This Bitter Earth

Throughout my pregnancy, I thought a lot about the kind of mother I wanted to be. I’ve spoken with so many women who’ve been mothers for years and are still asking that question. Maybe you never quite know until it’s over.

I thought I’d figure it out during pregnancy. But, for me, those nine months seemed to amplify my flaws, weaknesses, and failures. They left me feeling like the bitter earth: dry, cracked, and beaten down.

So I looked for the rain, and I began to think of the strong women in my life, many of them mothers. I took comfort in the fact that none of them ever quite had it figured out — and I likely wouldn’t either.

One memory was as present as my craving for Oreos dipped in cookie butter. It was a memory of my own mother on an ordinary night that took place after an ordinary day. I can’t remember what I had for breakfast that morning or how I passed the day, but the answers were probably buttered toast and barefoot. I remember digging fingers still warm from the Oklahoma June sun into cool evening earth as my mother and I worked store-bought, nutrient-rich soil into the hard red clay of her flower beds.

I remember how she ripped the spiked holly and sharp box hedges from the ground to make room for free moving native grasses and Chinese lanterns and black-eyed Susans. Cutting her hands and streaking her face with clay and blood. She grew what was hardy and what she loved. The only woman on our block to use instinct over uniformity.

I remember that this is where I came from, and I remember that it was not perfect.

I was born of bitter red clay earth that stained my feet in the summer, became hardened and resistant every winter, and welcomed my mother’s hands when the rain softened it each spring.

Even as I work to figure out who I am in this new phase of life, this memory reminds me how important it is to be resilient. That while I feel my inadequacy acutely, there’s never been a more important reason to move forward, move past, and encourage a resilience that doesn’t wait for the seasons to change. To stretch and grow and forgive in ways I hope will be baked into my son.

I know I can’t hide my imperfections from him forever. But I also know you can enrich the soil that made you. You can make it better. You can rip out the shit that came before, nurture using instinct over uniformity, and find your face streaked with the earth you grew from and the stuff you’ve chosen to plant there yourself.