The Motherhood Journey: Lessons from the 8th Birthday

I came out on the chariot of the first gleam of light, and pursued my
voyage through the wildernesses of worlds leaving my track on many a star and planet.

It is the most distant course that comes nearest to thyself,
and that training is the most intricate which leads to the utter simplicity of a tune.

The traveler has to knock at every alien door to come to his own,
and one has to wander through all the outer worlds to reach the innermost shrine at the end… 

-The Journey Home, Rabindranath Tagore

As a mother, I’ve had many a moment where I’ve felt like a scuba diver needing to come up to the surface. Some months I don’t even realize I’ve been submerged, swimming through my days which turn into months and then years. Writing helps me to resurface and reflect – and when I do, I’m always amazed at what can go underground (or under water), forgotten for a time. 

This blog post is a perfect example. Last year, I’d come across Rabindranath Tagore’s poem, The Journey Home, and it struck me deeply. I’d wanted to take time to write about it, and to reflect on my life journey and how the path of motherhood has fit in. What was I learning? How have I grown and changed? I loved how the poem reminded me to consider my journey through life in a spiritual context. How was I leaving my track, especially with my family and my children? How was I (or wasn’t I) “coming into my own?”

With my oldest son turning 8 years old this summer, it was a perfect time to reflect on how one phase of parenting (and childhood) was closing while another was opening. I’ve been taking time to celebrate the phase of having young kids. (This period of life will pass all too fast!) I’ve also been considering lessons learned and mistakes made. I’ve lamented the moments of complaining or overly focusing on challenges. Did I soak in the sweet moments of cuddles enough? Have I appreciated the times when we’ve simply held hands? Did I yell too many times? Did I do all the things I’d dreamed of doing during these precious early years?

In some ways, the 8th birthday made me panic. It surfaced my regrets. It also ushered in a new sense of resolve. One window was closing, even while another was opening. The relationship was shifting into a new era. I better embrace it NOW.

The 8th birthday has also invited me to consider where I’m at in my path as a householder and mother. My identity has fully settled into something I could never have imagined when I was pregnant with my first son. Many months and years have indeed felt like ‘knocking at alien doors’ – the sleepless nights, the unsettledness of shifting body and personal identity, the new worries, the unchartered responsibilities. It has been a strange wandering at times – often treading new waters that have forced me out of my comfort zone and spread me thinner than the flattest of pancakes.

It has been all too easy to lose sight of my initial intentions and sense of purpose around parenting. I remember when I embarked on the path of motherhood, I’d sat across my husband over dinner at a Thai restaurant, telling him that I wanted to “induct a meaningful human experience.” I’d wanted to walk the path of Big Love. It all sounded – and felt – so idealistic then. It was before big messes and frayed nervous systems. It was before the chaos.

The traveler has to knock at every alien door to come to his own, and one has to wander through all the outer worlds to reach the innermost shrine at the end. 

Tagore’s poem serves up a slice of the sublime. What is the innermost shrine at the end? How is my journey circling in those most revered places, even when I’m too submerged in my own orbits of familial chaos to remember? The lessons that want to shine through with the 8th birthday are waiting for me. They are like little gifts on an altar. I only see them when I take the scuba mask off and look towards the light dancing on water at the surface. They indeed are like reminders to me on my own journey – signposts that are meant to bring me home to myself again and again.

The word shrine comes from the Old English scrin, referring to a ‘cabinet, chest or reliquary.’ I imagine in my own life a place where I store my most treasured items. This place serves as a reminder of what I most want to remember. It is here where I can tuck away the deepest lessons for safekeeping. For me, the shrine holds a reminder to remember to dip into my own inner life – taking the time to digest my experience. Introspection staves off uncentered, ungrounded energy. If I roll along with the currents of my life without taking this time for myself, I lose my center of gravity and my sense of balance.

The shrine holds a reminder to also not get lost amidst all the responsibilities and all the competing demands for my time and attention. It holds a reminder to make room for the meaningful in my life.

The shrine holds a reminder to slow down in my family life even more than I already do. It reminds me about appreciation for what is, exactly. It reminds me about the deep and vast power of love, and my calling to abide in love with my children, even when I’m at my wit’s end.

Finally, the shrine holds a reminder to not hold back one bit, and to move forward whole-heartedly. What do I want to be giving to my children? What do I want to be embodying? How do I want to spend my time? How I live my days is how I live my life. Is it stacking up with my deepest intentions? How am I coming into my own as a mother as I enter my 8th year? Where am I falling short? Once again, the motherhood journey invites me to travel a steep – and beautiful – path…

Self-portrait, age 8

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