by JANELL BURLEY HOFMANN
For more than a decade, I have given my whole self to my babies. My body gave birth to five of them in eight years. My spirit rallied in the depths of darkness and the break of dawn to care for them. My heart cracked open to love them like I had never loved before.
I finished my education and made the conscious and proud decision to make a life from the vortex that is home. I am busy by nature, a doer. My energy comes in wild and intense spurts. I have a high tolerance for chaos, a wide capacity to love and be loved. Mothering was a natural fit.
I always kept a hand in the game, contributing to our household’s financial pot by caring for a friend’s children, coaching at a local high school, teaching community classes. I volunteered until there was no more volunteering to be done. But mostly, I made a career out of stay-at-home motherhood.
I knew from memory the library’s puppet show scripts and story time schedule. I knew which playground got the most sunlight on damp spring mornings so the slides would be dry and which ones offered shade from the punishing August sun. I could tell the time of day by which school bus drove past our house, when the mail was delivered, when neighbors came to and from work.
I walked and ran the neighborhood in varying combinations of single, double and triple strollers. I knew shortcuts and mileage by heart and could criss-cross from one side to the other blindfolded.
I spent hours parked on our small corner lot scribbling hopscotch and outlining bodies in sidewalk chalk while one child after the next went from tricycle to training wheels to two wheels. I played soundtracks to treasured movies while we baked banana bread and chocolate chip cookies and play dough from scratch.
Toys took over rooms in our house and children’s artwork lined the walls. I pushed small bodies on the swings, roamed the pumpkin patch at our local farm, ate fistfuls of goldfish at play dates, zipped through the grocery stores one million times over.
Each afternoon, a baby or toddler would nap and I’d find a big kid to cuddle. We’d read stories until our eyes closed. Drowsy, I’d slip out from under the warmth and stillness of a sleeping child and pour myself a cup of hot tea. I tried hard to wash dishes and clothes every morning, and then put them away each afternoon.
I cleaned from top to bottom on “Down and Dirty Monday” and spent hours encouraging full participation in wiping toothpaste from the sink and bed-making each day. Most days we left cereal bowls and piles of laundry in our wake to seek adventure instead.
I built relationships with principals and pediatricians, coffee shop owners and the charming book store that gift wraps. It was my honour, my joy to see the world through the eyes of my children, to live so fully in our community, to catch every milestone, every skinned knee.
There were moments I was filled with such purpose and gratitude. I would stand at my sink peeling and chopping potatoes for dinner, imagining the women who came before me. My hands were their hands and our timeless connection pulsed through me.
The need to feed my family, to labor, to tend selflessly to the care of others felt like a biological and divine calling. But as the years progressed, I began to squirm. I would hunt for work or a graduate program I wasn’t ready to take on. I found social missions and rallied people to action to help calm my itch for something beyond the walls of my home.
I quietly ached for more than sibling battles, endless calendar appointments, wall-to-wall LEGOs and closet clutter. And no matter how much I loved those babies, there were moments when I was on a sinking ship, overwhelmed and humbled by everything this small life required.
When spit-up and diapers, tantrums and bedtime battles felt like a life sentence, I couldn’t imagine we’d ever cross over to the other side, that I’d ever come up for air. Through the fog, I’d tried to stay present. I knew the days of raising babies were both precious and passing. But my vital essence was growing weary and I needed to spread my wings.
I stand now, straddling two worlds, my first born now a teenager, my baby closing out the final chapter of preschool. I open my hands and see that so many days have slipped through my grasp, even though I was so determined to hold tightly. The sun is setting on my days at home. I am back to work. I sleep soundly. I set goals and achieve them. I run in the daylight, eat a midday meal with friends, stay up late to finish a movie. I don’t have to squeeze everything I enjoy in the cover of darkness while everyone sleeps. I feel alive with potential.
The ground beneath me is shifting and I welcome it. We face new challenges and thrills, keeping with the frantic pace of school aged children. I am needed in a new way that requires me to stay grounded, but still allows me to fly. Each day we are strong and shaky. Each day we must carry each other in the direction of our own dreams. The journey always connects back and continues ahead. We grow. We build. We change.
Sometimes, I am swallowed whole by the demands of the world, by my drive to achieve and experience, by my ability to feel inspiration through every inch of my body. I wonder if I am brave enough to embrace this new phase.
Can I be a woman who is ferocious and passionate, dedicated and genuine in every corner of life? If I step to the fire and decide to walk through, will both the people and dreams I carry survive? This challenge of duality often haunts me. But I listen intently and go with purpose when called.
And I know that motherhood, with its great push and pull, rooted and tangled up in every inch of my heart, will always guide me. Motherhood is a compass, a careful truth that allows me, no matter where the path leads, to know home lives within me. To go is to honour that I am always there.
Janell Burley Hofmann is a writer and community activist on Cape Cod in the USA. She is a lover of life and enjoys the wild ride with her husband and five children ages 13,10, 8. 6 and 5. Follow her on Twitter @JanellBH and find her website here.