious son, will be enough to quiet the tumultuous waters of desire.
They have to be.
Career Mothers are not kidding anybody. Being a mom is the hardest job of all. You've got to work to rest.
If you bungle raising your children, I don't think whatever else you do well matters very much.
Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis
Apples to Oranges - Essay
Growing up, I had moments where I believed that my mother must love one or the other of my siblings more than she loved me. Admittedly, I usually found myself thinking such thoughts when I was getting grounded, or some other unjust moment. Like all children, I was the center of my own universe, and didn't yet see that everything wasn't always about me.
Now that I'm a mother myself, I have a different take on a mothers love for her children. Notice I didn't mention anything about that love being equal, because it is not.
Now, before anyone get's their panties in a bunch, allow me to explain. Or sit quietly and wait for me to finish.
Nobody loves any two people in exactly the same way. It would be an impossible to love two people the same, as they are in fact two completely different people, all the way down to their cellular makeup. Insulting it would be, to insinuate that two people are alike, comparable, as that is the anti-thesis of being a unique individual.
Simply put, that's like comparing apples to oranges. I love apples for their natural sweet texture, their crisp skin and the taste of rain on my tongue. I love oranges for their sunny disposition, their tangy bite and the way the juice bursts from each section under pressure. To treat either of them as the same diminishes the very qualities I love about them.
The idea of "equal love" incorrectly implies that affection can be measured in a quantifiable, calculated way. Even suggesting that is possible is absurd.
Any semi-scientific mind will tell you that in order to measure one thing directly against another they must be comparable. The differences, or variables, must be controlled. Even a set of scales will only measure weight, not value or intelligence or any other myriad of traits.
I chose to not diminish my children by treating them as a unit, for my children are more than just a product of my womb. They each own their own quirks, faults and delights. I love them each individually, to be compared to no one, not even each other. To love them any different would be like trying to compare apples to oranges.
Vignette: Morning Chaos (Fiction)
While the bacon sizzled in the pan, Maryanne went to wake her children. Her son Brady, six, was always the hardest to rouse in the morning. On any given school day, she would prompt him at least three times before the tow-headed child would finally stumble to the kitchen table.
"C'mon, Brady! Get up." Maryanne lifted the covers from her son's face. "I overslept! We have to hurry.."
Brady sat up in bed. With the back of his hand he rubbed his eyes, and then shook his head. "But I'm ti-ir-ed, Mom!"
Maryanne stared at her son and pointed to the clothes she'd placed on the
foot of his bed, indicating that she meant business. Then she left to wake her daughter.
Kira was the extreme opposite of Brady. The perfect child, she was a Cinderella look-alike. The eight year-old was usually dressing each morning before her mother knocked on the door.
"I'm glad you're almost ready Kira," Maryanne smiled at her daughter from the hall. "Brady's pulling the usual. Can you get him to the kitchen in ten minutes?"
The obedient child nodded eagerly, "Okay, Mama," then resumed pulling her hair back into her standard—pigtails.
Maryanne sighed and brushed back her own auburn locks. She should get a haircut, or at least do something with what god gave her. She couldn't remember the last time she'd put on make-up. Nor could she remember the last time Stan had taken her out to dinner. Those days were long gone—replaced by bath time, bed time and story time.
Walking down the hall, Maryanne couldn't help thinking about her life B.K— before kids. Stan used to lavish attention on her. They would go out for dinner at least twice a week. Saturday nights had been their standing diner and dancing date, followed by some alone-time in the Jacuzzi out back. That thing hadn't been used in months. That or the Jacuzzi. Maryanne wondered, did the Jacuzzi miss being used for pleasure as much as she did?
She stopped in front of her bedroom door. Stan was almost dressed. She used to think he was so handsome. Now he resembled those suits he wore everyday— uptight and impersonal.
"Breakfast ready?" Stan knotted his tie, preening himself in the oval, freestanding oak mirror.
Isn't it always ready? Maryanne furrowed her brow. "Yeah." It will be by the time he makes it to the kitchen. She turned her back to Stan.
Smoke filled the kitchen just as Maryanne returned to her post. The bacon was burning! Damn it all to Hell!
