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Elephant in the Pool: A Mother's Cry for a Village


A sense of loneliness so complete. Speaking out into the world as though behind glass. Nobody can hear me. Nobody wants to hear me.

Nothing can give you this feeling more than parenting.

As I tell me kids for the umpteenth time to get out of the pool, my children dive down under the water, pretending they don't hear me.

Powerless. 

Not knowing if I should let go, or hold on. 

Public or private, there are eyes on you--and if not eyes, there are ears (maybe even just your own) perked up and waiting--wondering what will you do? How will you get yourself out of this one?

And sometimes it seems that nobody can see it, but me. That elephant taking up the entire pool. My children sliding down the trunk--jumping off its backside. Nobody can see it but me.

We pretend I am alone in this one. We pretend so well, that I am sure it is true. 

I want to let go, to jump into the pool and join my kids and the elephant, but I'm so used to vying for control, from the chaos of having children, that letting go wouldn't actually land me in playtime with the elephant, but rather deflated on the side of the pool, like a punctured swim ring. 

But in this case, it isn't just about letting go and being more playful with the elephant--it used to be that simple, and for a while that has been enough. But these days the pain runs much deeper--as into the fabric of my being, into the fabric of society, into the fabric of our human world. It is about feeling very needlessly alone, and not being okay with it anymore. 

Or: Just why it is still okay to perpetuate a society of isolation. Why do we still do this? In an age of pervasive global communication, why aren't we communicating?

I am within seconds of asking another mother there for help with parenting, when my children get out of the pool. Can you imagine? Asking for parenting help, from a stranger? What respectable mother does this? As in seconds away, people! What self-respecting mother admits publicly that she's been defeated?

I do.

This is where my journey has brought me-- to a place where asking for the impossible is possible.  Knowing that I can't struggle anymore, and I am not getting anywhere by myself. I can't do this or anything else alone--and while it would have never occurred to me in the past to ask for help, now it does. Welcome to a wild new world.

Perhaps my daughters sense my release, that I am this close to asking for help, because they finally get out. And in a sense, just thinking of asking for help is letting go. Even this, I find, is powerful.

But it got me to thinking...

I've seen that same mother, who was witness to my parenting disaster, struggling with her own kids in the pool before. It looked rough. I didn't step into help, nor would I have ever dreamed of doing so. And besides, I justify, she had her husband there to help. I was a one-woman show. But I wonder how long it took her to feel as though her parenting battles were forgotten enough to return to the pool, and to hold her head high, or at the least half-mast.

I started fantasizing about what it would be like if it was the norm, as in culturally embedded into our society, that parenting is hard, almost impossible at times--that there is no perfect way of going about it, and what it would be like if this view of parenting was held as common belief, as common as knowing the sky is blue. What if we were naturally accepted for our shortcomings as parents, as well as our perceived successes, because nobody had come up with the idea, let alone believed it, that parenting was something to conquer, to excel at, to flaunt? How would our parenting change? How would our children respond to this change? How would we respond to other parents? How much easier it would be without the idea of punishable wrong at every turn, with regard to our children--with regard to our parenting--with regard to one another.

I've seen parents fighting tooth and nail to prove their power over their kids in public. I've been this parent.

I know that hell is very often unleashed in private. I've seen that hell. My neighbors have heard it.

What I don't get is why it has to be this way. Why is there this feeling that parenting is like walking through a mine-field, but we are expected to predict where the mines are, and to avoid them, and if heaven forbid we or our kids set one off, we are horrible parents, or they are horrible children.

I realize that parenting is a place that turns me upside down and inside out. I often have referred to it as my final frontier, because it is always there, putting endless wrenches in the spokes of my perfectly turning wheel. 

Parenting turns up the volume on all of my fears, flaws, and f-ups.

And I used to think it was all my problem, until the other day, when I could not have felt more alone in parenting, and I suddenly knew, that it wasn't okay to feel this way. It suddenly felt like a set up. Give someone the hardest thing they can possibly do in the world, and just watch them flail. I felt like I had unknowingly been put into an arena with a terrible beast (yes, it can feel this way as a parent!) as a spectator sport. 

