Mother’s day is a perfect time to reflect on motherhood — appreciating having a world-class mom as a role model, enjoying the friendship of other inspiring mothers, and processing my personal experience raising a precocious little girl. My journey into motherhood was deliberate but to say I had no idea what was to come in the four years since I became a mother, would be a gross understatement. Although my daughter Ella didn’t trigger any of the big changes I’ve made since her birth, she has played a central and motivating role.
My mother is as close to a perfect mom as I can imagine — loving, intelligent, capable. Both of my parents are incredible, but my mom was the glue that held our crazy 6-person household together. She kept us all healthy, happy, and thriving while somehow not losing her sanity. Among many other traits, I have her to thank for my passion of delicious, wholesome food, and for my stubborn insistence that I can do whatever I set my mind to doing (although she can share or avoid responsibility for that quality with my dad). She was there when we needed her with support, compassion, and occasionally, some tough love. But above all, my mom was, and still is, present.
Presence is a unifying skill of all the incredible parents I know. It’s not only physical proximity, it’s mental and emotional availability. It’s the ability to sit, play, laugh, cry, embrace, and sometimes knuckle-through all that raising a child brings.
I felt intensely present during the first few days and weeks as a new mother. But as weeks turned to months, my presence started to fade as I struggled to handle Ella’s epic colic. I felt isolated and alone, unable to calm or soothe my furious baby — sleeping on the living room couch or her bedroom floor so I could nurse her without waking my former spouse, rocking and swinging her in her carseat at all hours of the night, taking her on the longest walks and runs of my life, loading her up to hike, fish, and camp, trying to maintain the active outdoor lifestyle we’d had prior to her birth. None of my efforts worked and with each passing day, I felt more depleted. We had no family nearby, no close friends with kids, and the situation exposed giant crevasses in my marriage. Somewhat ironically, I wasn’t depressed, just overwhelmed. Remember that stubborn insistence trait I mentioned earlier? Overwhelm wasn’t a feeling I was used to so I assumed I wasn’t using the right formula for parenting (or marriage), I needed to work harder, complain less, figure it out. I should appreciate the great life I had — a beautiful little girl, a comfortable home, an apparently happy marriage, a solid career.
When Ella was three months old, I went back to work full-time, functioning on some sort of nebulous new-mom adrenaline high. Although my work-life was far from flawless, I’d always enjoyed most of what I did and the people I worked with. A couple of months after returning from maternity leave, I was promoted and given a raise. I had it all and I reveled in that accomplishment. But being a professional working mom, grad-student, and wife, wore me threadbare.
Then, just after Ella turned six-months old, she was injured while at daycare — an enormous third-degree pressure burn on the top of her head. The gruesome injury took nearly six months to heal, but the scar is still there — a bald patch amidst her beautiful curls and excruciating memories. My marriage started crumbling and conditions at work deteriorated. While trying to cope with it all, my ability to be a present and engaged parent slipped further away.
I never had a rock-bottom moment, just a gradual decent into the bleakest, most challenging period of my life. After I finally started clawing myself out of that sunken place, to become the person I want to be and the mother that Ella needs and deserves, I stumbled upon minimalism. Although I didn’t leap onto the minimalism band-wagon per se, many of its concepts resonated and as I rebuilt my life and my ability to be a mother, I’ve continued to employ the less is more philosophy. Since that time, minimalism has helped us make and keep our lives simple, focusing on what’s most important — each other — and living an authentic, healthy, loving, and connected life.
Although I’m far from perfect, I can now say with confidence that I’m present with my daughter — a beautiful gift for both of us.