The July sun has cast her spell, betrayed only by the cool breezes that keep drifting through my windows, a decidedly unsummerlike sensation, even here in Wisconsin. This week has felt much the same – appearing one way but feeling another. The carefree days of summer and the anticipation of upcoming adventures have been crowded out by a heaviness I sense all around me.
A friend waited to lose her sweet babe. Dear ones walked through the land mines of a tattered marriage. A cousin looks ahead to brain surgery, and another friend waits to hear about the same. Cancer claimed a former coworker’s son. Another friend’s beloved pup isn’t long for this world. I’m over here, myopic about crumbed goldfish and how long it’s been since our last round of baths and how many times I have (or, more accurately, haven’t) run this month. But this week, the incongruousness of life loomed large.
Motherhood is, I think, somewhat isolating. Our hopes and dreams–the common ones we all share for our children–wave high while we keep our fears and failures tucked low to our chests. And not only that, but we’re busy. We drive here, we rush there, we enroll in this, we Pinterest that. Busy keeps us alone, or if we’re with people, we’re not really with them.
Isolation, for me, is the single biggest threat to my well-being as a mom. Get me alone for any length of time, and my inner world starts closing in on me. I cater to my strengths, I tightly control my environment to manage my anxieties, I let the things I dislike or at which I struggle go unchecked. None of these things are entirely bad, but taken together and constantly unchallenged, they turn into a rut of my own making. It’s easy to start creating all my own “truths,” forgetting that there’s a whole other world out there with a dozen or a hundred or a million ways to create a life, to raise a child, to approach a problem, to find happiness.
And there’s a whole other world of problems out there, of people who’d trade their own heavy loads for the irritations and struggles that have started to seem heavy to me in my aloneness.
Nine months of pregnancy can take an awfully long time, so for each baby, I knitted a blanket while I waited. Gabe’s was small and simple because I was green and unskilled, both as a knitter and as a mother, and had no clue what I was doing. By the time I was pregnant with Isla, I was ready to take on a slightly loftier task, settling on a simple bordered pattern with rainbow stripes for playfulness and impact.
The challenge, however, was in its size. I’d never worked something quite so large before, and keeping track of the stitches became a wild jumble of counting. About a third of the way through, I finally settled on the strategy of counting after every few rows. If I found I’d dropped stitches, I’d add in new ones on the last row or two before I changed stripe colors and I figured everything would work out in the end.
I suppose everything did work out in that I completed the blanket and it’s colorful and happy. It has been well used and loved, and I smile every time I see it draped over the rail of the crib. It’s also, however, somewhat trapezoid in shape, and almost exactly in the middle of the blanket is a big old dropped stitch, which–if you’re not a knitter–translates into a sizable hole.
Let me say it again. There’s a hole in the middle of my precious handknit blanket.
I can’t quite see the hole in this picture, but I can see a different error. Can you? 😉
Experienced knitters know how to work with dropped stitches. They know how to spot the error and work back to it while the whole piece is still in progress and correct the error before it becomes permanent. I, however, was not an experienced knitter, and I simply didn’t know. In fact, not only did I not know, but I lacked the experience to see the small error along the way. The fact that there was a hole in the blanket surprised me when I finally spread it out to admire my completed handiwork, a seemingly insignificant error affecting the trajectory of the entire piece.
In motherhood (and life…), the thing is that when left to my own devices, the truths I create aren’t very true at all. They’re a sliver of inexperienced truth based on my sliver of reality. They’re just like the plan I developed for counting stitches, seeming good enough in the moment to my inexperience. But when my reality and experience grow, as they always do, the holes and bare spots become more noticeable.
This is why I need to fight isolation, why I think we all need to do it. We need to see other people’s stories and see ourselves in other people’s stories, to allow our realities to be expanded through them, and grow along with them. We need second eyes on our own lives, eyes that are experienced in ways we aren’t and can suggest how our current efforts might be steering us off our desired course. And, of course, we need the strong network, the community of people who help carry us through the darkest of days, days which are sure to come, days like some of my acquaintances, friends, and family have been facing this week.
I’ve been thinking, too, about who I let in. After I watched a person unload a particularly judgmental and self-righteous attack, I churned for days at the implications at what had been said, and then churned again at why it had upset me so deeply. Ultimately, I decided the real problem wasn’t righting an injustice or correcting a mistruth. The real problem was my decision to let the wrong person in. A lovely woman, no doubt, this was a case of the wrong place/wrong time/wrong person for the current dynamics. Fighting isolation requires smart choices, not just proximity of another human being.
Last month, I went away by myself for a weekend, and I came back with two things I decided I needed to implement into my life. One revolved around busyness and being overwhelmed (you can read about that here), but the other was a quoted phrase (via Beth Moore) I read in The Love Idol by Jennifer Dukes:
We’re going to have to let truth scream louder to our souls than the lies that have infected us.
Summer is a hard time for me to work on isolation and relationships. Everyone is coming and going on trips and to classes and camps and festivals. But even if I can’t take action today, I can keep reminding myself of what I know for sure to be true–that I am better with than I am without, that I need others’ stories and they need mine, and that the investment is worth the effort.
And in the meantime, I hold those above-mentioned loved ones close to my heart with prayers for peace, healing, and miracles.