And perhaps, like Daniel in the lion's den, that is when it occurred to me to ask for help. That there was no way I could truly buy into being forced to fly solo in the venture anymore--even if it was culturally the norm--with nobody courageous enough (not even myself) to show up as my very own wing-man.

My question is this: Is parenting our children just like every other mine-field out there, (some even worthy of being visited by royalty), begging us for change and reform, so that we might feel safer and more secure in our human family--and if so, is the best focus really to keep churning out more and more parenting advice, that often we smart mothers find so empty and bereft of something that can truly help our parenting and our relationships to feel more alive, and PRESENT? Isn't it time to stop aiming for a mark? Isn't it time for parenting to be less about performance, and more about connecting with our children--and as a society, are we missing that so much, that we need the explosions to get us to the point where we finally call out for help?

I never got the sense that too many people really listened to Hilary Clinton and her book, It Takes a Village. I know the cutting response was that it takes a family to raise a child, not a village. I try not to get political on this blog, but I can sure speak as a fellow mother, and say, that perhaps Hilary's message was ahead of her time, but it is highly relevant to my time--this exact moment in time, in fact.

I am a family, and I am speaking up, right now to tell you that, I can pretend all I want that I know what I am doing as a parent, but that most of the time I am feeling painfully lacking at the sport. 

I need a village!

but not just any village.

I need awake people, who know how to truly Love, and lead with Love, and how to let the greedy and heart devoid ambitious, empty, and chasing parts of themselves, rest in the back of the bus. To surround themselves with their light-filled, compassionate, energized and engaged in living, activated in the heart, optimistic, connected, CLEAR parts to sit up front in the bus, and to show up as guide for my children and as support for me. Because this kind of awesomeness begets awesomeness, in our children, and in us. Because any parent knows that when your children are in a process of individuation, the last person they listen to is you. Often, they come home with the message you've been trying to insert, by feeding it to them for breakfast every day of their life, from an unlikely source--a special teacher, person, friend, a book, a critical event that wakes up their DNA to understand a universal truth. 

And I praise all the forces that be, when my children touch freedom, connection, heart, inspiration, innovation, or clarity, no matter where or who it comes from! 

So, I guess, I am here today asking for us to get real about raising our kids. What if as a parenting culture, we banded together to support one another, merely by holding the belief that parenting isn't something to conquer, but rather to walk through as best we can. What if we agreed that the challenges of parenting are here to help us to connect with one another as parents who love our children, as well as to connect us with aspects of our human condition. What if we learned from one another on a global scale, not just parenting tips (not that those are not helpful) but something much more important--that we are not alone. That we are loved and supported and seen, and so are our children, no matter where their paths take them. What if all of us could be honored for our unique journeys and insights? What if we knew without question that our mistakes were precious moments of fumbling in the human experience, and that those mistakes alloted us that much more love--and our triumphs became markers of our connections--because that is what we began to base our success on: how overflowing with deep love and connection we were a part of.

What joy there would be to watch our children to take on the world with heart, in their unique way, following the sparks, leading them to connect with their communities and the global village. And all this with a sense of freedom that they have been able to sustain, because they know in their hardest moments, they can ask for help, and that it will be given.

What if we blew open the whole notion of 'fending for ourselves' as a divisive tactic for promoting victimhood, separation, and lackluster living. 

What if we had compassion for one another as parents, and instead of trying to conquer the system, and to base our worth on the outcome of raising our children, we started living with the desire to come out of isolation, and into each others hearts.

Because then, and only then, could I maybe just jump into that pool with abandon, to play with that elephant--that gorgeous elephant--because all of you, parents and children alike would be playing there too-- firm in the knowledge that coming together was always the reason why the elephant was standing there in the first place.


Comments

  1. Dear Brooke, I just came from the pool with my daughter. She is 29 now. Tonight we swam in the moonlight, her sipping a cocktail, me dog paddling about as she shared her heart with me. Although my heart broke as she shared a painful event, another part of my heart was aflame with gratitude and love.

    Brooke, this post split me open. I remember trying to control the elephant in the pool. Feeling powerless and ill equipped. And very alone. I had a mate but he wasn't the sort of man who noticed things. I basically raised my two on my own.

    I remember feeling desperate at times, always judging myself and coming out under par. I remember being frantic with fear one moment and the next soaring like an eagle because my child did something wonderful.

