Of a Joy Which Can’t Be Words*

August 15, 2006

Yesterday, WonderBaby turned 9 months old.

Nine calendar months is roughly the period of time that she spent in my womb. (41 weeks to the day, to be precise, which, counting from November 14, puts us pretty near to today. Yes, I counted. On my fingers. At 3am.) She has now, then, been out in this world for as long as she was in the cozy little world of the womb, where she grew from the tiniest microscopic speck to the eight and half pound miracle that somehow managed to work its way out into the world through the most unlikely – in my view – of passages. And: I have been a mother, now, for the same amount of time that I was pregnant and dreaming of becoming a mother.

I thought about marking this day, these days, with some reflection upon my evolution as a mother. I thought about writing my post about fear, about how fearful my experience of motherhood has been at times and what I am learning about this fear, to mark the passing of these first nine months. I also thought about writing that promised post about why and how parenthood really is, in some respects, like a secret club. I thought about all variety of musings on motherhood, all of which seemed particularly appropriate as reflections upon these first nine months, the first nine months of our life together, here in this big bright world.

But none of these musings and reflections could capture, perfectly, the extraordinariness of this experience, of these nine months and the nine months that preceded them.

So I decided to try to write the post that I’ve been struggling to write for some time now, a post that I have sat with and worried over and laboured over. A post that I was not sure I could tend to with the proper care, a post that I was not sure that I was qualified to write. A post that I have wanted, desperately, to write, but that I have been afraid of writing. A messy post.

The post that I have wanted to write is this: a reflection on the physical beauty of my child, and my fascination with and attraction to that beauty.

I do not want to write about the beauty that pleases superficially - the roundness of eye, the curve of eyelashes, the sheen of her pale blond hair. This would not be an analysis of her physical assets, nor a reflection upon the possibility that she might escape the burden of physical quirkiness only to acquire the burden of beauty. What I want to write, rather, is an ode, of sorts, of whatever sort I can manage, to the real, the pure, the heartwrenching and heartlifting beauty of her form. To the impossible harmony of strength and fragility and softness in every curve of her limbs, every tilt of her downy head, every grasp of her fierce little hand.

And I want to write about this, too: how my love for her is physical, desperately physical. How my love for her wants to cleave to her, always, to feel her pressed against me, her breath on my cheek, her tiny hands tangled in my hair, her wee proud belly warm against my chest. How there is something of the erotic – the Platonic erotic, Socrates’ eros as a yearning for beauty, for the Form of beauty, of the Good – in that love.

But here is where I stop short. We cannot, must not, speak or write of our children in these terms. And even if poetry – the natural (perhaps forced?) lyricism of motherhood – affords me the right and the space to sing hymns to Eros extolling the beauty of my child, the muck and the filth of our culture, and of this virtual world, calls into question that right, and sullies that space.

I have dared to use the word erotic here, in writing about my child, and that I speak in terms of daring says it all: I am, I think, taking a risk. One aspect of that risk is not so frightening: that some puritanical parent, or non-parent, will find these words offensive, and take me to task for sexualizing my child. I am not sexualizing my child: I am trying to find language to express a non-sexual love that is nevertheless deeply physical. Our culture confuses the physical with the sexual, and so I expect that many would perceive even this effort to write the physicaly beauty of my child as troubling. But I can live with that.

What is more difficult to live with, even for a second: that in using the language of the physical and of the erotic – even in a pointedly Socratic sense – I am opening the gates of Google pervdom and waving in the creeps, the monsters, the card-carrying N*MBLA members. Here! Physical love mother and child! Translate to filth.

And this is what stops me. And it pains me. My mind swirls, my fingers twitch: I have words. I have sentences, phrases, similes, metaphors, paragraphs, stanzas. I have poetry. I am aching to spill it. I am aching to shout out to the world the sharp joy, the stinging bliss of this physical love, this love that will, I know, lose its sharpness, its edge, become blurry as she grows into her own self and I back into my separate self. I want to capture it. I want to tell the truth about it.

Will you help me? Would you – could you – tell me how you would write this? Show me? What I am asking is: would you write an ode to your child, to your children, that is both forceful and safe? And if you do not think it possible (in the context of safety, or any any other context) would you tell me why? Is this – really, frankly, writing about our love for our children, about the physicalness of our connection to them in that love – unbloggable? Is this even more true – as I suspect it is – for fathers? Am I overthinking this?

