A place to live in; an abode.
I am on the brink of embarking on the nearly lifelong goal of pursuing my Ph.D. This is, of course, in many ways, exciting, heady, exhilarating. More than any of these things though, currently, I am terrified.
I live with anxiety, ever my uncomfortable companion. A shadow of sorts; one which I spend, an inordinate (and unfortunate) amount of time trying to shake.
But right now, I want to take the time, a few moments (or, more properly several hours) to really live in my fear. Sit in it. Take up residence. Dwell.
I am a mother. Of course, I am multitudinous other things. I am, in fact, a bloody complicated human being. A writer. A storyteller. A peacemaker. A femme. A believer in spirit and in humanity. A confidant. A fighter. A lover of music and art. A friend. A listener. A caretaker. An observer. A thinker. A survivor. I have a veritable wealth of beings, and of human experience to bring with me to the academy, to my process of learning and navigating and grappling. But first, foremost, I am and will always be mother. This is my primary identifier in the world. How I am seen. How my worth is appraised.
Among the many, many things (both positive and less so) I have learned as a mother, is that nobody really expects mothers to think, and/or to externalize their thoughts into voice. Mothers are doers. They are feelers, cajolers, teachers, nurturers. They expend endless amounts of energy outwards, onto and into their children. They speak for and about their offspring. But I must also acknowledge, in this dwelling in fear, that motherhood, while clearly very much an embodied experience, has for me very much been about a kind of disembodiment or dis/location of my own voice.
While it is true that mothers (myself included) are writing, blogging and sharing more and more of their private sphere worlds, (spawning blog sharing sites such as ‘Moms Who Think,’ as if somehow, somewhere, there are moms who don’t think) this writing has, more often than not, been dismissed as insignificant. Navel-gazing. Self-absorption. The world, it seems, simultaneously venerates the role of mothers, (indeed expects women to mother), but would prefer that mothers keep their thoughts and ruminations about the world to themselves.
There are, naturally, also certain elements of motherhood that prepare me well for life as a graduate student. The dislocation of selfhood and relocation of energies into others. To be a mother is to always be fractured. To know that you can never be enough. That the work will always be undone, no matter how efficiently or diligently you chip away, day in and day out. That the developmental needs of your children will never be static. That you will never know enough. And the multitasking! I can shave my legs while sharing the shower with not one, but two children jockeying for space. I can talk on the phone to the people at the bank with one hand wrist deep in play-doh and the other one stirring dinner. And I may, actually, have grown eyes in the back of my head. I know too, that the understandings of the world borne out of the profound experience of being ‘other,’ out of dwelling in that other-worldliness, to my life with children that will ultimately serve me well, even in the vastly different world of academia.
But I carry with me too, lingering feelings that will serve me less well in my new endeavours, (often supported by external messaging both intangible and overt), that my ‘mother’ brain, and the epistemologies of mothering, do not matter outside the often constraining walls of my dwelling.
And the silencing effects of being this entity called ‘mother.’
As if migrating from life as a stay-at-home mama to life as an out-in-the-world mama and graduate student were not enough of a transitional leap; I embark on this journey at a stage in my life that previously seemed unimaginable.
Divorcing after thirteen years of partnership. Living on my own for the first time in my life, at the age of thirty-seven. The mother of two children with shaken foundations; who are having to negotiate life between two households (to say nothing of childcare and full-time school) for the very first time. And me, struggling to foster new friendships, build new community, find a place of acceptance, find out what it means to be single for the first time since my very early twenties. Stretching to create alternative places of family; of being. This slippery foothold between worlds old and new feels precarious enough without the addition of the intensity and rigours of academia.
Though some people have been wonderfully supportive and encouraging of my present and upcoming challenges, there have also been no shortage of less positive messages. I have bitten off more than I can chew. I will be letting my children down. That there cannot possibly be a way for me to succeed and I would be patently foolish to even try. My doctor, for instance, upon hearing of my marital separation, exclaimed: “you can’t possibly still be thinking of starting your doctoral work?!”. Many others have exclaimed about my “bravery” for choosing this path at this time (which, though seemingly kind, is hardly reassuring of said path’s do-ability!) Another person recently asked, horrified: “You mean you’re starting school THIS September?!”
Yes. THIS September. Yes. Still planning on doing this thing. Yes. Yes. Yes.
New Tricks for This Old Dog
Age ain’t nuthin’ but a number.
Riiiiiiiigggggght. Sure it ain’t.
So what if pulling an all-nighter might kill me? So what if I’ll be closer in age (or older) than my professors?
No big deal. I’m all cool with it and stuff.
And having been out of the academic world for the better part of eight years? Heading into an entirely new disciplinary terrain?
Easy peasy. Nothing to it.
Just like riding a bicycle…
Being a person for whom anxiety is an unfortunate, though somewhat normal state of being, it occurs that I am perhaps much more comfortable dwelling in the articulation of fear than I am trying to reside in a place of hopefulness or optimism. Far easier to ask “What if I fail?” than to acknowledge that I might, just maybe, flourish. Or at the very least, do just fine.
So there is this, too. I might fail. This much is as true for me as for anyone. But in my thirty seven years, in my life as a mother, in my grappling with anxiety, in my experiences of loss, in my shedding of skins, in the undeniable liminality of the time and space that I currently inhabit; I have learned much about myself. And I have faith that I am building, from the ground up, new possibilities and places of dwelling(s).