The Work Of The Heart

April 15, 2012

I barely wrote a word last week. Part of it was, I was exhausted. Exhausted in body, exhausted in soul. I had thought that I could land back in America and just hit my usual stride, not missing a beat. Well, maybe one or two beats, beats that I would skip-hop over with some poetry and deep thoughts about the vast distances I had covered, but still. I thought that I wouldn’t stumble.

I did stumble, because coming back was more difficult than I’d thought. It was difficult for the usual reasons – jet lag, soul lag, heart lag – and for some reasons entirely unrelated to the trip. The day after I came back, Kyle and the kids left. It was only a week – only a week – but following, as it did, the long long week in Uganda, it was a hard week. It was hard, because I was so emotionally overwhelmed from the trip and my heart just couldn’t take any more discomfort. It was hard because I’d already gone a week without seeing them. It was hard because I missed them.

It was hard because I felt guilty.

I’d left them to go to a far off place. I’d be leaving them again – two, three times before the month was out. And even when I wasn’t traveling, I was – am – working long hours, coming home late, leaving early, missing things. And then I’d gone to Africa, to meet other moms, to fret over other children, to have my heart clobbered by the lives of others, and left my own children behind, only to return and have them leave me. Which is putting it the most over-dramatic, self-pitying terms, but that’s how I felt. Feel, in my more unguarded moments.

It was this extreme guilt – ‘mommy guilt’ is the term I’ve heard others use – that kept my stomach tangled in knots all week. It was this guilt that aggravated my reaction to the whole Hilary Rosen/Ann Romney debacle, to the resurgence of the so-called ‘mommy wars.’ (“Mommy Wars gone thermonuclear,” I said in one interview last week. “That’s what happens when you add the dynamite of politics to the mix.” If anyone noticed that dynamite and nuclear weapons don’t make a neat metaphorical package, they didn’t say anything.) That, and the fact that I’d drummed up that guilt by spending a week among mothers for whom the distinction between ‘work’ and ‘motherhood’ would make no sense at all. All mothers in Uganda – all the mothers that I encountered, anyway – are working mothers. They’re not putting on business suits and going to offices, most of them, but they are working. Hard. Harder than you or I could ever imagine. They’re working to get food, water. They’re working to stay alive, and to keep their children alive. They’re working to raise their children in communities torn apart by war, a war so horrible that I’ll be trying to erase details from the stories that I heard for the rest of my life.

They are all working mothers. We are all working mothers. What unites us is our motherhood, which – despite the fact that it does involve so much work, work of hands and hearts and souls – is so much more than work. Which is why one could argue that it is absurd that we argue about these things. One could, but one shouldn’t. Because as long as any of us feels that there’s something to argue about, we need to keep to working it out. We need to keep reminding ourselves that it’s not that simple, it’s not so simple as choices, and some moms do this and some moms do that, and all motherhoods are created equal. Because it’s not, and it’s more complicated than that, and they’re not. Concey in Kampala works harder than I ever will, and it’s possible that I work harder than Ann Romney ever did – although it’s possible that I just feel guiltier than she ever did – but to consider things only in those terms obscures the bigger picture, which is this: we love our children, and that love strains and taxes us as much as it lifts and lightens us, and the work of that love is universal, even though we experience it differently, even though we live it under different circumstances, even though it takes different shapes – some lovely, some terrifying – it is, still, universal, because it is love.

Anyway. Even this reduces it, simplifies it in ridiculous ways. Even this fails to get to the heart of things. Which is why, I suppose, we must just always keep talking it through. Maybe that way, someday, we come to some sort of understanding.


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    Jenna April 15, 2012 at 10:13 pm


    Poignant… This was difficult for me to read for a strange reason. I am trying to become a mother (no children yet) and when I read your words, I ache because I can’t quite understand your feelings. They move me, they inspire me and shake me up, but I can’t relate to them.

    Hopefully soon. And thank you for sharing such a deep part of yourself. Thank you for connecting it with the mothers in Uganda. I needed to think outside of myself for a while.

    Ginny April 16, 2012 at 5:50 am

    I love this response to some of the mommywar stuff out there. Last week was a hard mothering week for me, for a variety of reasons, and as I bitched and moaned and sobbed my way through it, I was struck with that 1st world guilt, knowing I’m not dying of AIDS in a small African village, fearing for my children’s lives. Humbling.

    And still: why can’t we support one another, and our choices? We make it so hard for ourselves, all of us, with this fighting and backstabbing and, oh yes, the guilt.

    Gina April 16, 2012 at 6:12 pm

    Thank you. I am reading this at the perfect time. I have a 2 1/2 year old daughter, along with a 4 week old daughter. For the first time ever, right here, I am writing the initials “PPD.” Pretty sure I have it, and awaiting a call from my doctor to get some guidance – but, the guilt that I feel over how I feel has been debilitating. The guilt that I feel for not being a fun mom to my toddler, and the guilt that I feel for possibly being depressed after the birth of my newborn makes me want to hide. It’s was refreshing to be reminded that we are all plagued by the mommy guilt, and that there is always someone out there who is fighting a tougher battle….not that the severity of some battles lessen the importance of others’ – but it’s all about perspective. Thank you for shining a light into a corner of the world that I needed to see.

    Ciaran April 16, 2012 at 6:23 pm

    I get it. It’s not simple at all, after all. I was one suitcase already pre packed with stuffed animals away from a similar trip this month. That suitcase, packed held by a four year old who wanted to know if I’d hold his hand the first time he flew on our already-planned trip together, was what kept me from packing my own bags. This time. My 12 year old was outraged for me not to go. Because it’s important. And she felt it was selfish of me to consider the 4 year old whose first world stuffed animal suitcase packing issues were of such little consequence in the sort of grander schemes that seem so clear to humanistic 12 year olds. Not that she could look the 4yo in the eye to explain that. Maybe it was selfish. It’s hard to win here. Sometimes you have to take a week to wonder.

    Adrienne April 16, 2012 at 8:12 pm

    I agree. Motherhood is the one things that connects us all. No matter how, where, or when we work. Or even what what we consider that work to be. Motherhood is work. Period.

    Tricia April 17, 2012 at 10:27 am

    This was beautiful, and painful and exquisitely written (duh). I can’t imagine how Uganda must’ve changed you, in ways you probably didn’t expect. But at least it’ll be for the better, even though those stories have forever imprinted on your soul. You are one amazing human being, my dear.

    Danielle C April 17, 2012 at 10:32 am

    We are all working mothers. So true!
    Thank you for this post.

    Leigh April 22, 2012 at 11:44 am

    You’ve done an amazing job at articulating what is, to say the least, a very complicated and polarizing topic. I really loved reading this.

    Lynn Harla April 22, 2012 at 10:35 pm

    As a new mother, I can now truly understand what “mommy guilt” feels like. Are we really ever able to make the best decision for our children because it seems like no matter what decision I make I find some way of feeling guilty about it. One thing I love about this post is that you pointed out that we are all united, as mothers, around the world. Thank you for sharing your experience and photo.

    ilerlemeli oyunlar May 1, 2012 at 1:25 pm

    We are all working mothers. So true!great man great

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