As we were leaving Everest’s wheel-throwing class today I struck up a conversation with one of the other moms. She has two daughters who attend the class and I asked the basic questions, “How old are they? Where do you live?” etc. The girls went to retrieve their coats from the cubby holes and there was something about the way they joked with each other that sent a small, almost imperceptible pang of longing through me. I could have easily brushed it aside. But I didn’t. As soon as we walked into the icy air and crunched our boots into the snow the sentence appeared in my mind, “I’ll never raise sisters.”
It’s not the first time this longing has appeared. When we learned that our second baby was a boy, I celebrated and grieved. I had always imagined that I would have a daughter, so after our first son was born I still held out hope that our second would be a girl. But he wasn’t, and as I lay in bed that day after receiving the test results that revealed the sex of our unborn baby, I lay also with the awareness that I would never raise a daughter. I don’t remember crying. I do remember rolling around the phrase, “I’m the mother of sons” in my mind and trying to adjust. But I have cried since then, knowing always that it’s through the grieving that acceptance arrives.
Needing to attend to my kids after the pottery class, I filed the longing away in rolodex L of my soul files and trusted that in a slowed-down place it would resurface to receive the attention in needed.
Later that evening I felt it bubble back up, and my ego-mind stumbled for a moment on a quick and fruitless litany of “what-ifs” – “what if I had made a different choice here or there” – as a way to avoid the rawness of the longing. This is my small mind’s obviously futile attempts to control the past and avoid the vulnerable and unpredictable realm of feeling by keeping me trapped in the thatched pattern of thoughts that dead ends in a chain link fence. I stayed there for less than a second before I opened the fence and walked into the field of feelings, letting myself sink down, go in, shift out of my head and breathe into my heart.
Then the grief flowed through. In an instant I knew it wasn’t only the grief of not being able to experience what it’s like to raise a girl or sisters but also the grief about not having a third child. We’ve decided to close the door at two, and while the choice feels loving for our family, there’s still a pain that pricks my heart every so often. And here it was, making its way up the riverways of sweet grief that bend and curve from heart to soul to eyes. The surrender to pure pain is always sweet. We may fight it, the engrained habits of another era or another stage creating resistance to the pain, but once the fortress falls away there’s a smile attached to the tears. Sweet release, sweet opening inside, sweet tears clearing out the pain and transforming the longing into gratitude.
It’s easy to to fall prey to the belief that longing necessitates action, which would mean that if I occasionally long for a third child it means I have to have a third child. Part of the growth process involves being able to hold a feeling without immediately resolving it, trusting that resolve occurs with no action other that conscious holding and tending to the feelings. We also mistakenly conclude that every feeling that passes through our field of consciousness is an unarguable and blanket truth. We don’t understand that you can feel longing without it being the final truth. In other words, I can sporadically long for a daughter but my deeper truth is that two children completes our family.
The work, thus, is always the same: make room for the pain, move toward it, welcome it, love it and… and… orient toward the beauty and gratitude. I wrote all of this in my head while lying next to my unbelievably precious almost-five year old boy, this child who makes my heart feel like its going to explode from love. I often hear my clients say things like, “But if I allow myself to long for ______, doesn’t that mean I don’t love or appreciate my current (partner, child, parent)?” No, it doesn’t mean that at all. The seasoned mind can hold the polarities.
In fact, being able to adopt a both/and approach is one of the hallmarks of maturity. The world isn’t a black or white place. The control-mind believes that if we categorize every experience we will feel more in control. We can categorize our spices and organize our clothes but the realm of the heart-mind is often a messy place that defies categorization. The best we can do is make room for the apparent opposites, to hold them both as true while knowing that one doesn’t invalidate the other. I can experience a moment of longing for a daughter while celebrating with immense gratitude my two sons. I can allow myself to long for the experience of raising sisters while relishing the adventure of witnessing the complex layers of my boys’ relationship to each other. I can grieve and celebrate, lose and love, long and feel grateful. There’s room for it all.