I was soaking at Esalen, a retreat center in Big Sur, in a big stone basin built for twelve or twenty-five friends fed by a natural hotspring and set into a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The sun shone brightly, the waves crashed loudly, the birds cawed, and a gentle breeze combined with the sun and the heat of the hotspring water to produce an overall environment of blissful comfort. Perfection. And then I heard one of my co-bathers say, “So, what do you do for a living?”
And I breathed in and out before I answered, I’m pretty sure, because I amazed myself with the honesty, authenticity, defenselessness, and lack of aggression in my answer. “I’m a full-time mother,” I said continuing to gaze out at the bobbing kelp that looked exactly like a troop of baby seals but which I’d studied enough times over the years to know was not a troop of baby seals.
Long pause. “How many kids do you have?” The man followed-up, or maybe it was the woman. “One,” I said. And then they left me alone with my thoughts, smiling on the inside in recognition of my little hottub victory over self. I didn’t tell them all the heady careers and recognitions I’d received in the past, I didn’t tell them where I went to college, or grad school, or about my brilliant husband and his career or explain why I wasn’t working right now. I didn’t talk about things I contemplated doing in the future, maybe soon, or maybe never, that might sound more interesting or worldly than whatever one might imagine full-time mothering of one child to be.
And I also didn’t tell them about what an amazing ride full-time mothering of one child has been for me. About how parenting, and co-parenting with my husband especially, has been worth about nine hundred and seven personal growth workshops, or at least a few silent retreats in India or wherever people are going these days. I didn’t tell them about how some days Ax and I make art together – how we get into our undies and lay out a big tarp in the yard and get several large bowls of water for rinsing our brushes, big paint brushes, and a bunch of acrylics and we paint good sized canvases, along with most parts of our bodies. I didn’t tell them about how Ax enjoys selecting where each piece should go in our home, trying out different spots, and revisiting them, before finding the optimal place. Then we hammer.
I didn’t tell them about cutting carrots or roasting them, or about the nightly teeth brushing contest (which Ax always wins), or about how even though he is already five I still get high off the smell of his scalp. I didn’t tell them about what my friend told me about how fox mamas look like they’re napping all day but if you look closely you can see that they’re watching their kids. I didn’t say anything about the Conscious Parent by Shefali Tsabary or how learning to love Ax for who he is has been teaching me how to love myself. I sat there and wondered at how hard it has been for me to acknowledge a reality I never aspired to, never wanted, never imagined, but am feeling good about more and more, and allowing myself to enjoy more and more. I breathed in and out and I swear at that very moment a baby seal bobbed out from the kelp. I didn’t tell about that either.