The story of creation ends with a woman. God spins out light. Night and day separate. Mountains topple the horizon. Oceans deepen, roll with the movements of the newborn moon. Rain forest canopies awaken and stretch to the sky. Beetles scuttle across untouched desert canyons. Then comes Man, fresh and strong. He rules over the animals, most evolved of all, but still: not quite enough. Something is missing. Dust blows upward and out walks Woman. The pinnacle of all things made, all things lovely, all things good. And from Her will continue all life, forever and always after, life from that goodness, life from that dark unknown womb, the center of the human race. But in the fall from perfection came the mandate for pain; the demand for life to be birthed in harrowing battle. Forever and always after would Woman fight this battle for new life, bear the pain of the future, carry within her the life and continuity of every race and people on earth. Woman labors for her children, labors for her community, labors for the extraordinary and for justice. Woman fights the battles with grace and love, proof and proof again that God saved the best for last.
Finally, as of this week, Clara is potty trained. I say finally because we tried earlier, a few months ago, and it did not go well. In fact, this whole spring has been a trying time with our almost 2 years old daughter. She's a geyser of emotions, with both a steady outpouring of opinions as well as the occasional and shocking burst of FEELINGS. All the feelings all the time, you know what I mean? Some days have felt dark, dark, dark. I just could not get ahead of her demands, could not find my bearings in her sea of emotional waves. Her screaming, thrashing, sobbing fights during that first round of toilet training were an apt picture of all the outbursts that peppered our days together. She fought everything so hard, with a ferocity that belied her slight frame. She looks like a baby but emotes like a teenager, and the balance between allowing her space and being consistent in discipline is a delicate one. Especially these last few months. Especially in this move towards toddler hood for my first born.
Clara was born in late August, my hospital room lit with afternoon sun and the dry heat of a high desert summer. She was born as the afternoon shone bright outside, her birth as blinding as the midday sun.
When my Clara was born, I needed noise. Her birth day was loud and violent and exciting. I threw pillows, I bit a couple of people; it was a hectic clamor of anticipation.
The pain of her birth lodged itself directly in my lower back, a piercing that did not stop. Ever. Since it was my first baby I didn't know any different, but now that I've had a "normal" birth with my second born, I can see that back labor is another beast altogether. It doesn't turn up and down, coming and going like contractions. It just stays and stays and stays and stays.
I needed a full room to birth Clara. My three sisters, my husband, three of my dear friends, and the most amazing nurse gathered around and held me up through those agonizing hours, literally and figuratively. At one point my sister Jamilyn was rolling an ice-cold diet coke up and down my back, while my cousin Jenna let me bite her arm as I writhed around, tilted over hospital bed in desperate cries of prayer.
When it came time to push, I closed my eyes, gripped the bed, and bearing down three times, my body released Clara Noelle into the world. She shrieked, her big eyes dark and furious. Everyone cried with joy, clapping even. The umbilical cord had not yet been cut when I turned to Sam and said, "We gotta do this again." The next days, weeks, and months were the best of my entire life. "Clara" means clear, bright, famous; and she has been all of those to me. She is a sharp light, her eyes a blue both cold and fierce. She is the sort of kid who gets noticed wherever she goes. She is difficult. She is lovely. She is small and incredibly loud. And that pushing, that insistent grip on my heart and body; it did not stop with her birth.
This is perhaps the part of parenthood that most surprised me. I think, from the outside, I assumed that children sort of roll through phases, transitioning seamlessly from baby to toddler to little kid and then one day they graduate high school and you repaint their bedroom after they move out. This has been anything but true for me and Clara. Some days it feels like I fight for every moment, for manners and obedience and creativity and independence and safety all at once, never one along with the other. The labor process that began on that summer afternoon was just that: a beginning. The genesis of a process that may have ended in my uterus but has expanded on and on into my fingers and my heart and my home.
The longer I'm in this world of motherhood the more I understand that while some miles come quite easily, there are some inches that will nearly kill us. And it's those inches that get me. It's those days and months when my labor with my children seems too exhausting to bear, those are the ones that leave me wrung out. Wondering why I try at all.
Woman cannot escape her call to labor forth life. Whether she birthed a child or has taken on the children of a mother who could not raise them herself, or she labors for her valued and worthwhile work, or she engages in the act of art or of business or of friendship: She is the seat of humanity, the thread of peace that holds our world together. I truly believe that. I truly believe in the innate power that lies in my daughter, in my mother, in my sisters, in myself; the power to struggle for what is good and to regard the wonders which our anguish produce.
Woman. We continue to labor long after our children gasp their first breath. We continue to suffer the pains, to ride the waves, to beg for mercy, to fear the unknown, to long for the other side and then wonder why we worried in the first place. We wear the scars of growing hard and fast, the scars of emergency decisions, the scars of a stretched and torn heart, made to expand but not without pain. We labor our children through these times of change, from diapers to toilets, from reading groups to locker rooms, from crushes to broken hearts, through scathing friendships and rumors and our precious childrens' own breathtaking, horrifying mistakes. We struggle to breathe evenly, we hunker down inside ourselves when the pain overwhelms, we cry out when it's just too much and the end will never come. And even if we choose not to feel it, to administer some form of delusional epidural, we will feel it all later.
We cannot escape the agony of parenthood.
We cannot escape the habitual act of guiding our children from one world to another.
We cannot escape the strain,
or the glory.
The glory that is ours to witness.
For when the birth is over, when the smoke clears and the sweat is wiped off foreheads; there is new life. Glorious, precious new life. And as ridiculous as you might think I sound, that is how potty training felt this week. That is how my entire spring felt. I labored for Clara. I fought with her and beside her. I will always labor for her; because I am her mother. I will push and breathe deeply and let go when it is time to let go because I am mother.
I stand on the other side of this enduring battle of our long spring months with tears in my eyes because I see the pride in hers. I see the light of accomplishment on her face, sense the steps of maturation that gave her such growing pains. I beam with a love born on a hospital bed and expanded with each beat of my wrecked and humbled heart.
I am Woman. And when these moments of glory arise, when they cut like a welcome spring through a parched land after rainfall; when they appear like that moment when you stare long and hard enough at the night heavens and the stars suddenly multiply into millions; when that glory comes, I will pause. I will stop and sit and say thank you to the heavens for delivering yet another jolt of surprising, iridescent, starry skied glory after a night full of blinding, wondrous labor.