I’m going to labour through this post over the coming weeks. My objective will be to give it birth by the end of this ninth month (August). Between now and then, if you write a post about your love for your child, or about writing about your love for child, or about why it might be imprudent to write such love, please leave the link for me here, in these comments. If you prefer to not write such a post, leave a response (if you have one) here. I’ll look to these for inspiration and insight, and when I post my own, I’ll give all due credit and, hopefully, situate my words within a broader discussion about love for our children and writing that love.

*Apologies to e.e. cummings…


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    Her Bad Mother August 16, 2006 at 10:13 pm

    I love that you think that this post suffices… but there just seems, feels, to be so much more to say.

    Like how overpowering the physical love can be. And how it makes me so keenly aware of my own physicality and – this is delicate – sensuality.

    The posts that are going up already are gorgeous and amazing. Made me cry tonight.

    Mel August 16, 2006 at 11:29 pm

    Well, okay, I took my best shot at it; spur-of-the-moment and off-the-cuff, so forgive the roughness of it.

    sunshine scribe August 17, 2006 at 7:08 am

    I did it. It isn’t exactly what you asked for and it doesn’t really even come close to saying what I *feel*. But I couldn’t get your post out of my head until I wrote it. It came from the heart and isn’t crafted prose or well-thought out stunning poetry. It is just what it is.

    metro mama August 17, 2006 at 8:14 am

    This kept me awake last night, so I had to write something. Here it is: http://riverdalemama.blogspot.com/2006/08/not-baby-anymore.html#links

    kittenpie August 17, 2006 at 8:31 am

    I just need to add yet one more comment to tell everyone how beautiful Mel’s post on this is. Go read it.

    gingajoy August 17, 2006 at 10:52 am

    ok–you’ve got this hormonal woman blubbing now. and suddenly breathless with excitement to get my new baby.

    i don’t have the time to do justice to what you are asking here (in the form of a post) but suffice it to say: yes. We know. And it’s beyond language, beyond ariculating in so many ways (and the language we have, like you say, borders on dangerous).

    Each morning, my son climbs into bed with my husband and I, and he burrows into me. I can’t stop touching him, stroking his legs, giving them a sqeeze, feeling how young and smooth he is, and at the same time thinking about a time when this will no longer happen. That I won’t be able to devour him as I feel I can now. It’s physical, it’s divine, and it’s too shortlived.

    Very very hard to write about without feeling like you enter pervdom,like you say–language fails (for now)

    Queenheroical August 17, 2006 at 2:53 pm

    When I was a child my mother would wash my hands. I remember her standing over me, surrounding me with her arms and rubbing my hands with her own under the warm water. Her head leaning close to mine so I could smell her warmth and her spice. My mom, the love of my life. She never spoken a word but I drank in this simple physical touch and it fed my young soul.

    Much later, after I had grown and the bliss of innocence was long lost, she was no longer able to touch; able to express her love, years of depression had crippled her. It cut deep to be so removed from her, to be so distanced but I remembered that when I was a child my mother would wash my hands.

    Java Junkie August 17, 2006 at 4:03 pm

    I cannot thank you enough. I have never commented (that I remember) on your blog and must confess I only read it occasionally. But last night, and today, you gave me something that I desperately needed. The last month of my life has been overshadowed by the death of my own mother and her mother as well and with the fear that tumors recently found in my dad’s lungs, who is a 5 year stage 4 cancer survivor, where cancer and that I would lose him. The only hold on the good parts of life that I’ve had have been the moments I’ve spent close to my son. And I wrote about it because of you. Thank you so much. Tears are even now pouring down my face in blessed release. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. That’s all I can say, I hope you know what it means.

    if you’d like to read what you’ve inspired, please feel free to visit my blog.


    Mommy off the Record August 17, 2006 at 8:13 pm

    I wish my mother had shown me that she loved me through hugs and kisses. She was not capable of it.

    I worried that because she was not capable, that I would not be capable.

    But once I had Little Guy, I realized that I AM capable of showing him how much I love him in deeper ways than my mother could. And I am so happy for that.

    If I write a post (and I think I will–thank you for the prompt), this is what I will write to.

    What a wonderful topic you have raised. And nothing sexual about it. Whoever says otherwise is simply a perv of the worst kind.

    Izzy August 17, 2006 at 8:53 pm

    I tried to comment on this the other day to no avail. I hope I can remember how I wanted to say it…the exact words escape me now.

    But I know exactly what you are talking about and I also struggle to find words for it; appropriate words that will not be misunderstood. Words that can sum up the deep physical craving that I have for my sone. I wrote a post for his 14 month birthday that touches on it but words cannot adequately express it.

