Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, 2009-13 Kansas Poet Laureate, is a poet, writer, and founder of Transformative Language Arts at Goddard College, where she teaches. Author of more than 20 books of poetry, fiction, memoirs, and anthologies, her most recent and forthcoming publications include Miriam's Well, a novel; Everyday Magic: A Field Guide to the Mundane and Miraculous, and Following the Curve, embodied poetry. With singer Kelley Hunt, she co-leads Brave Voice writing and singing retreats. Caryn leads writing workshops widely, offers one-on-one writing coaches, and roams the prairies as a visiting scholar. Sign up for Caryn's newsletter, and receive a monthly pithy e-newsletter with a writing prompt, featured writer, and news of upcoming workshops, events, and readings. Click here.
As part of a ceremony for a dear friend who’s about to become a mother, all the participants were asked how becoming a mother changed us. For me, answering that in is fullness would take several books or more, but for now, here’s what’s come to me about what motherhood has so far taught me. But first, a caveat: Being a parent as just one of many paths. I believe I would have learned other lessons and swam through other experiences, just as vital and valuable, so I offer these as just one summary of gems found on one of many paths.
I had no idea how how much unconditional love I was capable, and before becoming a mother, I only had a glance of this light I’ve now experienced panoramically. Yes, the intoxicating bliss-love of new babies, and to my great surprise, sleeping in bed with us for years because we had to be together. Yes, the sweetness of toddler-talk and sing-songy operas about going to buy shoes. Yes, the camping trips with a daughter in tutus and swirly dresses, and the middle-of-the-night whispering a son back to sleep when we were too sleep-deprived to put our clothes on right-side-out the next day. But so much more, especially when watching young adults driving their own lives.
I had no idea of how much their hurt would be my hurts when she or he was pushed out of the elementary-school-age or tween or teen hives, stung and bruised. I had no idea how hard it was to not be able to protect them from the pain of the world, or how much an illusion it is that parents can keep their children (and themselves) safe from cultural fucked-upness or peers’ cruelty or other parents’ judgments.
I had no idea what perseverance and love in action really meant, or how time and the life force are the greatest healers. I didn’t know what it was align ourselves with the power of the body and the mystery of spirit while pouring blue light, real or imagined, over a child to get him or her back to sleep after a nightmare.
I had no idea that the sweetest sound would be the youngest son laughing in his sleep, or the daughter alone in her room singing a song she wrote while strumming her guitar, or the oldest son narrating a vision of women on another planet raising their hands while singing. I didn’t know how much I could bear listening to the same question thousands of times, or arguments for no good reason I could discern (except fear and hormones), or The Wizard of Oz book on tape a dozen times over a 14-hour drive. Or how I could bear my own pain as I drove away from him in front of his first college dorm, or from her in Minnesota, but then I didn’t know how distance makes no difference yet at those moments.
I had no idea how much I would love all of it, even the moments I hated and the times I fucked things up beyond what I thought forgiveable – the times I lost it and screamed at them, or tried to fix was clearly not mine to fix, or spoke when I should have stayed quiet, or didn’t step up when I should have, or made my love too thick or too thin – and then how we found our way to beginning again, holding each other and saying, “let’s start over,” and then starting over.
I had no idea how much we’d laugh ourselves into crying at movies that serve as family bibles – especially Almost Famous – or after extended family gatherings that show us how much we’re flourishing even out of dysfunctional roots, or while in the middle of the worst-tasting dinners during the longest road trips, or simply while watching Youtube videos about how Honey Badger Don’t Care or inventions that go awry. Or how we’re find pizza, cuddling under blankets, and even some laughter when the white’s tree frogs or rabbit or cat or dog or so many manner of reptiles died.
I had no idea what grace was until these three, and also how it doesn’t really matter how imperfect and human we all are because being a parent is just another way of being alive, just another path toward light and the sweet darkness, but also made of light and darkness. It’s a continual process of catch and release, welcome and say goodbye to, embrace and let go.
Connect with Caryn
Subscribe to Caryn's Newsletter: Receive a pithy newsletter each month with a writing prompt, featured writer, and news of upcoming workshops, readings, and happenings. Click here.
Read Caryn's Words in Everyday Magic, her blog, essays and interviews, and books of poetry, fiction, memoir, and anthologies.
Join a Writing Workshop: Caryn bi-monthly retreats for people living with serious illness (as patients or caregivers) through Turning Point in Kansas City, wild weather workshops through the Kansas Humanities Council, and many other offerings. More here.
Come to an Event: Caryn teaches classes through the Osher Institute, leads talks and book discussions through the Kansas Humanities Councils, and speaks, reads, and meets with people widely. See more here.
Create Your Own Right Livelihood Through the Arts in the Transformative Language Arts Network's Right Livelihood Professional Training with Laura Packer and Caryn, launching June - October, 2018. More here.
Earn Your MA at the Goddard Graduate Institute where Caryn and other fine people teach, guiding students in self-designed, low-residency (study from your home community, and attend two week-long residencies each year) degrees in Transformative Language Arts, Health Arts & Sciences, Social Innovation and Sustainability, Consciousness Studies, and Individualized Studies. More here.