Maryanne snatched the pan from the burner and grabbed a plate with her free hand. Maybe she could save some of it. She didn't want to listen to Stan complain this morning. Then again, any words from him were far better than the usual disinterested silence.
Spearing a few of the lesser-charred slices, Maryanne cursed under her breath. She could feel the steam clinging to her hair and skin. All she could smell was burnt bacon, heavy and dark.
"Come on, Brady! Momma's waiting," Kira said just outside the kitchen. A moment later, both of her children appeared. Kira went straight for the stack of plates on the counter and set them in the appropriate places on the table. Brady did the opposite of being helpful.
"Gee, Mom – whad'ya burn this time?" Brady poured himself a glass of milk, which he spilled within two seconds flat.
One morning, just one morning where things didn't go wrong—that's all she ever asked for. "For Pete's sake, Brady!" Maryanne grabbed a dishtowel and bent to sop up the opaque mess. "Can you really be that clumsy, or do you wake up each morning and think -Now what can I do to irritate Mom today? –huh?"
Brady stood perfectly still, and Maryanne instantly felt bad for her harsh tone. "Mom?" Brady said.
"Yeah, sweetie?" Maryanne knelt and took her son by the hand, preparing herself for the words he would say to make her crumble.
Brady giggled unexpectedly. "Who's Pete?"
She should just give up. It was her job to cook, clean and care for her family. And obviously it was their job to make her crazy. "Go eat your breakfast Brady. Now. The bus will be here in less than five minutes."
Stan walked into the room, set his briefcase on the counter and looked the mess in the kitchen. "Maryanne, I thought you said breakfast was ready?" He slipped an arm into his jacket. "I've got an early meeting this morning."
Maryanne shrugged her shoulders. She was aware of his meeting, how could all of them be so utterly important? "I'm sorry, the bacon was burning, then Brady knocked over…"
"Mommy's got a friend named Pete!" Brady said, hopping up and down in front of Stan.
Either Stan didn‘t hear Brady or he chose to ignore the comment. "I‘m going to have to hurry now. I guess I'll run through a window on the way to work—IF I have enough time." Stan picked up his briefcase and left.
He just left. No "I'm sorry your having a bad morning honey", no kiss on the cheek as he passed by, no "I love you" or "I'll call you later."
How long since he had acted like a husband? How long had she been treated like a mere housekeeper?
Maryanne wasn't sure which made her sadder, that their romance was officially dead, or that it had taken her this long to realize it.
The school bus honked once, then twice, a signal that the driver was getting impatient. "Crap! Come on, hurry! You know she'll leave you!" With Mrs. M, there were no three honks of the bus horn. After two honks, she would just drive away.
Brady giggled and snatched up his blue backpack. "Kira! Kira! Mommy said Crap!" Kira motioned for Brady to be quiet then pulled her little brother out the door in front of Maryanne. The bus was lurching away.
"Wait! They're here!" Maryanne shouted at the bus driver. That old bitty-- she sees us, Maryanne thought. She's probably laughing her head off at the three of us jumping around like crickets in her rearview mirror!
"Mommy said crap! Mommy said crap!"
Maryanne turned slowly towards her children, targeting her gaze on Brady. "Okay, that's it! Get your bags and get in the car, NOW!"
She had to make sure the oven was off, then she would drive the kids to school then she would come home and clean the kitchen. Maybe she would finally get to eat then too. She could picture Stan enjoying his steaming hot breakfast as he drove to work.
In that moment, Maryanne wished that Stan would choke on his Croissan'wich.
A mother is not a person to lean on, but a person to make leaning unnecessary.
Dorothy Canfield Fisher
When God thought of Mother, he must have laughed with satisfaction, and framed it quickly—so rich, so deep, so divine, so full of soul, power and beauty, was the conception.
Henry Ward Beecher, Motherhood: A Celebration
Blessings: A Poem
What I asked for, I got
What I got, was so much more
than I asked for.
Beatific, miraculous bundled blessing.
What I fear, is everything
What is everything;
so much more than I can defend against.
Fragile, impish, precocious blessing.
What I live for, I have
What I have, is so much more
than I ever hoped for.
Comical, unique, innocent blessing of mine.