    However, I’m sure you will do it beautifully. You always do :)

    Jenny August 18, 2006 at 2:24 pm

    Dear Child,

    When I first learned of your touch you were a rumbling in my belly. You could’ve been indigestion.

    When I birthed you your father helped me breathe as I forgot from the pain and when you came I yelled out and I don’t remember anything else.

    When you came home with me you nursed and I cried. I was sure my breast would crackle into a million painful pieces. I cursed when you cried with hunger.

    When you slept you needed to hear my heart. I piled pillows around us and wore you in a sling, I never put you down and I didn’t sleep for months.


    Your breath smells like cream cheese frosting. I drink it in with deep long breaths and commit it to memory finally understanding why the flower is called baby’s breath.

    Your skin is flawless, each pore spaced so perfectly like a fine lattice, each little blond hair pointing the same direction, each crease and wrinkle brand new. I marvel at its softness and hold it against mine whenever I can.

    Your laugh sounds like a twinkle, it’s unfettered and true and in it I find all the hope in the universe. Daily I ask you for that laughter with the tips of my fingers against your ribs.

    Your little belly rises and falls with sleep against me at night. I know you are safe and it’s the best sleep I will ever have.


    How long you will let me sniff your head?

    How long you will need to bury your little hands into my armpits for comfort?

    How long will you let me cut your nails, clean your toe jams, brush your hair, rub lotion onto your back?

    How long you will allow me wrap my arms around you when you’re hurt?
    When you’re 9 and you fall off your bike?
    When you’re 25 and your heart is broken?
    When you’re 44 and your patience is thin?
    When you’re 68 and you’re sick?

    When will you be too old to lay your head in your mommy’s lap? Tell me now so I may grip that last cuddle with my whole memory.

    Mother Bumper August 18, 2006 at 3:38 pm

    My contribution to another wonderful HBM project:

    Thanks for the inspiration.

    mo-wo August 18, 2006 at 8:53 pm

    I try… canto uno

    Jen August 19, 2006 at 10:43 pm

    I wrote this at the beginnig of last year’s school year. I am at a bit of a different stage which in some ways makes the physical connection for one’s children that much more desperate. Believe me, it is fleeting. I now hunger for those long ago moments.

    Check out the third post on this page. Not as eloquent, but real.

    Jessi Louise August 20, 2006 at 11:35 am

    This is my first time at your blog and I found your words completely inspiring. Here is my contribution:



    Haley-O August 21, 2006 at 12:22 am

    I don’t think I could put it better than you just did…. But, sometime this week, I will sit and ponder it and post.

    I think you are absolutely fabulous. Blog away. In your way. Thank you.

    Mommy off the Record August 21, 2006 at 5:16 am

    Thank you for the writing prompt, Catherine. I’ve been enjoying reading all of the posts that have been written in response to this.

    Here is a link to my entry.

    Christina August 21, 2006 at 3:50 pm

    Alright, I decided to tackle this topic, and the messy results are up at my blog.

    Paige August 21, 2006 at 6:38 pm
    yogamama August 22, 2006 at 11:18 am

    God bless you for starting this discussion. I cried, holding my daughter in lap, she wearing nothing but her diaper. You expressed all the inarticulate things I was feeling this morning as I watched her sleep.
    Working on my own post; will send you link. Seriously, can’t thank you enough for your willingness to ask these questions.

    Joy ~ aka Wild Child August 25, 2006 at 8:12 am

    Hi, I just wanted you to know I’ve posted regarding this subject. It’s a little different than most because I am not a mother and that in part, is to due with the conflict I have with my mother. I wrote about my fears and pains that have made me hate me and make me fear having my own family.

    Here is the link

    Merry Mama September 3, 2006 at 12:17 am

    I’m at a loss, definitely, on this one. I know the feelings you are describing- the skin, the skin, the skin! I say when I kiss her back.. and still, I’ve worried, I’ve held back from describing the intensity of my love for her (and it has been that way for all six of them.) So. I don’t. But I’d be happy to read yours, because I surely can identify.

    Merry Mama September 3, 2006 at 12:18 am

    I’m definitely at a loss here- the skin, the skin the skin I say when I kiss her back and tickle the back of her neck- she is so soft! I’ve tried, and given up. But I’ll be happy to read whatever you come up with, because I surely can identify.

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    Al_Pal March 23, 2009 at 1:57 am

    I tend to go with “sensual” when speaking of non-sexual physical pleasure. ;p

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