This I Believe

Elisa - Clinton, Washington
Entered on April 19, 2007

My dear daughter–

I am sorry to see you distressed so few months after your wedding, but this I believe . . . When we have spent an entire life honing skills, taking on challenges—what ever these challenges may be: using a foreign language in an unfamiliar place, solving mathematical puzzles in graduate school, surviving a trek of courage and endurance; when we’ve built a life pushing our limits and are used to the rewards of these activities and, then, suddenly, we have married and are asked to stay at home because the new family includes a child, and now there is nowhere for all these skills that we have honed, nowhere for our highly-skilled self to stretch; and when our new partners are too busy or too tired to notice that we have ceased our usual mode of being, we begin to feel as if we do not exist and because so much of us has shut down, in fact, in some sense we don’t.

I presume that’s why the poet Sylvia Plath put her head in the oven. The world she had been used to, where her soul thrived and pulsated with I am living! became a different world. Suddenly a closed box, a house where she had to be because she consciously and willingly chose to marry and have children.

We are brought up to use our brains, our smarts, be courageous, daring, innovative and, suddenly, we have made a choice and find ourselves in a place where these traits seem irrelevant. We lose ourselves, even if it is temporary. It’s simply not possible to pour all of our highly-capable self into solving crossword puzzles, reading books, or cooking meals: it’s not enough. The person we raised and nurtured—our self—begins to die for lack of fertile soil.

We know we are not dead but we are in a time of fallow because we have chosen, consciously and willingly, to step along another path. We have chosen to love and what has love to do with what we have been accustomed to? We are accustomed to being in the corporate boardroom; we are now making a peanut butter sandwich for a beautiful young boy, part of the new family. We are accustomed to travel—to going as we please, where we please—and now we must be home at 3 o’clock for the beautiful young boy when he returns from school.

I, your mother, cling to my Russian studies because inside all those books—all in Cyrillic—I am in my world where no one else can enter. There I feel me. Not wife; Not mother. Me. This is my way of living in two worlds, the world of study and the world of family.

Loving, being in relationship, caring for children . . . these are different skills than for what we trained. These skills are within us. We do find them.

You are newly married and there is a young boy in your new family. I believe you are fighting for your life right now, one that includes love, nurturing and relationship. Your answers will be different from mine. I trust you will find your way.

Dear daughter, I love you.

Your Mom