    Parenting is such an emotional thing. Some people view it as a playground and others view it as a problem. I was a bit of both. I believe that being a parent has a way of turning us inside out, causing our insecurities to be worn on the outside for everyone to see.

    I wish I lived nearby and I could come for tea and chat with you about this parenting thing. There is so much I've learned. Not how to get a kid to listen...that's different for each child, but how to relax and breathe through the process.

    I love you Brooke and I believe you are an amazing mom who doesn't give herself nearly enough credit for the job you're doing. It takes a tribe to raise a child and God provides the tribe, tailor picking them especially for each task. You are not alone; it just seems that way.

    There's a movie I want you to watch. You may have seen it already and even if you have I want you to watch it again. It's called parenthood with Steve Martin. I think you will really enjoy it and it will put things in perspective. That movie really encouraged me when my kids were young.

    Sending enormous hugs and love. You are amazing Brooke!

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  2. Brooke, I am right there with you. "Parenting as something we walk through as best we can." That comforts me now, even/especially now that my chidlren are grown.

    I think your daughters are very lucky,and so is the village you are creating in so many ways!

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  3. I have emailed you both to thank you, but I just want to mark it here, my gratitude for you beautiful women who showed up to make me feel not alone in my journey as a parent. I so love that you, who have grown children, were here to help me see down the road a bit, to another time, with a different set of variables. Thank you for your love, and for showing up here with your hearts. I love you both.

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  4. Dear Brooke,

    This 'post' feels more like an essay - kind of like J's love essays - and one which everyone should read. I shall be sharing! You had me hooked from the opening line. Virtually no one speaks about parenting in this frank, honest way.

    For many years, I have felt that I don't want to be a parent. Please know this about me: I absolutely adore babies, and sometimes feel a kind of painful sickness when I see them, because they are so incredibly miraculous, pure and innocent. You know the feeling? A mixture of delight, joy, overwhelm, love, dizziness, incomprehensibility - the whole works. Honestly, I could take one these babies in my arms and hold her/him forever. Last year when I became a Godmother, I experienced a few precious hours of simply holding this vulnerable, perfect, warm being in my aching arms. My heart cried and I felt the sacred mother energy in me wake up, aware of the millions of mothers that have gone before me.

    But I look around me at so, so, so many parents, and I see that parenting runs them ragged. They look worn out, and as their perfect, innocent pure babes grow and grow, the challenges seem to grow with them. As they become teens and adults, so many people I have known have fallen out with their parents, or have very fractious and difficult relationships with their parents. All those hours and days and months and years, for someone who eventually doesn't want to know you? My God, that just feels so awful to me.

    Perhaps I'm not 'ready' on some level - parenting, after all, is about loving your child to the point where they fly free, where THEIR welfare, not yours, is the one that matters. I do also feel that in my life, freedom is an incredibly important thing, and I get the impression at least that this is something that a LOT of parents don't feel they have. I feel slightly anxious to be speaking so honestly here, because as a woman, and as someone who really tries to walk a path of integrity and Love, who has spent the last ten years undoing fear, I think it's expected of me to want to have children.

    My dad especially doesn't understand why I don't want kids, and people have even called me selfish, told me that I'll definitely 'come to my senses' over the next few years (I'm 29), and have brushed it off, or have voiced that they simply don't understand how I could feel that way - as if procreation is the sole reason we're here. One family member told me that women who don't have children 'have a funny smell about them' - like they're some kind of evolutionary freak. Yet what you write about paints a very honest picture of the difficulty of this particular path. Surely, I am allowed a choice about that? And besides, even if I did want to be a parent, perhaps my body wouldn't agree (I've had a lot of problems and don't even menstruate), and perhaps there are children out there already who need loving and taking care of.

    Recently, I have felt broody - but broody for a baby, not broody for the whole journey, for the sacrifice, for the irreversible changing of life as you've always known it.

    For now, I am still on the fence. I'm just about to read your other post, about your daughters, and my heart will likely swell and open in awe and wonder.

    Brooke, you are a pioneer, a leader, and a brave, courageous woman. Thank you for speaking about the unspeakable.

    Love,
    Elloa

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